The next important date on baseball’s calendar arrives today with teams required to tender or non-tender players eligible for arbitration.
You probably memorized the list of 17 Orioles, an unusually high total, but here it is again, with MLBTradeRumors using its model to project salaries:
Anthony Santander: $7.4 million to $12.7 million
Danny Coulombe: $1 million to $2.2 million
John Means: $2.975 million to $5.93 million
Ryan O’Hearn: $1.4 million to $3 million
Cedric Mullins: $4.1 million to $6.4 million
Austin Hays: $3.2 million to $6.1 million
Dillon Tate: $1.5 million to $1.5 million
Jorge Mateo: $2 million to $2.9 million
Ryan Mountcastle: $738,400 to $4.2 million
Cionel Pérez: $732,300 to $1.3 million
Cole Irvin: $737,600 to $1.8 million
Keegan Akin: $731,100 to $800,000
Jacob Webb: $720,000 to $1.2 million
Ramón Urías: $734,700 to $2 million
Tyler Wells: $732,400 to $2.3 million
Ryan McKenna: $725,800 to $740,000
Sam Hilliard: $750,000 to $1.1 million
Santander is going to draw trade interest again and therefore find himself immersed in rumors. He’s a slam-dunk tender, of course. That’s the easy part.
Harder is finding a way to squeeze Heston Kjerstad and Colton Cowser onto a 26-man roster without removing an outfielder. But so would be replacing Santander’s power and run production.
His 28 home runs tied Gunnar Henderson for the team lead, and his 95 RBIs were 13 more than the American League’s Rookie of the Year. His 152 hits, 55 walks, .257 average and .797 OPS ranked third. He slugged .472 to trail only Henderson.
Free agency is around the corner for Santander. The Orioles might have some tough decisions to make. Tendering him a contract isn’t one of them.
Means, Mountcastle, Mullins, Hays, Wells, O’Hearn, Coulombe and Pérez appear to fit in that same no-brainer category for various reasons. Means has a track record for success, including an All-Star berth and no-hitter, he’s healthy again and he’s needed in the rotation. Mountcastle and O’Hearn are the first basemen, with Coby Mayo the closest to a prospect at the position when he moves across the diamond.
Hays has trouble putting together two good halves, but he’s a Gold Glove finalist in left field and blessed with tools across the board. Far more likely to be a trade candidate than a non-tender. Wells was the Orioles’ best starter in the first half before moving to the bullpen, and he brings value in any role. Pérez overcame a poor start to again pitch like the high-leverage lefty we saw in 2022, and Coulombe was an absolute steal at the end of spring training.
I’m tempted to put Irvin in the same category after the Orioles surrendered infield prospect Darell Hernaiz to get him from the Athletics. Hernaiz was just added to their 40-man roster. And because Irvin posted a 3.26 ERA, 1.190 WHIP and .228 average against in 12 relief appearances and can provide length if he isn’t in the rotation.
The other seven are harder to predict.
McKenna has been a useful backup outfielder, able to play all three spots and provide speed off the bench. But he’s out of minor league options and could get lost in the crowd.
The projected raise is more than reasonable. That isn’t the issue.
There’s also the possibility of the Orioles signing or claiming a veteran right-handed hitting outfielder, which also would hurt McKenna’s chances.
Mateo and Urías tend to get linked due to their similar predicaments. Two infielders on a club that isn’t hurting for young talent at the positions.
Mateo has stolen 67 bases in the past two seasons. He hit .347/.395/.667 in the first month in 2023, but he slashed .128/.165/.151, .196/.250/.250, .167/.211/.278 and .206/.229/.382 the next four months. He won a Fielding Bible Award at shortstop last season but his dWAR fell from 2.4 to 0.7.
Past Orioles teams would have held onto Mateo because it lacked players with his speed and athleticism. He isn’t as unique now with the talent level rising throughout the organization. He felt more like a luxury on the playoff roster, a base-stealing weapon off the bench, but he could be hard to carry for another season with Gunnar Henderson and Jordan Westburg here, Joey Ortiz trying to stick and Jackson Holliday lurking.
Ortiz also could work against Urías, a cheaper utility version with plus defensive skills and a bat that’s catching up to the glove.
The Orioles could try to find trade partners for Mateo and Urías, non-tender them or work it out later. Mateo is a past top 100 prospect in multiple organizations. Urías won a Gold Glove at third base and hit 16 home runs in 2022, and he can play anywhere in the infield. There’s value.
Akin and Tate also are vulnerable. Akin didn’t pitch after June 28 due to a back injury and allowed 18 earned runs (22 total) in 23 2/3 innings. Tate was really good in 2022 but didn’t pitch in 2023 due to elbow/forearm injuries.
Between the two, I could see Tate staying because his salary isn’t expected to change and his 3.05 ERA and 0.991 WHIP last summer remain fresh in minds. But is he going to be full-go in camp and Opening Day? We can only assume.
A club seeking backend bullpen arms with Félix Bautista lost for 2024 might view Tate as a timely arrival from within, but who knows?
Webb was a waiver claim on Aug. 7 who didn’t allow a run in his first eight appearances. He’s out of options, which is a strike against him. The only two home runs he surrendered with the Orioles came in the Division Series. That’s a lingering memory he’d like to erase.
What happens with Webb depends on whether he passed the audition and the Orioles think he’s worth a salary that could move north of $1 million. It’s questionable.
Hilliard is a left-handed hitting outfielder. He’s out of options. This was a depth waiver claim and it comes with zero guarantees of staying on the 40-man roster. A salary of $1.1 million sounds steep for a career .215/.294/.424 hitter with no apparent path to the active roster, though 19 steals in 20 attempts impresses, but we’ll see.
This story will be updated later.
Note: Gunnar Henderson finished eighth and Adley Rutschman ninth in American League Most Valuable Player voting by the Baseball Writers' Association of America. The Angels' Shohei Ohtani was a unanimous winner.
Henderson received four fifth-place votes, two sixth, four seventh, seventh eighth, two ninth and two 10th. Rutschman received one fourth, one sixth, four seventh, four eighth, three ninth and four 10th.
The last time that two Orioles finished in the top 10 was 2013 with Chris Davis third and Manny Machado ninth.
Update: The Orioles didn't have any non-tenders.
They agreed to terms with Akin, Hilliard, Mateo and McKenna on contracts for 2024, and they tendered the other 13 players and the pre-arbitration players on the 40-man roster.