Orioles’ hot stove more about retention than addition


Apr 23, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Baltimore Orioles designated hitter

Nelson Cruz

(23) talks with right fielder

Nick Markakis

(21) during Wednesday

As the days get shorter and the temperature drops, baseball fans will begin gravitating to the heat of the MLB off season hot stove. Checking in to see if their team signed any marquee players that could help them in their upcoming playoff push and reading rumors of trades that could change the complexion of the entire season.

It will be a bit different for Orioles fans, however. After winning their first division title since 1997, the Orioles will be taking more of a defensive approach this off season, making Baltimore fans more concerned with players that already play for the Orioles.

With pending free agents such as Nelson Cruz, Nick Marakis, Andrew Miller, and Delmon Young, the Orioles will be more aggressive in their retention of current players than they will with their pursuit of new ones.

They have already picked up the options of Darren O’Day and Wei-Yin Chen and extended J.J. Hardy. There clearly is intent to keep the look of the 2014 AL East Champs intact moving forward.

If Cruz, Markakis, and Miller were to leave, the current free agent crop at their positions is too thin to expect the Orioles to be one of the lucky few teams to get a top-tier free agent to fill the void. Their best options are with their own free agent players.

With that said, the Orioles will also have to consider what they will be paying their upcoming crop of arbitration-eligible players before they throw too much money at their free agent players.

Chris Davis (despite an extremely disappointing season plagued by injury, suspension, and underperformance) is still likely in store for a slight raise from the $10.35 million he earned after his monstrous 2013 season.

Matt Wieters will see a raise to his $7.7 million after missing most of the season recovering from Tommy John surgery. His raise will likely account for his All-Star selection and overall value to the organization.

Steve Pearce will see the biggest raise in salary of the arbitration-eligible players. With just 383 plate appearances, Pearce hit .293/.373/.556 with 21 home runs. He helped offset Davis’ season-long struggles and gave the Orioles another serious offensive weapon. He also played terrific defense down the stretch. His $850K salary will reflect his 2014 performance, which means he could be paid much, much more.

General manager Dan Duquette has proven to  be effectively tight with team payroll, but now it seems that serious spending is inevitable to maintain the Orioles’ divisional status. The Boston Red Sox will no doubt bounce back from their poor 2014 campaign, and the New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays should never be counted out of making serious upgrades.

The Orioles have a target on their back, and on the backs of their pending free agents. This off season may prove to be one of the most crucial in franchise history, as it could have serious repercussions on the team’s future, both long-term and short-term. Retaining players isn’t the goal of the Orioles’ front office. Their goal will be to retain the right players, at the right price to maintain financial flexibility moving forward.