Baltimore Orioles: 2015 Salary and Free Agent Realities


Oct 10, 2014; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis (21) in game one of the 2014 ALCS playoff baseball game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

The Baltimore Orioles are going to be paying more for player salaries in 2015 than ever before. How much more is a big question that I don’t know how to answer, and maybe that final budget number is not even known in the Warehouse at this moment.

The 96-win success of the team is reflective of more than a few very fine seasons by Orioles players. There are going to be some significant raises, and rightly so. The success has surely generated more revenue for salary expansion as well.

So what are some ballpark numbers (see what I did there?) for salaries currently on the books and projected arbitration raises … thereby revealing about how much space might be allotted for free agent signings?

The process is a bit complicated, but here is what I’ve tallied through some research.

The total team salary for 2014 was about $99 million, according to calculations.

Once free agents are taken out (including Nick Markakis), factor about $55 million for all ongoing contract salaries and pre-arbitration players like Manny Machado, Brad Brach, Jonathan Schoop, and T.J. McFarland. A total of $36.75 million of this total goes to Adam Jones, Ubaldo Jimenez, and J.J. Hardy. Another $9 million is on the books for Wei-Yin Chen and Darren O’Day. 

11 arbitration-eligible players will increase the payroll about $25 million.

The Orioles have a total of 11 arbitration-eligible players this year. These 11 players drew about $32 million in salary in 2014. So what will they cost next year if all 11 are retained, not traded, etc.?

On the MLBTR site, they have listed the 11 Orioles in question with a projection of what each will end up being paid, which is a grand sum of about $57 million. You can pretty much take this number to the bank (see what I did there?) as quite accurate. Matt Swartz of that site has devised a methodology that was remarkably accurate last year and has been tweaked even more for this offseason. It is very interesting to read about it.

Let me put all of this together is a chart, giving you the 2014 salaries, the 2015 projections from Matt Swartz, and also noting the years these players will become free agents (six of the 11 just next year)…

Name2014 SalaryProjected 2015Free Agent in:
Alejando De Aza$4.25M$5.9M2016
Matt Wieters$7.7M$7.9M2016
Steve Pearce$700K$2.2M2016
Bud Norris$5.3M$8.7M2016
Tommy Hunter$3.0M$4.4M2016
Chris Davis$10.35M$11.8M2016
Brian Matusz$2.4M$2.7M2017
Chris Tillman$546K$5.4M2018
Miguel Gonzalez$529K$3.7M2018
Ryan Flaherty$513K$1.0M2018
Zach Britton$522K$3.2M2019
Totals$32M **$56.9M 

** This is an approximated number, calculating the fraction of the season De Aza was with the Orioles.

So, to summarize where we are at …

  • Current contracts = $55 million
  • Arbitration players = $57 million
  • Nick Markakis (guess) = $10 million
  • Total = $122 million

How much more than $122 million do you expect the Baltimore Orioles to spend?  Will they spend even this much?

Do you see the challenge here? It is great to say that the Orioles need to get Nelson Cruz or Andrew Miller. But how do you make it work?

Looking at the arbitration list, where could the Orioles save some money?

Some fans would say that quite a bit could be saved in one big bank bag by getting rid of Chris Davis and his .196 average in 2014. And how much of a risk might he be for another suspension? I will confess to still sorting out some of my feelings about this, though I will likely come down on the side I think the Baltimore Orioles will – that he will be retained. This seems to be the theme on the winds that drift out of the Warehouse.

Another possibility bantered about is moving Brian Matusz. The waiver claim of lefty Patrick McCoy from the Tigers has some appearance of possibly working him into a cheaper version of a LOOGY. Even so, it only saves about two million, though every penny counts, I guess.

Similar arguments could be made for finding a cheaper version of Tommy Hunter, perhaps in one of several rising minor league pitchers. You could save close to four million that way.

Alejandro De Aza looked great at the end of the year. But did he look $6 million great? Is he worth $5.5 million more than sticking with David Lough and hoping for a breakout full season?

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And what about Bud Norris? I love the guy just like you do; he’s a bulldog on the mound and was a great asset for the Orioles this past year. But at a projected $8.7 million, that is an expensive asset. The Orioles have six starters for five rotation spaces. Yes, you can never have enough pitching. But maybe that money buys some cheaper up-and-coming arms, while giving some savings toward a top free agent acquisition.

I am not promoting a specific solution here; I’m diagnosing rather than prescribing. But it just seems like some money needs to be freed from arbitration players to have a shot at a large free agent, or several lesser of the same.