For the third year in a row, Orioles Park at Camden Yards was voted the best stadium experience. During that span, the Orioles have fielded some of the best young players in baseball. Their i-95 rival, Washington Nationals, had the 2015 NL MVP, Bryce Harper, playing in their stadium for 78 games during the MLB season.
With both teams handing out new arbitration deals to their bright young stars, keeping them in uniform for at least one more season, it also signals the end may be near for fans in the Baltimore and Washington DC baseball market.
In 2012, the Orioles signed a young promising center fielder by the name of Adam Jones, to a 6-year $85.5 million contract, which at the time was the richest contract in franchise history. Along with Jones, young talent like Chris Davis and Matt Weiters began to bud, Nick Markakis and J.J Hardy were just entering the prime of their young careers, and a 19-year old rookie from Miami was giving Orioles' fans flashbacks with his play at third base. A young nucleus was in place for the Orioles.
Forty-five minutes down the road, the Nationals saw their 19-year old rookie sensation hit 22 home runs while being voted to the All-Star game. The Orioles and Nationals played each other twice that season, once in Nationals Park and once in Camden Yards, both games attracted sellout crowds, something the two cities haven't experienced in a long time at the ballparks.
Five years later, both franchises are looking thru a closing window. Manny Machado, Bryce Harper, Chris Tillman, and Zach Britton all signed arbitration deals that will keep them with their respective team for the 2017 season, at the least.
For the Orioles, passing out arbitration deals to Britton, Machado, and Tilman was the best case scenario. Britton and Machado will receive salaries worth over $11 million, while Tillman will see $10+ million for the 2017 season. The bad thing for fans in Baltimore about this deal is that only one could be in a Orioles uniform by the start of the 2018 season. It's never good to look ahead in sports but in the business of professional sports, it would be foolish not too.
Unlike Britton and Machado, Tillman arbitration deal is only for one season, allowing him to become a free agent at the end of the season. Tillman has been the Orioles most consistent starter since 2012, averaging 28 starts and 13 wins per season. Tillman will be a part of a free agent class of pitchers that includes Jake Arrieta, Michael Pineda, and potentially Masahiro Tanaka, all of whom he has better numbers than over the last five seasons. The Orioles or Tillman has yet to expressed interest in negotiating a new contract and there aren't any signs that they will. Tillman will be a free agent by the end 2017 and will most likely see a big paycheck from another franchise, ending a solid run as the O's best ace since Mike Mussina.
Britton and Machado deals will keep them in Baltimore for at least two seasons, theoretically, but the Orioles may not be able to afford to keep both. If both have stellar seasons, they could see between $16-18 million in their next arbitration deal. Orioles, who are not big spenders and rarely hand out arbitration deals, probably won't try to pay both. If that is the case, one of the two could be traded for some top prospects before the trade deadline in July.
Bryce Harper will also stay with his team through 2018 but it is not certain if he will be wearing the curly W in 2019. Last spring training, he spoke about potentially being the first player to sign a $400 million contract, which in his words, would be selling him short. For now, he will play for $13.6 million, leaving him as the 5th-highest paid player on the Nats roster.
What does all this mean for the fans in the Baltimore-DC area? It means that the young stars that they watched grow into perennial All-Stars could be leaving the area. They were blessed to watch these players flourish and play in our home stadiums multiple nights during the summer. Fans in the Baltimore-DC metro area have been spoiled by the baseball gods. To think the NL MVP, the best third basemen, and the best closer in baseball are in a 37-mile radius, and in a matter of two seasons, they all could be gone.
By 2019, both franchises and cities could be seeing major changes. Each team missing opportunities to reach the World Series despite having some of the best lineups in baseball is another indication that roster changes are the horizon. The Orioles already decided not to bring back fan-favorite, Matt Wieters, (who could end up in Washington) and they will face another big decision when team leader Adam Jones contract is up in 2018. This is a regular occurrence in professional sports, where there isn't enough money to go around and fan-favorites have to leave.