When free agency season began last month, a popular name linked with the Orioles was New York Mets pitcher Chris Bassitt. The Orioles needed starting pitchers, and Bassitt was one of the better ones available.
Bassitt signed a three-year, $63 million deal with the Toronto Blue Jays. He’ll be paid $19 million in 2023 and $22 million in 2024 and 2025.
Instead of signing Bassitt, who would have cost the Orioles a draft choice as compensation to the Mets because Bassitt had refused a $19.65 qualifying offer for 2023, the team signed another veteran starter, Kyle Gibson, 35, for one year and $10 million.
Besides Gibson, they signed second baseman Adam Frazier, 31, to a 2023 contract worth $8 million, and reliever Mychal Givens, 32, for $3 million in 2023 and a $6 million mutual option for 2024. Late Wednesday night, they added catcher James McCann, 32, from the Mets in exchange for a player to be named later.
McCann has $25 million remaining for the final two years of his contract, but New York will pay most of it; the Orioles will pay just $2.5 million in 2023 and 2024.
That means the Orioles are adding $23.5 million in contracts for four players over 30, and they’re increasing their 2022 Opening Day payroll by more than 50 percent, with more increases likely to come.
Instead of signing Bassitt or another Mets teammate, Tijuan Walker, who signed for four years and $72 million with the Phllies, or Jameson Taillon, who went to the Cubs for four years and $68 million, they’re spreading out their expenditures to address areas of need.
The Orioles preferred Gibson to Jordan Lyles, who led the Orioles in wins and innings pitched in 2022 but wasn’t offered an $11 million option to return. Frazier appears to be an upgrade over Rougned Odor at second. Givens brings experience to a young bullpen, and McCann is a stronger option to back up Adley Rutschman than Robinson Chirinos, 39.
Although there are fans who are disappointed because executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias hasn’t made a bigger move, I think a raise of more than 50 percent this offseason is a good place to start.
After the team brought up impact players such as Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson and surprised everyone in baseball with a 31-game turnaround, fans might have been expecting more aggressiveness from Elias. But it was clear that the team wasn’t going to pursue high-dollar free-agent pitchers such as Jacob deGrom, Carlos Rodón and Justin Verlander, nor shortstops, Xander Bogaerts, Carlos Correa, Dansby Swanson and Trea Turner, all of whom agreed to large contracts with new teams.
Instead, the Orioles have increased their payroll incrementally. It’s no longer the smallest in baseball. With the McCann deal, it’s about $67 million, ahead of only Pittsburgh and Oakland.
If the Orioles add another veteran starting pitcher, either by trade or free agency, their estimated Opening Day payroll is likely to be above $70 million and should surpass Tampa Bay and Cincinnati for 26th place.
Gibson could be the Orioles’ Opening Day starter. Last year’s starter, John Means, had Tommy John surgery, and the team probably doesn’t want top pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez to make his major league debut in the March 30th opener at Fenway Park. Kyle Bradish, Dean Kremer, Austin Voth and Tyler Wells also aren’t likely to get the first start of the year,
Gibson could be better than Lyles, who was last year’s top starter. Lyles benefited from the run on starting pitchers in the market, snaring a two-year, $17 million contract from Kansas City after the Orioles passed on his $11 million option for 2023.
Should the Orioles sign a second starter, then an offseason that has been about logical additions could be considered more of a success.
The Orioles’ 2023 payroll was always going to be low. Some of their best players — Rutschman, Henderson, first baseman Ryan Mountcastle and closer Félix Bautista — are paid minimum salaries and are still not eligible for arbitration.
Outfielders Austin Hays and Cedric Mullins are in their first year of arbitration, and Anthony Santander has another two seasons before he’s eligible for free agency.
It’s natural for fans to be envious when they watch the New York Mets, managed by Buck Showalter and owned by Steve Cohen, whose net worth is around $17.5 billion, according to Forbes, gobble up Correa and Verlander and convince closer Edwin Diaz and outfielder Brandon Nimmo to stay for huge extensions. The Mets’ luxury tax bill should exceed $100 million.
Correa’s 13-year, $350 million agreement with the San Francisco Giants collapsed over medical concerns after a physical, and his agent, Scott Boras, quickly pivoted. Correa, who’ll move to third base in New York, got a 12-year, $315 deal with the Mets.
Correa and Turner, who has an 11-year, $300 million deal with the Phillies, have contracts that extend into their 40s. No free agent who changed teams and signed a contract of 10 years or more has completed that contract for the team with which he signed.
I can’t see the Orioles signing a player for 10 or more years, not after first baseman Chris Davis, who didn’t even play the final two years of his seven-year, $161 million contract. That contract finally expired at the end of the season, an experience the Orioles don’t want to repeat.
The Orioles’ more measured approach hasn’t impressed all their fans, but the offseason isn’t over.
Note: The Orioles traded first baseman Lewin Díaz, who was designated for assignment on Wednesday, to Atlanta for cash considerations.