The Orioles have been mired in a lengthy rebuild for a number of years now, but as the team shows signs of a return to competitiveness there come the inevitable questions about how far a team is willing to bump payroll to maximize their window.
In 2022, the team’s opening day payroll was the lowest in all of baseball, the fourth straight year it ranked in the bottom five in the league, according to Cot’s Baseball. Of course, Baltimore was deep in a rebuild during that time and not focused on adding significant contracts. Yet as the team returns to relevance on the heels of an 83-79 2022 season, O’s fans would rightfully hope the team would be prepared to bump payroll to supplement their exciting young core.
“I’d love to be sitting in New York with $300 million payrolls. You’ve got to build it like any small, medium or large business. It’s cyclical, and then you hope that you can continue to feed that cycle, and I think we will be able to [return to the top half of the league],” Orioles CEO and chairman John Angelos said on 105.7 The Fan (via the Baltimore Sun).
History would suggest that the Orioles will do just that. Between 2011-18 the team regularly sat in the middle-to-upper part of the league in terms of payroll, a period in which the team made three playoff appearances out of the competitive AL East. That saw Opening Day payroll rise as high as $164MM in 2017, around four times as high as their Opening Day figure last season.
The team certainly has room to add payroll, yet it’s been a largely quiet winter for Baltimore. They’ve signed veteran starter Kyle Gibson to a one-year, $10MM deal, infielder Adam Frazier for $8MM and reliever Mychal Givens for $5MM. Those modest additions leave them on track for a 2023 payroll of $63MM, according to Fangraphs, that would have it on track to be the second lowest in baseball, per Cot’s.
Orioles fans would have every right to be a bit frustrated by that. GM Mike Elias says the team is still pursuing upgrades and would like to add another starter, according to the Baltimore Sun.
“We had some very close opportunities where it just went in a different direction,” Elias said. “We’ve been talking to everybody, there’s nothing imminent as of this afternoon, but that changes with sort of one text, one phone call sometimes. We really like our team. We see areas where we can get better, and we’re trying to pursue those players, but there’s competition out there.”
With the free agent market largely thinned out, it does appear that the trade market would be Baltimore’s avenue to any upgrades. The Orioles have one of the top farm systems in all of baseball, including eight players on Baseball America’s recently released Top 100 list, so do have a number of prospects that could be used to get a deal done. Of course, a number of those players will be viewed as long term building blocks in Baltimore, but the team could tap into their prospect wealth to put themselves in a better position to compete in 2023.