With the non-tender deadline coming this past Friday, the Baltimore Orioles brought back all six arbitration-eligible players for the 2023 season.
As the deadline approached for teams to tender the contracts of arbitration-eligible players, several notable players such as former MVP Cody Bellinger and top prospect Dominic Smith were non-tendered by their respective National League teams. However, the Baltimore Orioles tendered the contracts of each player who was eligible, and each of them will return to Baltimore barring an offseason trade. Of the six players tendered, the two Austins, Hays and Voth, seemed the least likely to return given their financial situation and relative success. Both players played a key role at various parts of the season for the O’s, but both also limped their way to the finish line in 2022 and it is difficult to see a clear role for both in 2023.
Other than Hays and Voth, the other players tendered by the O’s were Jorge Mateo, Cedric Mullins, Anthony Santander, and Dillon Tate. Santander was by far the most expensive since he is in his third year of arbitration eligibility and will make around $7.5 million next season. Voth is in his second year of arbitration eligibility and will earn $2 million. Each of the other four players are in their first year of arbitration eligibility. Arbitration pay escalates for each player the more experience they amass. So, players in their third year of arbitration eligibility typically earn more than players in their first or second year. After three years, the player becomes an unrestricted free agent barring a contract extension. Therefore, Santander will become a free agent after the 2023 season.
The struggles for Austin Hays in the second half of the season are well known by Orioles fans after a strong start that included a cycle in a six-inning win over the Washington Nationals. These struggles gave O’s fans reason to believe that he may not return next season as various young outfielders progress toward the big club. The biggest factor working in Hays’ favor is that he bats from the right side, which serves as a platoon advantage against left-handed pitching where the lineup is left-handed heavy, especially amongst young outfielders. The only other true right-handed hitting outfielders on the 40-man roster are Daz Cameron and Ryan McKenna. Of the three, Hays has the most upside and is the best hitter.
The O’s also have a plethora of young left-handed hitting outfielders on the 40-man roster in Jake Cave, Mullins, and Kyle Stowers as well as the switch-hitting Santander. Lefties Colton Cowser and Heston Kjerstad are also on the verge of the 40-man roster and could play in the big leagues at some point this season. With so much outfield depth, Hays will have to earn a spot in the lineup every night but should have a spot against southpaws.
For Austin Voth, he earned a spot in the rotation to end the season due to a strong performance and injuries to various other starters. Voth struggled mightily with the Nationals to begin the season and was picked up off waivers by the O’s midseason. With the Nats, he pitched to a 10.13 ERA in 19 relief appearances. In Baltimore, Austin started 17 games and appeared out of the bullpen for five to the tune of a 3.04 ERA and 132 ERA+. His strongest months were July and August where he earned nine starts and 47.2 innings pitched collectively. He gave up 14 earned runs total in this stretch for a sub-3 ERA each month.
It is yet to be known how much the Baltimore Orioles add to their starting rotation before Opening Day but there will be additions. Internally, Grayson Rodriguez may very well make the rotation to start next season and John Means will be activated from the injured list at some point over the first several months. There are plenty of free-agent pitchers available and the O’s will likely look externally for more starters. With these additions, it will be difficult for Voth to make the rotation initially, but he will likely start the season as a long reliever in the bullpen if he is not in the rotation.
For the first time in the Mike Elias regime, the Baltimore Orioles are entering the offseason with expectations of competitiveness in the upcoming season which means that the expectations and spending habits will be different than in the past few offseasons. By tendering the contracts of all six eligible players, the O’s have proven they are willing to expand the payroll to field a team that should compete for a playoff spot in 2023.