Orioles have lots of decisions to make with arbitration players

Matt Swartz at MLBTradeRumors.com created a model to project salaries for arbitration-eligible players, which the site has published for 13 years. Is it 100 percent accurate? Of course not, because that would be impossible. But he nails some and comes darn close with others.

That's to be expected with an algorithm that, as the site describes it, “looks at the player’s playing time, position, role, and performance statistics while accounting for inflation.” We’re also warned against using it as a “scorecard.” But does that stop us?

Of course not.

Anyway, the Orioles have an astounding 16 players eligible for arbitration, tied with the Rays and Mets for second most behind the Yankees’ 17. My unscientific projection is there’s zero chance that the club retains all of them.

Anthony Santander’s salary could jump from $7.4 million to $12.7 million. Starter Kyle Gibson led the club this season at $10 million, since the Yankees carried the bulk of Aaron Hicks’ salary and the Mets handled the bulk of James McCann’s.

Santander stayed healthy and played in 153 games, one fewer than team leader Adley Rutschman. He ranked first in at-bats, doubles and RBIs, tied Gunnar Henderson for first in home runs and was second or third in other categories. And he’s hugely popular in the clubhouse. A valued leader. A great guy.

He’s also a player who garners trade interest every winter and at every deadline, especially from the Marlins. Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias has held onto him, showing no interest in removing such a productive bat from the lineup and then having to replace it. But would the Orioles dole out that kind of money, and with Santander in his final season before reaching free agency?

This is going to be one of the most interesting components of the offseason. What to do with Tony Taters. Grab the popcorn. White cheddar is my preference, if anyone cares.

Austin Hays would love to finish his career in Baltimore, and his ability to play the funky left field at Camden Yards is huge. He's the most trusted defender out there.

A scout who watched plenty of Orioles games said it would be criminal if Hays is robbed of a Gold Glove the same way he robs extra-base hits.

Many of his offensive numbers were exact or near duplicates to 2022 - 145 to 144 games, 35 to 36 doubles, two triples again, 16 home runs again, 60 to 67 RBIs, 34 to 38 walks. His OPS improved from .719 to .769. He was an All-Star, but the second half was a wall again, with Hays batting .228/.289/.378.

Hays made $3.2 million this season with a projected bump to $6.1 million.

John Means is a no-brainer. He made $2.975 million this season in the second year of his deal and is projected to receive $5.93 million in 2024. He ain't going anywhere.

Tyler Wells also falls in that category after making $732,400, with the projection that he receives $2.3 million. Whatever his role.

Here are the rest of the players on the list:

Danny Coulombe: $1 million to $2.2 million
Ryan O’Hearn: $1.4 million to $3 million
Cedric Mullins: $4.1 million to $6.4 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
Ryan McKenna: $725,800 to $740,000

The knee-jerk reaction on Tate is to dismiss him because he didn’t pitch this year.

Boy, did that come as a shocker. Remember when we thought he was on Team USA’s roster for the World Baseball Classic, and later, that he would begin the season on the injured list but eventually return as a high-leverage reliever? The Orioles got nothing out of him, and we don’t know if he underwent surgery or was just shut down again due to his forearm strain.  

We know he's alive or we would have heard.

Tate was pulled twice from injury rehab assignments. He just kind of disappeared. And so did the media’s request for updates.

Anyway, before you go all knee-jerk on him, consider whether $1.5 million, his same salary, is still worth it if he’s healthy. I feel like everyone agreed that it was heading into last offseason.

Urías also is an interesting case because that’s a big salary jump in his first year of eligibility. And with no set starting position after winning a Gold Glove at third base in 2022.

How much do you commit to a utility player, especially with someone like Joey Ortiz in the system? But hey, I refuse to spend someone else’s money unless I’m short on cash and need to tip the driver or housekeeping.

Mateo made 142 starts at shortstop in 2022, when he won a Fielding Bible Award, and 95 this season. Gunnar Henderson is plus-everything, and Jackson Holliday is waiting in the wings – or at Triple-A, which would be funnier if the affiliate was still the Rochester Red Wings.

See what I did there?

Holliday will be in major league camp again next spring, and this time with a chance to make the Opening Day roster.

"He hasn’t had a full season anywhere because he moved so fast,” Elias said during Thursday’s media session. “He hasn’t been in Triple-A terribly long, but he did pretty well. I think when you’re 19 and then you’re 20, it’s one year but that’s a lot of aging and physical development. I can’t wait to see what he looks like in spring training. Look forward to having him there. He’s going to have a chance to make the team.”

What does this do to Mateo’s chances?

There was a drop-off in his defense this season, though he still had the ability to dazzle, and he went through more prolonged periods of offensive struggles. He stole 32 bases but posted the exact same .267 on-base percentage as 2022.

Manager Brandon Hyde talked again Thursday about Mateo’s value.

“There’s only so many guys in the league that can run like him,” Hyde said. “There’s only so many guys who have that sort of talent. He’s still kind of early in his career. I primarily played him against lefties the second half of the year, last two months of the year, just because I thought I wanted to give him a little bit better opportunity. And he performed, he swung the bat well against left-handed pitching and made a difference for us when he was in the lineup against them.”

Hyde also noted how longer stretches on the bench might have impacted Mateo’s work at shortstop.

“I think, because he was out there more inconsistently, that may have played a part in that a little bit,” Hyde said. “But I think he still could be a really special defender. Going from playing mostly every day to then being part-time … There was a run in early September-ish when I think we faced 15 righties in a row, so he got really sporadic playing time there, and that’s hard to do. It’s hard to do to stay sharp defensively and also keep your mind right, ready, and that’s something he’s going to learn.

“He’s still three years into his career, so it wasn’t like we were rolling veteran dudes out there. Like Adam Frazier, if he didn’t play for five days, he knew how to, because he’s been in the league for nine years. And that’s just part of growing up as a major league player.”

Note: Triple-A catchers Anthony Bemboom and José Godoy elected free agency, per the minor league transactions page.

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