O's surprise by handing out big bucks
Manager Buck Showalter always thought the Orioles might be able to retain several of their top free agents this winter.
Well, that makes one of us.
The Orioles managed to bring back Matt Wieters, Darren O’Day and Chris Davis, three of the six players who were in a position to leave for a possibly more lucrative contract with another team. The price tag was staggering — $207.8 million — and that number figures to rise before the club is through upgrading the pitching staff.
“I think if you had told me at the end of the year that Darren, Matt and Chris would be back here, it would not have been out of the realm,” Showalter said Thursday, expressing faith in owner Peter Angelos. “Knowing Mr. Angelos, I think for the city of Baltimore, he was going to do everything possible to try to keep going.”
Showalter wasn’t the only one who seemed less than surprised at an offseason in which the Orioles rank among the top teams in baseball in free-agent largesse. Agent Scott Boras said he was confident the Orioles recognized what Davis meant to the team, and executive vice president Dan Duquette pointed to the special relationship that has developed between the top stars of the team and the community.
“I know that the players that are returning here enjoy playing here,” Duquette said during the Thursday evening news conference announcing Davis’ signing. “You heard Chris talk about the atmosphere that Buck has created and the way the fans welcome them into the community in Baltimore. And how the players contributed to the community. All that is good and hard to find. This is a great baseball town. The fans love the players. It didn’t surprise me and we have something that we can build on here.”
Well, pardon me for being a little more fatalistic than that. The Orioles entered 2015 with almost half of their 25-man roster eligible for free agency at the end of the year. Some of those players fell off the map during the course of the club’s .500 season. Six significant free agents remained to enter the market.
O's offer top-of-the-market money: Wei-Yin Chen, Gerardo Parra and Steve Pearce signed with other teams. Wieters accepted the Orioles’ $15.8 million qualifying offer. And the Orioles gave multiyear contracts to O’Day and Davis.
In each case, the deal — including the mandated qualifying offer to Wieters — represented top-of-the-market money based on the player and position. So, who could really blame me for being skeptical about the Orioles’ willingness to climb to the top of the market multiple times. Angelos has tried hard over the years to keep a handle on runaway salaries and has largely succeeded by putting limits on the length and value of free-agent deals.
During the team’s recent renaissance, however, he already had stepped out of his economic comfort zone to lock up Adam Jones with a rich six-year contract, extend the contract of shortstop J.J. Hardy and give a four-year deal to free-agent pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez.
So, no, Showalter is not surprised.
“These guys have been a part of winning more [regular-season] games the last four years than any team in the American League,” Showalter said. “He’s very proud of them and he knows the city is. I think it was important to him to make sure the city could continue to be proud of these guys. It worked out and we’re excited about it.”
Which brings us to the last big question of the offseason: Is there more where all that came from?
No significant pitching moves: The Orioles still have not made a significant move to improve their starting rotation. They did pick up former Pittsburgh Pirates starter Vance Worley early in the offseason and will give him a chance to compete for the fifth slot, but the top candidate to fill that role at the moment is prospect Mike Wright, who will need to make a big developmental leap to win and keep the job.
There are still a few decent free-agent pitchers out there, including solid right-hander Yovani Gallardo, but the Orioles probably will wait to see if the price goes down on former Detroit Tigers and Washington Nationals starter Doug Fister.
Fister, who won 16 games for the Nats in 2014, struggled with forearm soreness last season and moved to the bullpen for the final eight weeks of the season. He was 1-0 with a 2.12 ERA and struck out 15 batters in 17 innings of relief, but would only be a fit for the Orioles as a starter.
He’s believed to be seeking a two-year deal worth $22 million, but the Orioles are not likely to be interested at that price and probably shouldn’t be, since he wouldn’t be a lock to get clearance from their medical staff.
Duquette didn’t sound particularly optimistic when he was asked about the chances of either signing or trading for a solid starter.
“The problem in the pitching market is that there are more teams chasing fewer pitchers,” he said. “There are not enough to go around. That is an age-old problem, but it was very acute this winter.”