Earlier this week, Steve Melewski of the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network did some fun payroll math for the 2016 Baltimore Orioles. After some analysis, Melewski concluded that the Orioles, who have only $57.6 million absolutely set in stone ($16.3 million for Adam Jones, $15.8 million for Matt Wieters, $13.0 million for Ubaldo Jimenez, and $12.5 million for J.J. Hardy) should wind up with a payroll of close to $95 million after all of the arbitration-eligible players and those still under team control are given their contracts. If the front office wants to use a few non-tenders, an additional $5-10 million could be saved.
The Orioles played out the 2015 season with a payroll of just under $119 million. Right off the bat, that leaves $24 million to address the remaining holes on the roster, and most of it will be used to target Chris Davis. On the open market, Davis is going to be a $20-25 million annual salary player, likely over six years. Baltimore has never handed out a nine-figure deal, but if the team wants to keep Davis, that is exactly what will have to happen. Besides Davis, the Orioles will likely need to fill a hole in the starting rotation after Wei-Yin Chen leaves. Adding a bullpen arm might not hurt too, especially if Darren O’Day is serious about getting $9 million per year. The corner outfield spots were a mess last year as well, and Gerardo Parra, the team’s big trade acquisition is a free agent as well.
Over the past four years, the Orioles have increased payroll from $84.1 million in 2012 up to last year’s $118.9 million. Over four years, that’s an increase of over 41%, roughly 10% per year. From 2014 to 2015, payroll was up $11 million, although most of that was due to players seeing bumps in salary after arbitration. The increase was not necessarily due to ownership’s willingness to spend aggressively. To keep putting a winning product on the field, however, aggressive is exactly what ownership is going to have to be. Realistically, expect the Orioles to increase salary by another 10-12%. That would leave the front office with about $132 million to spend in 2016. As the lawsuit over TV revenues with the Washington Nationals begins to be resolved, the Orioles may have more money to spend. Don’t count on that just yet.
So, how best to spend $132 million?
Using that figure and the already committed $95 million, the Orioles should have $37 million to spend on free agents the rest of the offseason. They’re not getting David Price, Jordan Zimmermann, and Davis with that type of coin, but could get Davis and an outfielder like Alex Gordon, Denard Span, or Dexter Fowler. A mid-tier starter like Yovani Gallardo or Hisashi Iwakuma could be another target. However you slice it, the Orioles do have the money to give Davis $25 million per year while still adding one more piece. If Peter Angelos really wants to be aggressive (doubtful, but he is getting older and has never won a World Series as an owner), the Orioles can keep Davis and add a starter and an outfielder. O’Day probably goes elsewhere, but the Orioles bullpen should be strong enough to cope with his loss. Mychal Givens is ready to be a star.
The Orioles have just as much to offer Davis as any of the big market teams that will be after him. Also aiding the Orioles cause will be the fact that teams like the Boston Red Sox or San Francisco Giants will also be aggressively courting Price, Greinke, and Zimmermann. The aces should fall higher on the priority list than Davis, and may take longer to sign than Davis. At the end of the day, it will likely come down to whether or not Davis is comfortable with the direction of the franchise. The Orioles will need to outline a plan that shows Davis the team will continue spending aggressively throughout the offseason to make sure he plays for a contender for the remainder of his career. The Orioles made Davis into a star, now it’s time to pay him like one. It’s far from a lock, but the Orioles have a better shot at keeping Davis than most are willing to believe. There is a better than 50% chance Chris Davis is back wearing black and orange in 2016 and beyond.