O's can't let Davis hold them hostage
Let's stipulate right now that Chris Davis has the right to wait as long as he wants to sign his next contract and agent Scott Boras has no obligation to concern himself with how a protracted search for the biggest possible deal for his top client might negatively impact the Orioles.
Baseball can be a cold, cold business even during this surprisingly warm winter.
The particulars of the Davis situation are well known. The Orioles offered him a seven-year deal worth a reported $150 million about a month ago. He turned it down and the Orioles — at least technically — withdrew it, but everybody knows that it's still there for him to accept.
Up to a point.
No one really knows exactly when that point is, but it should be apparent that the Orioles cannot afford to wait around much longer if they truly are determined to make a couple more key acquisitions to upgrade their lineup and solidify their starting rotation.
Baseball operations chief Dan Duquette hasn't stood still while all this is going on. He did go out and trade for slugger Mark Trumbo to provide some insurance against an adverse outcome to the Davis negotiations. He also signed South Korean outfielder Hyun-soo Kim to a two-year deal, in the hope of bolstering the club's on-base percentage.
Combine those deals with the re-signing of Matt Wieters and Darren O'Day and, at the very least, the Orioles have blunted the possibility of a dramatic talent recession after last season's .500 finish.
Still, there are important moves to be made and the lingering uncertainty of the Davis situation seems — to a certain extent — to be holding the Orioles hostage as baseball front offices prepare to reopen after the holidays and get back to business this week.
No one in a position of authority is going to come right out and say that, of course. Duquette said Saturday that the club is "maintaining a dialogue with the free agents we are interested in." But it's difficult to imagine the club giving an outsized contract (by Orioles standards) to another free agent until it knows whether Davis is coming or going.
Which brings us back to the fact that Davis has every right to say "not my problem" and continue trolling indefinitely for the $200 million contract Boras is believed to be seeking. It would just be unfortunate if the same guy who was welcomed back so enthusiastically after he undermined the Orioles' 2014 playoff run with a 25-game Adderall suspension ends up helping to undermine their offseason rebuilding efforts by stringing them along this winter.
It would also be unfortunate if Davis decided to bolt from the team that re-energized his career as a full-time major league player and the fans who stood behind him throughout for $1 million to $2 million more a year that he and his grandkids will never get around to spending.
Both Duquette and manager Buck Showalter have remained publicly dispassionate about the situation, but you can sense that frustration is building inside the Warehouse. The popular theory is that everyone is ready to move on with other business, but owner Peter Angelos likes Davis so much that he wants to give him every opportunity to decide to come back.
"I've always maintained that the players make the choices," Duquette said. "So, if players like Baltimore and they want to play here, we've shown that we're very competitive in the marketplace."
This would be a different conversation if the Twittersphere was awash in rumored offers far above an Orioles proposal that represents nearly twice the value of the biggest contract the club has ever handed out (six years, $85.5 million to Adam Jones). But there has been surprisingly little baseball-wide chatter about Davis and several other big-name hitters since David Price, Zack Greinke and Jason Heyward signed giant contracts in early December.
That doesn't necessarily mean that the Orioles' offer to Davis is the best one out there, but you would think that we would all know by now if it weren't. Obviously, Boras has not gotten the interest he expected, since he has been talking up Davis as the world's strongest utility player — trying to sell him to teams that already have power-hitting first basemen as a guy who can play both corner-outfield positions and both corner-infield positions.
Things might heat up this week. There has been speculation that a lot of pent-up demand might be released when everybody returns from their holiday vacations. It's important to note, however, that there is no rule against conducting business by telephone during the holiday, as evidenced by the recent deal that sent premier closer Aroldis Chapman to the New York Yankees.
"The market has been a little slow to develop on these hitters," Duquette said. "The pitchers went off the board pretty quickly, but the rest of the market has been slow-developing."
Who knows why that might be. Perhaps the giant deals given to Price, Greinke and Heyward sidelined some of the big-spending teams and caused some of the middle-market clubs to reconsider whether they wanted to join what started out as a super-charged free-agent market.
While Orioles fans wait for word on Davis, Duquette insists that the team will be ready for the 2016 season either way.
"We've been putting our team together," Duquette said. "We added Trumbo, who has hit over 30 home runs [two] times in the big leagues, and we've also added Kim, who showed emerging power with 28 home runs last year in Korea. He is an elite hitter in international competition. And, of course, we re-signed O'Day and did a deal with Wieters. So, we've put together a competitive ballclub."
There is no question, however, that the Orioles cannot afford to stop there. Duquette still hasn't addressed his top offseason priority — improving a starting rotation that struggled last year and apparently will lose free agent Wei-Yin Chen. Duquette would only say Saturday that discussions continue with the free agents who might fill that need.
"What I can tell you," he said, "is that our interest is in having a good ballclub this year and we've been very clear in our intentions to sign players and staff a strong club."