Orioles first baseman Chris Davis has finally returned to the Orioles roster after what had to feel like the longest 25-game suspension ever and is hoping to bounce back from a very disappointing 2014 season in time to cash in on free agency next winter.
Catcher Matt Wieters has opened this season on the disabled list while he continues to rehab his reconstructed right elbow and there is no firm timetable for his return to the everyday lineup. He also would like to re-establish his All-Star credentials during what might be his final year as an Oriole.
And, strangely enough, each remains in a position of strength when it comes to negotiating a contract to remain in Baltimore beyond this season.
It might seem logical to deduce the contrary, since each player faces a tremendous amount of uncertainty. That would, in any normal bargaining situation, create some incentive to trade top dollar for a long-term guarantee and relieve some of the pressure to deliver maximum performance in a tight timeframe.
Not in the crazy, turbo-charged economic world of Major League Baseball.
Davis' numbers crashed last year after he led the majors in homers and RBIs in 2013, and he topped that off with the Adderall violation that cost him much of September, the entire postseason and Opening Day. But he was eligible for salary arbitration and that gave him the leverage to command a $12 million contract for this season.
Wieters missed all but one month of last season and still will earn $8.3 million no matter how much he plays this year.
Don't misunderstand. This isn't a screed about the outrageous salaries that professional athletes make. Both salary figures fit right into Major League Baseball's prevailing pay structure and neither pre-arbitration settlement raised an eyebrow.
It's just that salaries have reached a level where there really is little chance for the team to take advantage of circumstances that in any other arena would create avenues for earlier settlement. Both players already have made enough money during their careers that — barring some staggeringly unwise financial decisions — they can live comfortably for the rest of their lives.
There really is no reason for Davis or Wieters to feel vulnerable enough to be more receptive to a long-term deal at a hometown discount because of their recent setbacks.
Throw in the fact that both are represented by aggressive super-agent Scott Boras and it has been obvious for a while that — under favorable conditions — they are going to test the free agent market next November and almost certainly get more money than the Orioles will be willing to spend.
Orioles officials have already confronted this reality and don't seem inclined to waste their time trying to force the issue. Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette confirmed a few weeks ago that the club would not engage in contract negotiations with potential free agents during the regular season, which leaves only one realistic scenario in which either of them returns next year, and it's not a happy one.
Wieters would have to miss a lot more of this season than anyone expects and Davis would have to fall on his face again, leaving one or both of them to seriously consider accepting a qualifying one-year offer, if the team is so inclined, or settle for a lot less than Boras obviously hopes to find at the end of the free agent rainbow.
Of course, nobody wants to see things play out that way. Fans can't wait to see Wieters back behind the plate and Davis puncturing the clouds with his mammoth moonshots. The Orioles' chances of getting back to the playoffs and getting further than they did in 2014 depend on just about every key player making a solid contribution.
They say that winning cures all, and maybe that's the answer. Maybe a World Series appearance would create such organizational euphoria that some of the pending free agents might take a little less to stick around and ownership might pump up the payroll to assure that they do.
Somewhere, Boras is probably laughing.