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Orioles Avoid Arbitration

Karen Mallonee/flickr

Are you a glass half-full or half-empty person?

If you’re an Orioles fan, your answer to that question based off the news of last week, may be determined by whether you take a long or short term view.

The Birds signed arguably their three most important players, Manny Machado, Chris Tillman and Zach Britton to lucrative contracts for the 2017 season.

Machado, the third baseman and the team’s best all-around position player, will receive $11.5 million in 2017, while Britton, the closer who was perfect last year, will get $11.4 million this year.

And Tillman, the Orioles best starting pitcher, is slated to earn a shade over $10 million for 2017.

If you’re counting, that’s nearly $33 million for three players. Not bad for a team with the reputation of throwing nickels around with the same frequency as you might manhole covers.

No matter how unlikely the signings may seem, what the Orioles did was completely necessary. The team avoided the process known as arbitration.

There, players who haven’t qualified to be free agents spar with clubs over salaries for the coming season. The team submits a salary offer, the player submits a desired figure and an independent arbitrator selects one of the two.

Arbitration almost always leaves bruised feelings between a team and a player as the front office first tells the player why he doesn’t deserve what he wants, then must make up with the player after the arbitrator makes a decision.

Arbitration often opens the door for a player to walk when their free agent year does arrive.

The Orioles have proven near invincible in arbitration hearings since Peter Angelos became principal owner 24 years ago. They might have beaten Tillman, Machado and Britton, but why risk hard feelings when there’s a future to consider.

And that’s where the glass half empty feeling comes in. Tillman, the Orioles’ likely Opening Day starter, won a team-high 16 games last season.

Tillman is Baltimore’s most reliable starting pitcher and can be a free agent after the 2017 season. A protracted arbitration fight could have poisoned any chance the Orioles have of signing Tillman to an extension before the end of the season and before he hits the open market.

Britton, meanwhile, won’t be a free agent until after the 2018 season. The left-hander did go 47-for-47 in save chances last year, but the likelihood that he will be similarly brilliant this year is unlikely.

And talented closers, while important, aren’t all that rare. In other words, Britton could be allowed to walk for a higher priority.

Which brings us to Machado. At 24 years old, the shortstop-turned third baseman may already be the cornerstone of the Orioles franchise for a decade or more to come.

Machado hit .294 last year and set career marks in home runs, RBIs and slugging percentage. In addition, he may already be the best defensive third baseman in baseball and that’s not his natural position.

It will likely cost the Orioles at least double the $160 million over seven years it took to sign Chris Davis, assuming they have the stomach to pay it when he can be a free agent after 2018.

If they don’t, that glass had better be more than half full of Alka-Seltzer.

And that’s how I see it for this week. 

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