Orioles may trade Matt Wieters or J.J. Hardy to create payroll flexibility

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With their eyes on the horizon, the Orioles are open to the possibility of trading catcher Matt Wieters or shortstop J.J. Hardy to create payroll flexibility, reports Steve Melewski of MASN. The O’s have some interesting situations to address in the near future including extending Chris Davis (a free agent after 2015) and buying out Manny Machado’s upcoming arbitration years (2016-18).

Wieters is arbitration-eligible for his second of three years, meaning he’ll be a free agent after the 2015 season. MLB Trade Rumors projects a $7.9 million salary for Wieters which will only climb next year, then will set the benchmark for the average annual value of a contract extension. It makes sense that the Orioles, who opened the 2013 season with a $92 million payroll, would explore a trade. Though Wieters has not lived up to the (perhaps unfair) hype that surrounded him as he made his way up through the Orioles’ farm system, he has been consistently reliable at a premium position.

On the other hand, Hardy is 31 years old and a free agent after the 2014 season. While he has been superb for the Orioles, he doesn’t factor in as a long-term piece, so making him available is standard fare. According to Baseball Reference, the only shortstops more valuable than Hardy since 2011 have been Elvis Andrus and Troy Tulowitzki, going by Wins Above Replacement.

What happens with all the players the Braves lost yesterday?

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Yesterday’s unprecedented sanctions leveled on the Atlanta Braves hit them pretty hard, but it also turned a dozen players into free agents. What happens to them now? Who can sign them? When? And for how much?

First off, they get to keep their signing bonuses the Braves gave them. It wasn’t their fault the Braves messed up so it would make no sense for them to have to pay the money back. As for their next team: anyone can, theoretically, sign them. As far as team choice, they are free agents in the most narrow sense of the term.

There are limits, however, because as young, international players, their signings are subject to those caps on each team’s international bonus money which were imposed a few years back. Each team now has a “pool” of finite dollars they can spend on such players and, once that money is spent, teams are severely limited as to what they can offer an international free agent. Each summer the bonus pools are reset and it starts anew.

Which, on the surface, would seem to create a problem for the 12 new free agents, seeing as though a lot of teams have already spent much if not all of their July 2017-18 bonus pools. The good news on that, though, is that Major League Baseball has made a couple of exceptions for these guys:

  • First, the first $200,000 of any of the 12 former Braves players will not be subject to signing pools, so that’s a bit of a break; and
  • Second, even though these players will all likely be signed during the 2017-18 bonus pool period, teams have the option of counting the bonus toward the 2018-19 period. They can’t combine the money from the two periods, but they can, essentially, put off the cost into next year for accounting purposes.

Which certainly opens things up for clubs and gives the players more options as far as places to land go. A club can decide whether or not the guys on the market now look better than the guys they’ve been scouting with an eye toward signing after July 2018 and get a jump on things. Likewise, teams don’t have to decide whether or not to take a run at, say, Shohei Ohtani, burning bonus money now, or instead going after a former Braves player. Ohtani’s money will apply now, the Braves player can be accounted for next year.

The new free agents are eligible to sign during a window that begins on December 5 and ends on Jan. 15. If a player hasn’t signed by then, he can still sign with any club but cannot get a bonus. If a player hasn’t signed anywhere by May 1, 2018, he has the option of re-signing with the Braves, though they can’t pay the guy a bonus either.

Ben Badler of Baseball America has a rundown of the top guys who are now free agents thanks to the Braves’ malfeasance. Kevin Maitan is the big name. The 17-year-old shortstop was considered the top overall international free agent last year, though his first year in the Braves minor league system was less-than-impressive. There are a lot of other promising players too. All of whom now can find new employers.