SARASOTA, Fla. — As the completion of the sale of a controlling stake in the Orioles rapidly nears, Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Tony Clark said Tuesday that he hopes the injection of new ownership will lead to further investment in the players on the field.

For several years, Baltimore has sat near the bottom of the league in payroll. The rebuild the Orioles underwent once executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias arrived in 2018 involved cutting back on the major league roster. Between 2019 and 2023, the Orioles have sat in the bottom three in team salary, according to Spotrac.

The new ownership team led by billionaire David Rubenstein could prompt a ramp-up in spending, although Baltimore’s payroll already increased in 2024 due to arbitration raises.

“The game is better when teams are putting the best players on the field,” Clark said. “Being in a world where this team has had a remarkable amount of success of late and has a very bright future, if the goal is to be the last team standing, then there’s going to be an opportunity to add to the talent they already have here to help them get across the finish line. We’re hopeful that that does indeed happen.”

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The Orioles have yet to sign a free agent to a contract guaranteeing more than one year since Elias took over. Nor has Baltimore signed a long-term extension of any of its young stars, which is a trend that several teams (such as the Seattle Mariners with Julio Rodriguez and the Atlanta Braves with multiple star players) have employed.

It takes two sides to engage in contract extension discussions, of course. At the winter meetings in December, agent Scott Boras said the Orioles reach out to him “once or twice a day” about extensions for infielders Gunnar Henderson and Jackson Holliday.

Clark was supportive of players maintaining their free will to pursue an earlier contract extension but also emphasized that the MLBPA will continue to back players as they “fight for rights and as much freedom as possible to make decisions that they believe are in their best interests.”

When the MLBPA negotiated a new collective bargaining agreement in 2022 with the league, one addition was a prospect promotion incentive — a draft pick compensation program to encourage teams to avoid service time manipulation.

If a high-ranking prospect earns the Rookie of the Year Award, which Henderson did in 2023, his organization receives an additional draft selection at the end of the first round. That give-and-take has seemingly helped to avoid a major talking point from previous years, when teams would hold a player in the minor leagues only long enough to receive an additional year of team control on his contract.

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Because Henderson won the award in the American League, the Orioles earned the 32nd pick of the 2024 draft.

“What we’ve seen so far is that it has been a positive and less of a conversation than it has been in the past,” Clark said. “We’re hopeful that some of the adjustments that we made during this last round are affecting the system in the way that we think they are. … So, better now than it was before.”

The prospect promotion incentive could come into play once again for the Orioles, considering Holliday — the top prospect in baseball — is pushing for a role on the opening day roster.

Andy Kostka is an Orioles beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Orioles for The Baltimore Sun. Kostka graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Rockville.

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