The group stays together.
The Orioles entered Friday’s non-tender deadline tied for the most players eligible for MLB arbitration with 17. With a number that high, it was expected that At least one player – maybe more – gets fired and becomes a free agent.
Instead, Baltimore signed four players, including shortstop Jorge Mateo and outfielder Ryan McKenna, and offered contracts to the other 13, including slugger Anthony Santander, starting pitcher John Means and outfielders Cedric Mullins and Austin Hays.
Mateo was considered the most likely candidate to not make the cut given his struggles in 2023 (.607 OPS) and the impasse of the Orioles’ young infielders. But Baltimore values Mateo’s speed and glove at shortstop, agreeing to a one-year contract for 2024 worth $2.7 million, according to a source with direct knowledge of the deal, to avoid arbitrage.
The club did the same with McKenna, whose versatility as a right-handed hitter against lefties, pinch runner and late-inning defensive replacement has made him a common fixture on manager Brandon Hyde’s bench in recent years.
The Orioles also agreed to one-year deals with left-handed reliever Keegan Akin and outfielder Sam Hilliard, whom the club recently claimed off waivers. McKenna and Hilliard each signed for $800,000, while Akin agreed to an $825,000 contract, according to a source with direct knowledge of the deals. The numbers given to Mateo, McKenna and Akin are all in line with what the projection sites predicted, while Hilliard received about $300,000 less than was estimated.
In addition to Santander, Means, Mullins and Hays, Baltimore offered contracts to the following players: first basemen Ryan Mountcastle and Ryan O’Hearn; left-handers Danny Coulombe, Cole Irvin and Cionel Pérez; right-handers Tyler Wells, Dillon Tate and Jacob Webb; and infielder Ramón Urías. The Orioles and player representatives can negotiate over the next two months or wait for an arbitration hearing to decide their 2024 salaries.
Like Mateo, McKenna and Akin, Tate and Urías were considered potential non-bidders. Tate did not pitch in the major leagues in 2023 due to a forearm injury, while the team had to weigh Urias’ reliability and versatility against the potential of its young prospects on field.
Arbitration is a system that grants salary increases to big, established players who have not yet spent enough time in the majors to become free agents. Players with at least three but less than six years of MLB service are eligible for arbitration. MLB players become free agents after six years of service.
Having 17 arbitration-eligible players is something that executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias described as “a hallmark of having a good roster these days” during his end-of-season press conference in october. This figure will likely also mean a higher payroll in 2024.
The 17 players the Orioles have signed or offered contracts through Friday are collectively estimated to earn more than $55 million in 2024, based on averages of MLB trade rumors, Cot’s baseball contracts and Spotrac projections. As of 2023, these players have together earned around $30 million.
The highest projected salary among Orioles arbitration players is Santander, who is projected to earn $12.8 million in his final year of arbitration, about $5.5 million more than his figure from 2023.
Means ($5.6 million projected) and Coulombe ($2.5 million projected) are the only other Orioles in their final year of arbitration. Mullins ($6.2 million projected) and Hays ($5.8 million projected), O’Hearn ($3.3 million projected), Tate ($1.5 million) and Mateo are all between four and five years of service.
The remaining nine players are all eligible for first-time arbitration: Ryan Mountcastle ($3.9 million projected), Wells ($2.2 million projected), Urías ($2.1 million projected), Irvin (projected $1.9 million), Hilliard, McKenna and Webb (projected $1.9 million). $1.2 million), Pérez ($1.2 million projected) and Akin.
McKenna and Wells have not yet reached three years of service, but they earned “Super Two” status by being among the top 22 percent of players between two and three years of service. The Super Two limit this season was two years and 118 days, according to the Associated Press. McKenna and Wells can now receive four years of arbitration instead of three. Starting pitcher Dean Kremer was six days away from Super Two eligibility.
Tendered teams and players have until mid-January to negotiate. If no deal has been reached by January 12, both parties will propose their preferred 2024 salary for the player. If an agreement still cannot be reached, a panel of arbitrators will choose one of two numbers – and no other possible value – after a hearing in late January or February.