MLB and the players reached a coronavirus compromise. What does it mean for the Orioles?

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BALTIMORE — With so much uncertainty as to what sports and the world will look like once the coronavirus pandemic passes, Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association reached an agreement last week that at least set up the framework for how baseball could operate when play does resume.

There’s also protections built in for the players should the season not happen at all.

For some teams who were hoping to maximize their current talent base and win now at the big league level, the prospect of a shortened or canceled season is dire from a baseball perspective. For the rebuilding Orioles, the calculus probably shifts a little bit.

Many of the details of the agreement have been published at ESPN and The Athletic, among other outlets, outlining the salary advances to players, possible changes to the amateur draft and what could happen if there’s no season.

Here are five aspects of the agreement that could have a significant impact on the Orioles and how they fare going forward in their rebuild.


If MLB goes forward with a five-round amateur draft, it will present a unique quandary for an Orioles front office who hopes to use the draft above all else to rebuild this team.

With bonus levels not rising their customary levels from the 2019 amounts, the Orioles would have approximately $13.87 million for bonuses to use on six picks, with the recommended slot bonus for the second overall pick taking up a significant portion of that at $7.79 million.

There are certainly drawbacks for the game as a whole and the 2020 group of draft prospects when it comes to a shortened draft and bonus levels not rising the way they were supposed to. But if the Orioles take a college bat like New Mexico State shortstop Nick Gonzales, sign him for a little below slot value and add a few more million-dollar college bats, the farm system will look a lot more balanced by this time next year.

As it stands, the Orioles have a massive gulf in depth between hitters and pitchers; they should graduate Ryan Mountcastle and Austin Hays from rookie status this summer as long as the season happens, and that will leave top prospect Adley Rutschman and a bunch of pitchers as the cream of their minor leagues.

Focusing on developed college bats won’t really cost the system much, since the Orioles’ 2019 draft and 2020 trades essentially gave them two rotations worth of pitchers for Low-A Delmarva, so they can probably manage without a large influx of pitching this year. They can also get the kinds of college arms they want as undrafted free agents off their model’s target list, so focusing on bats to supplement the improvement the team is hoping for from a new method of developing hitting could make for an effective use of resources in 2020.


The Orioles’ 40-man roster is owed just a shade under $80 million for the season, and over $35 million of that will go to veterans Chris Davis and Alex Cobb. Thursday’s agreement, however, means that those two players will be advanced $150,000 over the next two months, with different amounts advanced to the rest of the roster based on service time. Shortstop José Iglesias has the only other guaranteed contract on the roster at $3 million this year.

If games resume, those salaries will be prorated, meaning there could be significant savings for the Orioles on those high-priced veterans. Davis and Cobb have annual deferrals in their contracts of $6 million and $4.5 million, respectively, and it’s unclear how those are affected by a shortened season.

Either way, a roster that was going to be among the least expensive in baseball will be even less so this year. With a possible sharp decline in television revenue because of fewer games for an organization that relies heavily on MASN for that cashflow, not having to pay as much as they otherwise would have for a team that’s destined for 100-plus losses isn’t the worst thing, so long as the money saved gets invested elsewhere.


Cobb’s $14.5 million salary represents almost all of the money owed to the Orioles’ projected starting rotation, with John Means and Asher Wojciechowski still on pre-arbitration level salaries. That floor is $563,500, though they could be slightly above that.

Otherwise, Kohl Stewart’s major league free agent deal was worth $800,000 in the majors, with the same reported value for minor league free agent Wade LeBlanc when his contract is selected at the start of the season. Left-hander Tommy Milone is presumably on a similar deal.

This essentially means the low-risk, medium-reward gambit the Orioles took this offseason to stabilize their rotation is even lower risk, with the same reward of a rotation full of pitchers who are closer to league-average. The financial savings don’t really benefit anyone outside of the organization unless they’re invested in building a team that doesn’t need to paper over rotation holes in the future, though.

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The reported increase of roster sizes, at least for the first month of the season after what’s expected to be an abbreviated second spring training, could mean the Orioles have fewer decisions to make before rosters are finalized — and fewer tough decisions to make in games.

Using one or two of those spots for a relief pitcher, if allowed, can essentially create circumstances in which the Orioles can hold back the likes of Mychal Givens, Richard Bleier, Hunter Harvey and whoever of Miguel Castro, Paul Fry or Shawn Armstrong is pitching well at that time for games when they’re winning and still have enough pitching to cover the rest of the days.

That would get the best value out of those top relievers — should they all be better at protecting leads late than they were in 2019 — while also giving some low-leverage experience to the host of other bullpen options they’ll have who are looking to prove that they can eventually pitch in those higher-leverage moments.

The hope already was that experience from 2019 would make the entirety of the Orioles’ fringe bullpen collection better. But the drawback of a plan like this is if it doesn’t, three-run deficits in the middle innings can balloon quickly as the team’s top relievers are saved for another night. Manager Brandon Hyde knows what those walks to the mound are like. He’ll be hoping for a lot fewer of them.


All of these agreements were made with the worst-case scenario of no baseball being played in 2020, though it would be naïve to not regard that as a legitimate possibility. One of the players’ sticking points was how service time would work in that scenario, and they settled on the 2019 levels of service time being used in 2020 in the event of no games played this year.

Service time is how players are able to earn more money through salary arbitration, get closer to free agency and accrue retirement benefits. For the Orioles’ purposes, the three-year benchmark to earn salary arbitration and the raise that comes with it is most relevant, though this year the cutoff for “Super Two” arbitration eligibility, which rewards players who were close to that level, was two years and 15 days. (The year before, it was two years and 34 days, so there’s a wide range of possibilities for that.)

Either way, six Orioles could reach arbitration eligibility under this set-up — Pedro Severino, Renato Núñez, Shawn Armstrong, Hector Velázquez, Anthony Santander and Wojciechowski. Nonroster infielder Pat Valaika, who isn’t on the team yet but likely will be, could make seven.

Severino, Armstrong and Núñez all earned full seasons in 2019, while Velázquez was close and would be in Super Two territory either way if that number was added to his existing total. For Santander and Wojciechowski, the math gets dicey depending on the Super Two cutoff, but they earned enough to get them past any possible threshold in 2019.

All of this could mean that unless they prove themselves worthy or are willing to take less money in arbitration than normal, all those players outside Santander and maybe Núñez or Severino could be deemed too expensive, with a minimum-salary player replacing him on the roster.


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