The Orioles took the first step toward increasing their major league payroll this offseason, announcing they have tendered contracts to all six of their salary arbitration-eligible players ahead of Friday night’s deadline.
Outfielders Cedric Mullins, Austin Hays and Anthony Santander, as well as shortstop Jorge Mateo and right-handers Austin Voth and Dillon Tate, were tendered contracts, allowing the Orioles to negotiate a deal with them over the next two months or wait for an arbitration hearing.
The non-tender deadline forces organizations to decide whether a player with at least three — and no more than six — years of service time will be offered a contract for the upcoming season. Had the Orioles not tendered one of their players a contract, he would have become a free agent.
The Orioles and the six players’ representatives have until Jan. 13 to agree to a salary for the 2023 season or sign a multi-year deal. If they don’t, the sides will head to an independent arbitrator in February to have the salary figure decided.
Perhaps the only question entering Friday was Voth, who joined Baltimore midway through the 2022 season as a waiver claim having departed the Washington Nationals with a 10.13 ERA in 18 2/3 innings. The right-hander stepped into a starting role for much of his time with the Orioles, recording a 3.04 ERA in 83 innings. According to MLB Trade Rumors’ projections, Voth could be in line to make $2 million in arbitration.
Still, there isn’t a clear place for Voth in the rotation next season. Right-hander Grayson Rodriguez, the top pitching prospect in the sport, was added to the 40-man roster Tuesday to avoid the Rule 5 draft. Rodriguez and left-hander DL Hall, another highly ranked prospect who debuted last year, will push for a rotation role in spring training. Right-handers Tyler Wells, Kyle Bradish and Dean Kremer all impressed in 2022, and left-hander John Means is on track to return from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery partway through 2023.
Plus, with the possibility of the Orioles making a splash in free agency for a front-line starting pitcher, the 30-year-old Voth has ample competition for a big league role in 2023.
Securing Hays, Mullins and Santander was more of a straight-forward decision for executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias, bringing back an outfield trio that combined to start 93% of Baltimore’s games. Mullins and Hays regressed at the plate in 2022, but Santander posted a career-high 33 home runs, making himself one of the preeminent switch-hitting power hitters in the league.
Santander, entering his third of four years of arbitration eligibility, is projected to make $7.5 million, according to MLB Trade Rumors. Hays could see a rise from $713,000 to a projected $3.1 million, and Mullins could see a jump from $716,500 to a projected $4.4 million.
After Mullins hit .291 with an .878 OPS and started the All-Star Game in center field in 2021, he batted .258 with a .721 OPS this past season. His defense remained exemplary, as he was named a Gold Glove Award finalist. Hays’ batting average dipped marginally, as he was unable to maintain a torrid pace at the plate; he hit .279 during his first 72 games before his average declined to .250.
Santander, Hays and Mullins are still expected to be large parts of Baltimore’s outfield going forward. However, tendering a contract doesn’t ensure a player will remain with the Orioles next season; the club could still explore a trade involving one or more of their arbitration-eligible players.
Tate, a nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award, enters his first year of arbitration eligibility on the back of his most impressive season yet in the majors. The right-handed reliever, who often pitched in high-leverage situations, finished with a 3.05 ERA and five saves in 73 2/3 innings.
Mateo is in line for a new deal after impressing with his glove at shortstop, earning the Fielding Bible Award as the majors’ best defensive shortstop despite missing out on Gold Glove Award consideration. Mateo finished with 14 defensive runs saved, although he paired it with a .221 batting average.
MLB Trade Rumors projects Tate to earn $1.5 million in arbitration. Mateo, also in his first year of arbitration eligibility, could reach a projected $1.8 million. The arbitration process will feature negotiations between the players and the Orioles and, if required, the independent arbitrator will choose the proposed salary deemed most suitable.