In the last several days, the evidence that money is tight for the Orioles keeps mounting. On January 15th, the Orioles reached an agreement on a one-year, $4.75 million contract with first baseman/outfielder Trey Mancini but failed to sign outfielder Anthony Santander.
Santander asked for $2.475 million, the Orioles offered $2.1 million, and the case will go to arbitration.
Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said the team wouldn’t negotiate between the deadline for exchanging figures with those eligible for arbitration and the hearing.
“With us not having been able to reach an agreement with him, which is OK, it’s part of the he business, it happens,” Elias said. “We will be proceeding to arbitration.”
Not long after Elias said that came the first report from MASNsports.com that Santander might be available in a trade followed by another in The Athletic that the Orioles attempted to convince Mancini and Santander to defer part of their 2021 salaries to 2022 and/or 2023. Both rejected the offer.
Deferred money is common in long-term deals, but not for players who are in their first year of arbitration, as Santander is, or their second, as is Mancini.
Santander had a strong year in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season and would be attractive in a trade.
Elias has proclaimed he expects the Orioles to be an aggressive trader, a “transactional” team.
Santander appears to be the kind of player the Orioles would want to keep. If they trade him, what message does that send to other attractive players who reach arbitration eligibility?
It’s one thing to trade or release players who are going to be expensive. Shortly before the Orioles would have had to offer infielder Jonathan Villar a 2019 contract that might have cost them $10 million, they were able to trade him to Miami for left-hander Easton Lucas.
It worked out well for the Orioles because even though Villar signed for $8.2 million with the Marlins, they got a better, cheaper shortstop in José Iglesias, who was traded to the Los Angeles Angels last month rather than paying him the $3.5 million 2021 option they had picked up in November.
Iglesias played well but injuries limited him to 39 games in the 60-game 2020 season.
The pandemic has made money much tighter. The uncertainty of when and how many fans will be admitted to Oriole Park whenever the 2021 season begins doesn’t make things easier.
Santander’s case is different than those of Villar or Iglesias. Although he’s not technically a home-grown Oriole, he’s only played in the majors as an Oriole.
After the Orioles took Santander in the Rule 5 draft in December 2016, he struggled at the major league level late in 2017 and early in 2018. It wasn’t until June 2019 that he was called up and produced.
In 93 games in 2019, Santander hit .261 with a .773 OPS. He had 20 home runs and 59 RBIs. Last season, Santander again hit .261 but his OPS was .890, and he produced 11 homers and 32 RBIs in 37 games. His season ended on September 4th when he strained an oblique muscle.
Elias is not the sentimental type and looks at the Orioles’ internal analytics and their bottom line.
But baseball fans are sentimental, and they want to identify with players.
On the current team, there are a number of players with appealing stories. There’s Mancini, who dealt with colon cancer last year and is eager to come back this season.
There’s John Means, who was never on any Orioles top prospect lists, but made the All-Star team in 2019 and, after losing his father to cancer last August, had a strong September.
Austin Hays and Cedric Mullins are fun to watch play the outfield, and Ryan Mountcastle lived up to his billing as a top prospect.
Santander’s rise at the plate and in right field has been enjoyable to track, too.
If the rebuild is successful and the team is more competitive in 2022 and 2023, fans will identify with the best players.
The idea of trading a potential star player just as he’s blossoming is objectionable to fans.
The Orioles might end up signing Santander and allowing him to stay through this season and beyond. However, in this new age of Orioles baseball, trading players after they’ve spent just a few years in Baltimore might turn out to be the case.
No universal DH or expanded playoffs: Major League Baseball and the Players Association failed to reach agreement on a universal designated hitter in 2021 or expansion of the postseason.
With so much interleague play in 2020, the DH was used in all games and the playoffs were expanded to 16 teams.
MLB has an agreement with ESPN to televise additional postseason games. For now, 10 teams will play in October.
The league offered the universal DH as an incentive for expanded playoffs, and the union objected. Both items will be part of the negotiations for the next Collective Bargaining Agreement, which expires in December.
Spring training in Arizona delayed? Eight cities in Arizona and the director of the Cactus League have petitioned MLB to delay spring training in their state.
Their thought is that if spring training is delayed, Covid-19 infection rates could fall markedly in a month.
The Orioles are scheduled to begin spring training in Sarasota, Florida in three weeks, on February 16th, and there has been no movement from Florida officials and the Grapefruit League to delay the start.
MLB has told teams to be prepared to begin spring training on time, and the Players Association expects to play a full 162-game schedule beginning on April 1st.