With Reynolds' exit, will Orioles pursue big-name free agents?

With Reynolds' exit, will Orioles pursue big-name free agents?
December 1, 2012, 4:30 pm
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Nick Markakis, Brian Roberts, Adam Jones and J.J. Hardy are scheduled to earn $40.5 million in 2013. That’s more than half the Baltimore Orioles’ 2012 payroll

Had they signed Mark Reynolds, they would have been paying nearly $50 million for five regulars, or four regulars and one who is no longer.

There’s a lot of consternation this morning about the Orioles’ refusal to sign Reynolds—or even make him a concrete offer. Now, he’s a free agent, and the only way he returns to Baltimore is if there’s little interest in him.

There’s likely to be at least tepid interest. At 29 while Reynolds may not be as accomplished as Adam LaRoche, Nick Swisher, Carlos Pena and Kevin Youkilis, he’s also younger and cheaper.

If Reynolds would have gotten $8.9 million from arbitration as the savants in MLBTradeRumors.com estimate, other teams can calculate their offers to reflect that.

It may turn out to be a big win for Reynolds. There’s no Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder on the market, and a converted third baseman who’s averaged 34 home runs, 95 RBIs and well over 200 strikes outs per season can do well. How well? Even a two-year, $20 million deal is better than what Reynolds would have done with the Orioles.

Markakis will make $15 million in 2013, Roberts $10 million, Jones $8.5 million in the first year of a six-year extension and J.J. Hardy $7 million.

Jason Hammel, who made $4.75 million is likely to see more than a modest increase in his take. Add Wei-Yin Chen ($3.57 mil.) and Tsuyoshi Wada ($4.4 mil.), and that could add $15 million more to the payroll.

With about $55 million set aside for seven players and nice raises for Jim Johnson, Matt Wieters, Darren O’Day and Chris coming along, Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette was looking to cut corners.

Last year’s payroll placed the Orioles 18th in major league baseball. With their postseason success and an increase in attendance last year and another likely next year, there will be more money to spend. It won’t be enough to put the team in the payroll top 10.

Duquette is likely to continue to keep an eye on the future. In the not-too-distant future, he’d like to be able to extend Johnson and Wieters. While Roberts’ $10 million disappears after this season, Jones has a built-in raise to $13 million in 2014.

That means Duquette’s plan of keeping home-grown players, signing relatively low-priced international free agents and avoiding the Josh Hamiltons and Zack Grienkes will probably stay intact.

The Orioles will cut corners when they can. Using Davis at first base and populating their bench with low-priced players such as Yamaico Navarro, Steve Pearce, Trayvon Robinson, Ryan Flaherty, Danny Valencia and Taylor Teagarden, will keep costs down.

If a higher-profile free agent’s market softens, Duquette will pounce. It’s unlikely that Reynolds’ will soften enough to interest the Orioles.

This also means that the chances for a return of Nate McLouth and Joe Saunders are probably slim, and the only way they’ll come back is if they remain unsigned into January.

It’s on to the winter meetings in Nashville for the Orioles who will probably listen politely to pitches from agents then wait until the post-holiday White Sales.

On the other hand, they’ll listen to offers for Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton, Tommy Hunter and Brian Matusz, but will want major-league ready players whose price tags are in their range.