Baltimore Orioles anger fan base with arbitration decisions
The Baltimore Orioles’ front office angered much of the fan base by not settling with the team’s two biggest stars
Tuesday was the deadline for MLB teams to settle on a salary with their arbitration-eligible players. The Baltimore Orioles reached an agreement with RP Tanner Scott, but they filed for arbitration with 1B Trey Mancini and SP John Means.
Scott will receive a salary of $1.05 million in his first season reaching arbitration. He is coming off a down 2021 season with an ERA of 5.17 in 62 games worth exactly 0.0 WAR.
Those numbers are very disappointing after his breakout 2020 season when his ERA was a stellar 1.31 in 25 games, not such a small sample for a relief pitcher. His downturn certainly hurts his earnings this offseason, but a return to form would provide a big boost next year.
Mancini, for his part, filed at $8 million while the team filed at $7.375 million. We all know by this point about his remarkable return to baseball after defeating colon cancer, undoubtedly making his 2021 season a success.
But an extraordinary story made for Hollywood does not translate to an extraordinary pay raise. His OPS of .758 was only slightly above league-average for an OPS+ of 104, resulting in just 0.8 WAR due to poor defense.
His power did not disappear, but his 21 home runs and .255 batting average were far below his 2019 highs. Arbitration-eligible for the third time, he will be getting a bump up from a repeat salary of $4.75 million.
The lone ace on the Orioles, Means filed at $3.1 million while the team filed at $2.7 million. After three solid but volatile seasons, Means is reaching arbitration for the first time, a remarkable achievement for someone who used to be a non-prospect.
He pitched to a 3.62 ERA across 26 starts in 2021, missing time in the middle of the season due to injury. He recorded 134 strikeouts in 146 innings and of course threw a no-hitter. Moving the left field fence back should help going forward, but Means still gives up a concerningly high number of home runs (like every Oriole pitcher).
I like to think I know how MLB teams operate and how they build their rosters, but I admit I don’t understand how arbitration figures are calculated. Three million dollars for a good pitcher is low, even in their first year of arbitration.
The numbers seem low, though, because they are below market value by design while being above the league minimum that players earn during their first three seasons. Each year of arbitration brings a higher figure than the previous year by default, barring a few examples. Mancini is one, as missing the 2020 season resulted in the same salary the following year.
The small differences in filing numbers created an uproar online, as many Oriole fans were angered that the front office would risk alienating their most popular players over a few hundred thousand dollars, chump change to an MLB team.
No one wants to sit in front of a panel and hear why their team thinks they are worth less than what they think of themselves. Some fans have said this move makes it harder to defend GM Mike Elias and company as part of a long list of cost-cutting measures.
Those criticisms are certainly justified, but it might be too soon to get mad over the differences in figures. MLB Network Insider Mark Feinsand had this to say on Twitter after the deadline passed:
"An executive told me today that they don’t always know what the other’s filing number is going to be, which is why some of them are so close. It’s not out of the question that deals will still be made."
This is an important note because most fans, like you and me, do not fully understand the arbitration process and assume that filing is a kind of last resort. We think that teams and player agents go back and forth on a figure and only file when they do not want to budge, but apparently that is not the case.
The current trend among front offices is to “file and trial” where they won’t negotiate after filing, but that is likely to change this season. Any other year the arbitration process would have ended a month ago, but because the owners locked out the players this is all happening now. With the filing deadline coming during spring training, hearings will occur during the regular season.
A contentious process will only be more disruptive if players and executives have to take time out of their gameday routines to argue over money, likely creating more friction between the two sides.
With the schedule and limited knowledge in mind, there is good reason to think the Orioles will settle with their two biggest stars. That is no guarantee, but with a small separation and a potential PR nightmare looming, it is in the front office’s interest to avoid an arbitration trial.