Delving into 2018 arbitration salary projections - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Dan Connolly

Delving into 2018 arbitration salary projections

When we explore what the Orioles need to do to add quality starting pitching, part of the premise for why they should be able to make moves is that a ton of money is coming off the books.

The rotation alone will shed about $32.5 million from 2017 with the departures of Ubaldo Jimenez. Wade Miley and Chris Tillman. (there’s also the departure of Jeremy Hellickson, who made $17.2 million in 2017, but the Philadelphia Phillies paid all of about $15.7 million of that as part of a salary juggle with Hyun Soo Kim’s contract).

With some other contracts coming off the books (J.J. Hardy’s $14 million, Seth Smith’s $7 million, potentially Welington Castillo’s $6 million, Ryan Flaherty’s $1.8 million, among others), it’s conceivable the Orioles have $60 million or so to play with if they equal 2017’s franchise record payroll in 2018.

It doesn’t always work out that way, though. There are costs that will sap a chunk of those perceived savings. The Orioles will spend at least $2.5 million in buyouts and another $4 million or so in guaranteed contractual raises (Mark Trumbo, Adam Jones, Darren O’Day).

And then there is arbitration, which increases payroll by the nature of baseball’s collective bargaining agreement rules. The Orioles will probably spend an additional $20 million or so in 2018 for the seven arb-eligible players they have.

So that $60 million or so that likely will come off the books is closer to roughly $30-35 million — still a good sum, but not as significant as first thought.

All of that can change, of course. Arbitration salaries will play a big role as will potential re-signings. That’s why I keep throwing “or so,” around in this piece. It’s hard to pinpoint a payroll number in October.

MLBtraderumors.com published its arbitration projections for every team Monday, including seven arb-eligible players for the Orioles. The site has its own formula to project arb salaries, and it’s usually rather accurate given the many variables.

The club has fewer cases this year than it has recently, and that’s good. And all seven players listed should be tendered contracts – they are either instrumental to the Orioles’ production or are financially affordable relative to their positions and experience levels.

Here’s a look at each one of the Orioles’ seven arbitration players, their projected salaries by mlbtraderumors.com and my thoughts on each.

3B Manny Machado, projected 2018 arb salary, $17.3 million

Machado, heading into his final year before free agency, made $11.5 million in 2016, which was a $6.5 million jump from what he made in 2016. So, this would actually a represent a slight downgrade in salary increase ($5.8 million) from his previous arbitration-eligible offseason.

Still, based on what I can find from previous salary figures, $17.3 million would be a franchise record salary for an arb-eligible Oriole. It also is the second highest estimated salary in these projections, behind Chicago White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu (listed by the website as $17.9 million). In comparison, Washington’s Bryce Harper already agreed to a 2018 salary to avoid the arbitration discussions; he’ll make $21.625 million in 2018, also his walk year.

We all know the Orioles would like to re-sign Machado, a franchise cornerstone, to an extension this offseason. But, like many, I’m skeptical on the reality of that outcome. Machado’s going to get a huge payday, and I doubt the Orioles will throw enough money at him this winter to have him forego the free-agency process. So, the best guess is he’ll get $17-$18 million from the Orioles in 2018 and will be looking for a new job the following winter.

LHP Zach Britton, projected 2018 salary, $12.2 million

I think this one might be a little light, given that Britton made $11.4 million in 2017, and even though he dealt with an injury-riddled season, he still converted 15 of 17 save opportunities (88 percent) and saves are an important stat in arbitration hearings. I’d be surprised if he only gets an $800,000 raise given his body of work (93 percent save conversion in four seasons). But it is tough to find a true comp for Britton’s career trajectory heading into his final arbitration year.

That said, the real question is whether any figure Britton is going to receive will be too rich for the Orioles’ blood. His salary last year was a franchise record for a closer – remember, the Orioles cut loose Jim Johnson in a salary-dump trade when he was looking at a $10 million arbitration salary in 2014. And since Britton wasn’t fully healthy in 2017 you have to wonder if that gives the higher-ups even more reason not to spend so much money on a closer.

Still, if they trade Britton, they’d have to get a whole lot in return, and club executive vice president Dan Duquette has gone on record saying he’d prefer not to deal from the team’s strength: the back-end of the bullpen.

RHP Brad Brach, projected 2018 salary, $5.2 million

You know above, where I wrote that saves are a key arbitration statistic? Well, Brach will be the poster boy to reinforce that notion this winter. His salary jumped from $1.25 million to $3.05 million when he turned in the best year of his career in 2016, an All-Star campaign. He wasn’t as effective in 2017, but he led the Orioles with 18 saves (in 24 chances). MLBTraderumors.com figures that’s worth a $2-million-plus hike for this season. And my sense is that’s about right.

The question, of course, then becomes: Will the Orioles pay in excess of $5 million for the setup man to a $12-million-plus closer? That’s $17-plus million for the last two cogs in the Orioles’ bullpen. It’s why I really wonder whether both Brach and Britton will be in the same bullpen in April 2018. Given the club’s rotation holes, trading one of the two for starting help makes sense.

2B Jonathan Schoop, projected 2018 salary, $9.1 million

This would represent a near-tripling of Schoop’s $3.5 million salary in 2017. Schoop had the best season of an Oriole, though, and the second year of arbitration often triggers a big jump. So, it also doesn’t seem out of line.

Schoop’s not a free agent until after the 2019 season, so this would be a great time to offer an extension, set Schoop up for years to come and buy out his last two years of arbitration. It’s not something the Orioles have done often, but it’s not unfathomable either.

RHP Kevin Gausman, projected 2018 salary, $6.8 million

Oh, to be a starting pitcher in the majors. Gausman had his worst statistical season since he posted a 5.66 ERA in 20 games as a rookie in 2013. This year, he was 11-12 with a 4.68 ERA, a half-run higher than his career mark. And yet he’s probably looking at potentially doubling his $3.45 million salary from 2017.

That’s the way it is when a starting pitcher – and one that made 34 starts – reaches the arbitration levels. In one sense, $6.8 million is a bargain for an effective MLB starter. But once he gets to that stratosphere – and turns 27 in January – I don’t think you can look at him as young and cheap anymore. I don’t think it can be overstated that 2018 is an exceptionally important year for Gausman.

SS Tim Beckham, projected 2018 salary, $3.1 million

This is his first, arb-eligible year with the Orioles after going through the process, and settling, with the Tampa Bay Rays last winter for $885,000. The 2018 projection seems about right, given Beckham’s increase in offensive production in 2017.

At this point, a $3 million starting shortstop is a tremendous bargain, and $11 million cheaper than what the Orioles paid Hardy in 2017. But if Beckham’s dropoff in September (.180 average, 32 strikeouts in 89 at-bats) carries over, a $3 million utility infielder isn’t a bargain. The belief is he is somewhere in the middle between his awful September and magnificent August (.394 average, 1.062 on-base-plus-slugging percentage).

C Caleb Joseph, projected 2018 salary, $1.4 million

This time last year Orioles fans were aghast that a player could go an entire season without driving in a run and still get a $176,500 raise the way Joseph ($523,500 to $700,00) did last winter. Well, this year, the Orioles’ affable backup catcher could double his salary. And there won’t be much hand-wringing.

Joseph, 31, hit a respectable .256 with eight homers and 28 RBIs in 89 games while continuing to call a good game behind the plate. It’s possible Joseph may end up as the Orioles’ primary starter early on in 2018 while sharing duties with prospect Chance Sisco if Castillo chooses to become a free agent. So the salary figure seems about right, I suppose.

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