Taking a closer look at Orioles’ arbitration decisions

The changes in the 2020 baseball season have touched the arbitration process.

Sides that can’t reach an agreement will argue how statistics should be interpreted in a truncated season. Teams are going to stick with the 60-game output, while agents are going to extrapolate - projecting figures over 162 games while attempting to squeeze out a few more dollars.

Getting blood from a rock would be easier.

There’s an assumption circulating through the industry that more players are destined to be non-tendered in the latest round of cost-cutting moves. Payroll slashing hasn’t reached its endpoint.

The Orioles appear to have two easy decisions and the rest capable of producing varying outcomes.

Trey Mancini had his salary set at $4.75 million this year and is likely to stay around that figure after sitting out the 2020 season following his diagnosis of Stage 3 colon cancer. MLBTradeRumors.com posted its annual projections earlier this month and placed Mancini at $4.8 million.

Anthony Santander was voted Most Valuable Oriole and is a Gold Glove finalist in right field. Fortuitous timing for a first-time arbitration player.

A big raise awaits Santander, who was re-signed this spring for $572,500. MLBTradeRumors.com places his value at $1.7 million over 60 games and $3.0 million over 162.

The price of doing business with an important part of the rebuild.

Affording one player can impact a team’s commitment to others, and it’s never been truer than in 2020.

Paying reliever Shawn Armstrong a projected $800,000 after he was set to earn $573,500 this year is a logical next step under normal circumstances. Armstrong posted a 1.80 ERA and 0.800 WHIP in 15 innings and his absence with a lower-back injury hurt the bullpen. But how much do the Orioles want to spend on a reliever who often works in the middle innings?

They have cheaper alternatives in the organization, but we’re talking about an effective reliever, praised by his manager as an underrated contributor, who isn’t expected to reach the $1 million mark.

Thumbnail image for Nunez-Watch-It-Go-White-sidebar.jpgThe hardest decisions appear to rest with designated hitter Renato Núñez, infielder Hanser Alberto and catcher Pedro Severino.

Cases can be made to keep them, whether based on Núñez’s power, Alberto’s production against left-handed pitching and status as the starting second baseman, or Severino’s fast starts and lack of competition to replace him.

Adley Rutschman isn’t making the opening day roster.

Núñez has hit 43 home runs in the last two seasons over 203 games, but the cold spells can strike at any time. He primarily a designated hitter, with the ability to fill in at first base for a club that’s loaded with first basemen. But it’s more about money.

A projected bump from $578,000 to $2.1 million could be too steep. Forty-three home runs versus one-dimensional. And at a cost.

Alberto avoided arbitration in his first year of eligibility by agreeing to a $1.65 million contract and batted .283/.306/.393 in 54 games. He slashed .215/.241/.291 in September. FanGraphs.com calculated his defensive runs saved at minus-2 and his ultimate zone rating/150 at minus-5.4. He won’t be a finalist for a Gold Glove.

MLBTradeRumors.com is projecting a 2021 salary of $2.3 million based on his 60 games. Just how much do the Orioles value his .375/.396/.521 line versus left-handed pitching?

Severino also fell hard over the final month, batting .159/.232/.206 with no home runs or RBIs. He also was charged with five passed balls during the season and was behind the plate for 16 wild pitches. His salary is projected to increase from $576,000 to $1.4 million.

More palatable for the catcher who batted .313/.382/.463 with 18 RBIs in 23 August games. Not so much for the September version. And there are issues behind the plate that hurt his reputation as a good catch-and-throw guy.

The throwing is fine.

Cutting ties with Severino would require a replacement to pair with Chance Sisco and there isn’t an obvious candidate on the roster. The Orioles didn’t free Austin Wynns from the alternate camp site except for taxi squad duties.

Utility infielder Pat Valaika’s offseason odyssey included a salary set at $573,500. He appeared in 52 games, only two fewer than team leaders Alberto and Rio Ruiz, and played six positions.

In another unexpected twist, he ranked fourth with eight home runs. Not a prerequisite for a utility player, but a nice perk.

The Orioles could find cheaper alternatives, of course, and they’d prefer that their replacement shortstop commit fewer than five errors in 56 chances, but Valaika made a solid impression on manager Brandon Hyde.

It didn’t hurt that seven of Valaika’s eight home runs came in the seventh inning or later, tied for most in the majors. And that he batted .323/.353/.508 in September.

Always leave on a high note.

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