Can the Orioles now take the next step with Schoop?

The Orioles and one of their top players made news yesterday when the club signed him for the 2018 season. He was already under team control - that we knew - but now we know that second baseman Jonathan Schoop’s 2018 salary will be $8.5 million.

The two sides avoided arbitration and any ill will such a hearing could have caused. There was already the issue of Schoop missing FanFest and the fact that his absence clearly didn’t sit well with fans or the team’s management.

But on the field, of course, Schoop had a very strong 2017, deserved a big raise and got one, gaining $5.025 million on his salary from last season.

schoop-orange-daytime-bat.jpgSchoop had his best year in 2017. He was named the Most Valuable Oriole, finished 12th in the American League MVP vote and was named an All-Star for the first time.

He batted .293/.338/.503 with 35 doubles, 32 homers, 92 runs and 105 RBIs. He produced a .841 OPS and OPS+ of 123. He hit .338 with runners in scoring position, .300 versus lefties and .290 versus right-handers. He hit .303 with an OPS of .891 at home and .283/.792 on the road. He increased his walk rate from 3.2 to 5.2 percent with a slight strikeout rate decrease from 21.2 percent to 21.0.

Now for what comes next: a possible contract extension. For a club that could be losing Manny Machado to free agency after the 2018 season, avoiding the same with Schoop after the 2019 season appears to be rather important.

Is this a framework for an extension?

2018: $8.5 million
2019: $14 million
2020: $18 million
2021: $22 million
2022: $24 million

The Orioles could turn this into a four-year deal ending after the 2021 season for a total of $62.5 million, counting this coming season. Or make it a five-year deal, through 2022, worth $86.5 million. A four-year deal buys out two free agent years and a five-year deal buys out three.

This potential deal comes in on a much lower dollar scale than the predictions for what Machado could get after next season. It seems much more doable for the team. Schoop will turn 28 in October 2019, when he can become a free agent. If the Orioles could lock up Schoop through 2022, they would have him for at least five more seasons. Schoop could then hit free agency coming off his age-30 season and perhaps be in line for another big contract.

We don’t know if the club is currently pursuing extension talks with Schoop and his agent, but would this contract be at least a good starting point for discussions?

More finger pointing: The Major League Baseball Players Association and the MLB office each issued statements on Tuesday dealing with the lack of free agent movement this winter. Not surprisingly, each blamed the other.

The MLBPA statement read: “Pitchers and catchers will report to camps in Florida and Arizona next week. A record number of talented free agents remain unemployed in an industry where revenues and franchise values are at record highs.

“Spring training has always been associated with hope for a new season. This year a significant number of teams are engaged in a race to the bottom. This conduct is a fundamental breach of the trust between a team and its fans and threatens the very integrity of our game.”

The MLB statement read: “Our Clubs are committed to putting a winning product on the field for their fans. Owners own teams for one reason: they want to win. In Baseball, it has always been true that Clubs go through cyclical, multi-year strategies directed at winning.

“It is common at this point in the calendar to have large numbers of free agents unsigned. What is uncommon is to have some of the best free agents sitting unsigned even though they have substantial offers, some in nine figures. It is the responsibility of players’ agents to value their clients in a constantly changing free agent market based on factors such as positional demand, advanced analytics, and the impact of the new Basic Agreement. To lay responsibility on the Clubs for the failure of some agents to accurately assess the market is unfair, unwarranted, and inflammatory.”

On it goes these days in the major leagues. Tempers are frayed, tensions are raised and a lot of players are still looking for a team.

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