Should the Orioles Pursue a Star Shortstop in Free Agency?
By Arrick Joel
Would it be in the Orioles’ best interest to remain active in the star-studded shortstop market this winter?
With this year’s World Series matchup between the Houston Astros and the Atlanta Braves set to begin this week, the 2021 postseason is nearing its end. Beyond the Fall Classic, an impending free agent class is set for teams to try their hand at signing them this winter. Headlining the class is a quintet of premiere shortstops: Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Trevor Story, Marcus Semien, and Javier Baez. At the current state of their rebuild, it’s worth questioning whether or not the Baltimore Orioles should submit contract offers to any one of these free agent infield captains.
For one, the Orioles have yet to make the kind of splash a team would have to make to land one of the superstar shortstops during Mike Elias’ tenure as GM. Baltimore has ranked among the bottom three teams in Major League Baseball in team payroll each year since Elias took over in late 2018, including a dead-last finish in 2020. As for this past season, the O’s finished with a payroll of $53.8M, well short of the league-average figure of $130.8M.
Elias’ hesitancy to dole out big-figure contracts is understandable considering both where the team is in its development and the franchise’s history with the checkbook. A recent example is Chris Davis‘ haunting seven-year contract, worth $161,000,000. In his four full seasons with the Orioles prior to signing the deal, Davis posted a .876 OPS, racking up an impressive 159 home runs. However, after putting pen to paper, his unrelenting power shallowed off. Instead of setting franchise home run records, Davis began setting records for low batting averages, high strikeout rates, and hitless droughts, all while the Orioles were left paying him the salary of a superstar.
According to Spotrac’s Calculated Market Value system, Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager leads the pack with an estimated annual salary valued at $31.8M. Using data such as age, contract status, and statistical production, the system compares Seager’s potential contract figures this winter to those of Mookie Betts (12 YR/$365M), Anthony Rendon (7 YR/$245M), Francisco Lindor (10 YR/$341M), and Nolan Arenado (8 YR/$260M). With those numbers in mind and the league’s other 29 teams keeping a pulse on the situation, it seems highly unlikely that the Orioles would reach the forefront of negotiations.
While on the surface that reality may seem disappointing, Elias’ plan for developing the Orioles into a title contender isn’t predicated on this free agent market. Currently, Baltimore has control of the number one spot in MLB Pipeline’s farm system rankings. One of the five O’s prospects who rank among MLB’s top 100 prospects is shortstop Gunnar Henderson. MLB Pipeline’s bio on Henderson actually directly compares him to Corey Seager as both are tall, powerful left-handed hitters. In 105 games across Single-A Delmarva, Advanced-A Aberdeen, and Double-A Bowie last season, Henderson crushed 17 home runs and swiped 16 bases, showing off his power-speed skill combination.
Although it may frustrate fans in the short-term to see talented free agents like the ones on the market this winter take deals while the Orioles remain dormant. However, it’s important to remember the process of Baltimore’s rebuild and trust that the team’s homegrown talent will produce.