In an effort to allow younger players to earn more money, Major League Baseball and the MLBPA added language to the collective bargaining agreement (CBA), agreed upon in 2022, that created a bonus pool of $50 million to be handed out to eligible players between the end of each season and December 31 of that calendar year. The Commissioners office funds the money.
The CBA defines an eligible player as "Players who, at the start of a championship season, have less than three years of cumulative credited Major League service (and who have not qualified for salary arbitration as a “Super Two” and were not signed as Foreign Professionals or Extended Free Agents) are eligible to receive additional compensation under the Pre-Arbitration Performance Bonus Program based on their performance in that season...".
The first chunk of the money is awarded to qualifying players who received end-of-year awards. Players finishing in the top five in MVP and Cy Young voting receive between $1 - $2.5 million, Rookie of the Year winners receive $750,000 with second place finishers receiving $500,000, and players earning All-MLB first team honors receive $1 million while second teamers get $500,000.
It should be noted that a player can only receive a bonus for the highest award he wins. For example, if a pre-arbitration eligible player were to win Cy Young and place fourth in MVP voting, he would only receive a bonus for the Cy Young award. Interestingly, for a player to receive these bonuses, they must attend the awards ceremonies. If they choose not to attend the awards ceremony they forfeit the bonus.
The remaining money is divided up between the top 100 pre-arbitration players based on WAR. Since several different WAR calculations are commonly used, the MLB and MLBPA created their own WAR formula they refer to as "Joint WAR". Using this formula, the Orioles tied with the Cleveland Guardians and Detroit Tigers for the most players receiving bonus money, but it was the Orioles players that received the highest total amount.
Orioles players raked in the money from the pre-arbitration bonus pool
Just as O's fans have come to expect, it was Adley Rutschman leading the way. After earning All-MLB first team honors, Rutschman's bonus total was $1,798,439, good enough for the third highest among all eligible players (behind only Julio Rodriguez and Corbin Carroll). The next three Birds were Kyle Bradish, Felix Bautista and Gunnar Henderson, who received the 6th, 7th and 8th highest totals respectively.
Bradish received a $1 million bonus for finishing fourth in the Cy Young race which brought his bonus total to $1,666,786. He was also named to the All-MLB second team but, as explained above, he was not able to collect both bonuses. Bautista's bonus came to 1,467,094 after he was also named to the All-MLB first team, and Henderson came in at $1,428,001 after being named the AL Rookie of the Year.
Other O's to receive bonuses were Yennier Cano at $336,159, Grayson Rodriguez at $284,002, and Dean Kremer at $276,862. When it was all said and done, O's players had accounted for $7,257,343, or approximately 14.5% of the $50 million, more than any other team. The combination of awards and "Joint WAR" together showed what baseball fans already knew; the Baltimore Orioles have the best young core in the game.
All seven of these guys will be pre-arbitration eligible again at the start of the 2024 season. With guys like Heston Kjerstad, and Jordan Westburg getting the chance to play full seasons and Jackson Holliday expected to debut very early if he's not on the opening day roster, it's reasonable to believe that the Orioles will stake claim to even more of the bonus money next season.