Looking To Future Will Force O's To Make Thorny Choices
By Matt Palmer
The Orioles waited 15 years for a playoff team, and the natural question for many people is how much of this historic, chemistry-driven club will return next season. Many players on the roster are under contract to return, but there are still decisions to make.
First baseman Mark Reynolds, who has a team option in 2013, has been a source of much speculation. During the first half of the 2012 season, Reynolds struggled so badly at third base, the club had to switch him to first base for the second straight year.
On top of his defensive problems, Reynolds didn't set the world on fire offensively for much of the season. Still, there is no doubt he turned a corner as he settled into first base and made several spectacular plays.
One of the commonly accepted theories surrounding Reynolds is the Orioles will offer a contract, but at a reduced salary. He made $7.5 million last season and the number would increase to $11 million if the option is retained. That's probably too much for a player as inconsistent as Reynolds. But, at times, he has the potential to be a difference maker, as he demonstrated during key September games against the Red Sox and Yankees. If Reynolds enjoys Baltimore and playing with the Orioles, he could be the team's first baseman again in 2013.
The Orioles also have an option ($1 million with a $100,000 buyout) on right-handed reliever Luis Ayala, who pitched in 66 games and posted a 2.42 ERA. Ayala should be with the Orioles next season, because he was an important part of a strong bullpen.
Among the Orioles eligible for free agency are Jim Thome, Endy Chavez and Nick Johnson. Johnson and Chavez are not likely to return, because they were both injured and barely productive when on the roster. The Orioles acquired Thome as part of a trade during the middle of the season, and he missed several weeks with a herniated disc in his back. But Thome is a future Hall of Famer, and if he chooses not to retire, Baltimore may be a good place for him to finish out his career.
The Orioles have several players eligible for arbitration, some for the first time. While backup players and relievers will get small salary bumps, there are going to be some interesting scenarios with the big names on the roster.
Matt Wieters, a two-time All-Star, is one of the backbones of the organization and should receive a significant raise. Wieters made $500,000 this season, and that number should swell to more than $2 million.
Pitchers such as Brian Matusz and Tommy Hunter went from woeful starters to dependable relievers in September. Now, they are eligible for arbitration for the first time. Matusz made $1.4 million and became useful against left-handers out of the bullpen. It will be hard for him to get much more than he did this year. Hunter made almost $500,000 this year, and will probably get just a little more than that.
Oft-injured left fielder Nolan Reimold, who was out with a neck injury for the majority of the season, won't have much of a leg to stand on in arbitration. Chris Davis, meanwhile, made less than $500,000 and should see a good bump before arbitration, thanks to his team-leading regular-season numbers in home runs (33) and RBIs (85).
The Orioles paid pitcher Jim Johnson nearly $2.7 million in 2012 as he switched from a starter to the team's closer. Johnson relished the role and became the best in the business with a major league-leading 51 saves during the regular season, which is also the 10th-most ever during a season. Johnson is going to be rewarded for such an effort.
Similarly, starter Jason Hammel will return to the Orioles, but he is arbitration-eligible for the fourth time. He was a steal for the Birds, who acquired him and Matt Lindstrom when they traded former ace Jeremy Guthrie. The Orioles dealt Lindstrom during the season, but Hammel became a top-level starter, despite the knee injuries that sidelined him. He started the Birds' first game during the American League Division Series against the Yankees.
His health notwithstanding, Hammel should get a salary increase for 2013. Hammel has been a dependable starter for the Orioles, even while their homegrown talent continues to develop.
Making players such as Wieters, Davis and Hammel happy for years to come is good business for general manager Dan Duquette and the front office. The Birds were a postseason team in 2012, and are primed to be a contender beyond this year.
Issue 178: October 2012