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Orioles need to take care of their own

First off, a bit of housekeeping; the Orioles made their first round of roster cuts after yesterday’s 6-1 loss to Boston. Ryan Adams and Josh Bell were optioned to triple-A Norfolk, and Dylan Bundy was optioned to single-A Delmarva. Xavier Avery, LJ Hoes, Michael Ohlman, Brian Ward, and Steve Johnson were also reassigned to minor league camp.

Before yesterday’s game the Orioles announced that they had renewed the contract of catcher Matt Wieters after the two sides couldn’t reach an agreement on a 2012 salary. Wieters will be eligible for arbitration after next season, and if the last few years are any indication he should have plenty of leverage in a potential arbitration case. Dan Duquette went to arbitration with pitcher Brad Bergesen this year, and he was going to go with Adam Jones before a deal was reached literally the night before the hearing. For the record, I don’t blame Duquette for going to arbitration with Bergesen, because based on Bergesen’s statistics it was stupid of his agent to suggest going to arbitration. (Had I been him I would have gladly accepted the raise the Orioles were offering him as it stood.) However in my opinion the idea of going to arbitration with Jones was a bad one.

Previously the last time the Orioles had been to arbitration with a player was 2006 when they defeated starting pitcher Rodrigo Lopez (which wasn’t a surprised because the rest of the league defeated him also). Again, I have no problem with Duquette going to arbitration with Bergesen (since Bergesen didn’t want to accept what the Orioles offered). However it’s worth mentioning that Andy MacPhail’s actions indicated that he wasn’t a fan of going to arbitration with players; I agree with that modus operandi. I think that should be a last resort, only used if a player is being unreasonable in his salary demands (ie-Bergesen in 2012). On the other hand, Dan Duquette’s past indicates that he’s more than willing to go to arbitration with anybody. This included Adam Jones (had an 11th hour deal not been reached), and it included Jeremy Guthrie (had he not been traded).
Photo credit: prosportsblogging.comSo the question is whether or not Duquette would take Matt Wieters to arbitration next year? As I said above, he seems more than willing to play “family feud” internally with players if need be. In some cases (again, Bergesen and Lopez come to mind) this is a smart move on the part of the team. In others I feel that you can potentially outsmart yourself. First off let’s not forget how arbitration goes; the player and his agent are arguing on his behalf, while the team is trying to convince the arbitrator that the player isn’t good enough to deserve the money for which he’s asking. So again, at this point there’s no reason to believe that Wieters won’t have all the leverage in the world in a potential arbitration hearing. The Orioles would really go to a hearing and argue against a gold glove all-star catcher?
In fairness, this isn’t an issue right now and it won’t be until after this season. But the fact that the Orioles merely renewed Wieters’ contract as opposed to raising his salary might well be foretelling. To his credit, Wieters said that he didn’t feel any animosity towards the Orioles for doing what they did. But do we take him at his word, or is he just saying that?  Keep in mind that Wieters is represented by Scott Boras, who’s frosty relationship with the Orioles in the past might well come into play here.
In no way am I suggesting that teams should in effect have to “kiss up” to star players. However I do think that you have to level with and be fair with people. Having said that, for all we know the Orioles didn’t raise him this year because they fully intend to give Wieters a nice bump next season to avoid arbitration. (And that in itself would make a lot of sense if you think about it.) But what’s the worst case scenario here? Wieters has two years of team control after this season, and in both of them he’s eligible for arbitration. If the O’s go through a messy arbitration case with him (or two for that matter) in an attempt to save on salary, how exactly does that bode for signing Wieters long-term?
The worry of course is that Wieters will tire of the Orioles’ antics and have no intention of re-signing with the Orioles. He would then become a free agent after the 2014 season; guess with whom Boras has a great relationship? Boston and New York of course! Losing a player of Wieters’ caliber at all because of unwillingness to negotiate would be lousy, but losing him to a division rival would be a very bitter pill to swallow.
Let’s keep in mind that we’re still three full regular seasons (including 2012) away from that. I’m willing to believe that the Orioles probably have a plan with regard to how they’re going to attack this. Matt Wieters is the type of catcher that comes around once in a generation, and I highly doubt that the Orioles are going to totally play hardball with him. Again, I’m in no way suggesting that in effect the employer should “kiss up” to the employee. However this is not your average run-of-the-mill business either. If they want to keep him, at some point the Orioles will have to pay up. If they don’t want to pay him in the next couple of years, they might just be raising the price on themselves later on, or risking Wieters hitting moonshots out of Camden Yards against the Orioles someday.
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