A look at reliever salaries and Rule 5-eligible Orioles

In baseball, the price of talent seems to always be going upward. But for those pitchers we know as closers, the pay rate is about to really escalate.

This steep incline may have started when free agent right-hander Jonathan Papelbon left the Red Sox to sign a four-year deal with the Phillies worth $50 million in November 2011. That broke the record for total contract by a reliever that was set by one-time Orioles lefty B.J. Ryan. He had signed a four-year deal worth $47 million with Toronto in December 2005.

During the 2014 calender year - both before and after that season - some relievers signed for big bucks. The Yankees signed Andrew Miller for four years and $36 million. Atlanta extended Craig Kimbrel’s deal with an extension of four years and $42 million. In December 2014, the Chicago White Sox provided closer David Robertson a deal of four years and $46 million.

The most a reliever ever played for in a single season was Mariano Rivera of the Yankees, who earned $15 million in several seasons.

But now Papelbon’s $50 million deal is about to get blown out of the water this winter. MLBTradeRumors.com projects that Aroldis Chapman will get a five-year deal for $90 million from the Yankees, with Kenley Jansen getting a five-year deal for $85 million from Cubs. Mark Melancon’s projected deal will not approach those two but will still exceed Papelbon. Melancon is projected to get a four-year deal for $52 million from the Giants.

Papelbon’s average annual value of $12.5 million and Robertson at $11.5 will be surpassed in a big, big way. If the projections prove accurate, Chapman will be at $18 million, Jansen at $17 and Melancon at $13.

Zach Britton throwing gray.pngIt almost makes Zach Britton look like a bargain. He is projected to earn $11.4 million in 2017 in his third year of arbitration.

Some readers here have suggested a trade of Britton when considering his escalating salary and the haul of prospects he might bring in return. His 2017 salary, which once looked exorbitant, now looks more reasonable, or will by opening day next year.

The top relievers still can’t tough the top starters, however. Zach Grienke’s average annual value is $34.4 million and David Price is at $31 million. But the guys who get the last few outs are on the rise. Rapidly. Kind of the opposite of a Britton 97 mph sinker.

Rule 5 talk: The Orioles will soon likely add a few players to their 40-man roster to protect them from being lost to another team in the Rule 5 draft. Nov. 18 is the date for teams to make 40-man additions to protect those players from being taken in the Rule 5 draft on Dec. 8 at the Winter Meetings.

Here is a partial list of O’s minor leaguers that are eligible for the Rule 5 this year if not added to the 40-man roster. It is not a listing of every player in the organization with eligibility, but rather of list of players with some track record that the club might consider protecting:

P - Cristian Alvarado
IF - Ricardo Andujar
OF - Conor Bierfeldt
P - Stefan Crichton
OF - Glynn Davis
P - Joe Gunkel
P - Francisco Jimenez
P - Jon Keller
P - Branden Kline
P - Jesus Liranzo
IF - Adrian Marin
C - Yermin Mercedes
C - Austin Wynns
P - Jimmy Yacabonis
OF - Mike Yastrzemski
P - Michael Zouzalik

While Crichton, Yacabonis and Liranzo seem likely to be added or at least get strong consideration by the Orioles, we should also possibly add Gunkel and Kline to that list.

Gunkel struggled late this year but finished with an 8-14 mark and 4.02 ERA in 28 starts, mostly at Triple-A Norfolk. Gunkel has a career walk rate of 1.57 per every nine innings, a strikeout rate of 7.45 and a 1.12 WHIP. He would likely start 2017 back at Norfolk, but you always need starting pitch depth, which he would provide.

Kline might be a tougher decision yet. The O’s second-round pick from 2012, he hasn’t pitched since going 3-3 with a 3.66 ERA in eight starts early in the 2015 season for Double-A Bowie. Kline is from Frederick, Md., and played at Thomas Johnson High School and at the University of Virginia. But he underwent Tommy John surgery on Oct. 8, 2015. Now with him potentially set to come back strong in 2017, would the club leave him unprotected and potentially risk losing him?

Some tough decisions will need to be made late next week by the Orioles brass.

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