The Orioles have until Friday night to tender contracts to their 10 arbitration-eligible players and six of the decisions are no-brainers: Manny Machado, Zach Britton, Chris Tillman, Jonathan Schoop, Brad Brach and Kevin Gausman.
There are four other Orioles, however, who aren’t slam dunks to receive contracts, which would allow them to become free agents. (Although it is possible a few of those could be non-tendered and then re-sign at a salary lower than projected.)
All four of the non-tender candidates have served roles for the club in the past, but the question is whether the Orioles can get those spots filled more cheaply. That’s a particularly important concept this offseason, because the Orioles are looking at a payroll that likely will exceed $150 million. So, cutting corners where possible makes some sense.
Here’s a quick look at the four arb-eligible players that could be non-tendered:
Catcher Caleb Joseph
2016 salary: $523,500
2017 salary projection (all by mlbtraderumors.com): $1 million
Thoughts: Maybe paying $1 million for a backup catcher that had an historically rough offensive season (.172 average, no homers or RBIs in 132 at-bats) isn’t particularly appetizing. But, right now, Joseph is penciled in as the club’s starter. The Orioles really can’t afford to cut him loose at this point. And he does provide solid defense.
Infielder Ryan Flaherty
2016 salary: $1.5 million
2017 salary projection: $1.7 million
Thoughts: Flaherty is basically manager Buck Showalter’s Swiss Army knife. Last year, he played every position in the field besides catcher and center. He even pitched an inning. That versatility has kept Flaherty in the majors for much of the past five seasons. His presence allows the Orioles to dip down to three bench players at times, and that’s key for the way the club maneuvers its roster. The flip side is that Flaherty is a career .216 hitter and went to the plate only 176 times last year. This, by far, will be the Orioles’ toughest call.
Pitcher Vance Worley
2016 salary: $2.6 million
2017 salary projection: $3.3 million
Thoughts: Before Wednesday, I thought it was about 50-50 that the Orioles would hold onto Worley, who served a valuable role as the club’s swingman in 2016, posting a 3.53 ERA in 35 games (four starts). But I believe it’s much more likely he is non-tendered now that the club acquired right-hander Logan Verrett from the New York Mets. Verrett is also a swingman-type, and he’ll be near the league minimum if he makes the team. So, in theory, the Orioles could save roughly $2.5 million or more and potentially get similar production.
Pitcher T.J. McFarland
2016 salary: $523,500
2017 salary projection: $700,000
Thoughts: McFarland has spent parts of four seasons with the Orioles, riding the shuttle between Triple-A and the big leagues and providing innings as a left-handed swingman. His 2016, however, was marred by injury and ineffectiveness. He appeared in just 16 games for the Orioles – his fewest as a big leaguer – and posted a 6.93 ERA. The raise wouldn’t be significant, but it’s hard to justify giving one at all when his roster spot will be tenuous heading into 2017.
Prediction: Non-tendered (but potentially re-signed)