By: Tim Anderson, Staff Writer
Before we know it, it will be April.
That is what fans of the 20 non-playoff teams were telling each other two weekends ago.
For the Orioles – one of those 20 non-playoff teams – this offseason comes with the heightened duty to try to prolong the magic that has aided them to four consecutive .500 seasons for the first time since 1982-1985.
With contracts expiring, dispositions apparently souring in the front office and star players pressuring those in charge to do whatever it takes to keep those on the current squad, the Orioles have their hands full with more than just hot chocolate this winter.
But, before we know it, it will be April, and questions will have to answered, players will have to be signed and the others replaced.
And there are some big ones that the Orioles will have to make decisions on this offseason.
The biggest one goes by “Crush.”
Before we know it, it will be April, and we will be remembering game 162 when Chris Davis hit his last two home runs as an Oriole – his 160th and 161st in parts of five seasons with the team, a exuberant statement of “pay me, or else.”
Or at least that is what we should be remembering.
Many experts rank Davis as one of the top five free agents this offseason, also known as the players who will be paid a crap-load of money. After leading the American League two of the last three seasons in home runs and providing, at times, the team’s only source of offense, a lot of teams looking for a heavy-batted first baseman will throw money at Davis. Teams like the Mets and Blue Jays will be more than happy to pay Crush close to $20 million a year for him to enact his nickname.
And Baltimoreans will throw their hands in the air and curse the Angelos name.
But the Orioles and their fans need to wake up and smell the Old Bay.
There are times when it made sense to pay Davis whatever he would garner on the open market – and some may see now as one of those times. But the reality is that Davis is more fickle than Maryland weather. In matching, say, a $16-20 million offer to keep Davis, the Orioles would be making a high-priced gamble: would they see more of the 2014 Davis who hit only .196 or the 2013 Davis who slugged a team-record 53 home runs and drove in 138 runs? Will it be more of the 1.000+ OPS Davis, or the 200+ strikeout Davis?
A high-priced gamble like that would show a commitment to win from the franchise that has never been shown before. But, it would also be a commitment to disappointment in three or so years.
What some fans – and apparently Adam Jones – do not realize is that you cannot pay everybody. Giving Davis close to $20 million a season takes funds away from bolstering the rotation, solidifying the bullpen or building a lineup around Davis that will help the team compete in 2016 and beyond.
It’ll take at least $15 million a year for about five years to keep Davis in orange and black, and that is being conservative. Sabermetricians predict that keeping Davis would only give the Orioles about 75 wins next season with their current roster, a mediocre number when considering the expected salary. The team could just as easily sign two or three players for the same price they are paying Davis and see a better return in their investment.
And locking up Davis to a deal like that could also affect what the team does with Manny Machado when he hits free agency in 2019. Machado should command more money than Davis and seems to be worth every penny as, at age 23, he is already one of the best players in baseball, and quite honestly has the chance to finish his career as one of the best players to ever play for the Orioles. Even though his free agency starts in 2019, a long-term extension for Manny is definitely something the team should be seriously considering right now.
While it would be nice for the Orioles to be able to sign Davis and his power while retaining Matt Wieters, Darren O’Day, and Wei-Yin Chen, all key players who are also free agents this offseason, all while keeping enough money for Machado: it is simply not realistic.
The Orioles are just like any other business: those signing the checks only have so much money to spend. If you are expecting the Orioles to give Davis the deal that he will command on the open market, please don’t hold your breath.
Before we know it, it will be April: the Davis family will be rich, but he will not be hunting for a house in Hunt Valley.
While the snow is ready to pummel the east coast in a few months, Orioles fans will all be reminding each other: before we know it, it will be April. And they should also be sending their appreciations to the first baseman who helped give the Orioles four of their best seasons in many years.
Thanks for the memories, Chris.