The Baltimore Orioles' payroll is currently sitting around $85 million, but the team expects it to exceed $100 million when all is said and done, according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports. However, it is unclear how far into nine-digit territory the Orioles are willing to venture.
Baltimore has had a quiet offseason, but it still has a few holes to fill on its roster as the calendar turns to February. The starting rotation is only four deep, the bullpen is without a closer, and the lineup needs one more hitter who can split the left field and designated hitter spots with Nolan Reimold. In order to fill those holes with premium players, the team will have to go far beyond the $100 million mark.
Indeed, the Orioles have their eyes on some of the biggest free agents left on the market. The team is "all in" on starting pitcher A.J. Burnett, according to Peter Gammons. The right-hander would make sense as a reliable arm who would sign a short-term contract and won't cost them a draft pick as compensation; these facts also make him a more desirable target than Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez, both of whom could be backup plans if Burnett doesn't sign. Furthermore, Burnett has expressed a desire to stay close to his home in Maryland, the state in which the Orioles play. Of course, he would likely command a salary of at least a $15 million, so he could put Baltimore over $100 million on his own.
Beyond Burnett, the Orioles also have interest in closer Fernando Rodney and outfielder Nelson Cruz, reports Rosenthal. They nearly signed Grant Balfour to cover their ninth innings, but the deal fell apart due to concerns about Balfour's health and Rodney is clearly the best closer left unsigned. Adding Cruz would round out the lineup, but the club signed Delmon Young as insurance in case it didn't score a bigger haul; Baltimore could roll with Young if it doesn't want to spend lavishly on a hitter or lose a draft pick doing so. Getting both Rodney and Cruz could cost another $20 million, so the team will have to decide how far it wants to go beyond $100 million
For its part, Baltimore had the foresight to cut a bit of payroll earlier in the offseason in anticipation of its need to fill bigger holes. The Orioles traded closer Jim Johnson to Oakland, where he settled on a $10 million salary in his final year of arbitration eligibility, and they also let injury-prone second baseman Brian Roberts leave via free agency rather than sink more money into extending his tenure. Starting pitchers Scott Feldman and Jason Hammel were not re-signed, nor was slugger Mike Morse; those three players will earn a combined $24 million in 2014 when considering Feldman's front-loaded contract with the Astros.
For the last dozen years, Baltimore has sat in the middle of the pack in terms of MLB team payrolls. The Orioles have ranked between 15th and 19th in the majors in each of the last three years with totals ranging from $84 million to $92 million. Of course, exceeding $100 million doesn't even put a team in the top 10 anymore, and the fact that the Orioles are legitimately contending for the postseason in 2014 may convince owner Peter Angelos to open the coffers. At one point in Angelos' tenure, his club was among the top spenders in baseball -- it led the league with a $71 million figure in 1998 -- so it wouldn't be a shock to see him pony up once again now that a championship could be in sight.