This offseason, the biggest story will be about re-signing Chris Davis, just as last year it was about Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis. It's interesting that last year, Cruz was the MLB home run leader and he went to a different team. This year, Davis might repeat that. Before Cruz, the last player to lead MLB in home runs and then switch to another team the following year was Adrian Beltre, who went from the Dodgers to the Mariners following the 2004 season. In some ways, you could see this thing happening a lot - a guy hits a lot of home runs in his contract year and gets signed to another team.
But what does that mean about the Orioles and Chris Davis? The Orioles have had the single-season home run leader in the majors the past three years. Twice it has been Davis. That's a guy you should re-sign, right? Well, there are a lot of factors that will go into that decision.
Can the Orioles re-sign Chris Davis?
Yes. Davis will play for someone next season and assuming he hasn't decided he's the second coming of Babe Ruth and is demanding $50M per year, it is well within the ability of the team to sign him. Of course, it has to be a mutual thing. Maybe Davis wants to try somewhere new.
Can the Orioles afford to re-sign Chris Davis?
That's a trickier question. It depends on how much Davis will sign for and how much the Orioles a) have committed to other players and b) are willing to spend in total in 2016. We can try to answer some of those questions.
The Orioles are likely already committed for around $70M next year. They spent $115M in payroll for this year, and its reasonable to assume that could kick up to $120M in 2016. That leaves about $50M for them to spend to replace their pending free agents - Chris Davis, Darren O'Day, Steve Pearce, Wei-Yin Chen, Gerardo Parra, and Matt Wieters. My guess is they try to use Clevenger and Joseph to replace Wieters, and Pearce and Parra are either going to re-sign for very little or be replaced with internal options. That really leaves Davis and Chen as the main guys they need to replace via free agency. There's also the problem of adding in new people who are not replacements for current players, but upgrades - this is only a .500 team after all.
How much is Chris Davis expected to sign for?
According to one analysis, which is in-line with other esimtates I've heard, Davis will likely get a seven or eight year deal for 20 to 25 million year. So on the low end, 7/140 and on the high end 8/200.
Forgetting about all those other years for a minute, in 2016 alone you're talking about Davis alone eating up 20 of that 50 million. If they structure the deal to make it a little more friendly in 2016 and defer some money to future years, that may only be 17 or 18 million, but you get the idea. So to get back to the previous question - can the Orioles afford to re-sign Davis, the answer appears to be yes.
Have the Orioles ever given out a contract like that?
Not even close. When Adam Jones signed for six years, $85 million during the 2012 season, it was the biggest contract on Orioles history. If the Orioles sign Davis, that will replace Jones's deal in the record books.
Is Chris Davis worth that kind of money?
Assuming he keeps playing like he has - yes. One of the simplest ways people have attempted to assign value to a player is by analyzing free agent signings to see how much the market is paying for a win, as measured in WAR. Current estimates put that number at around $7M per year. Over the last four years, Davis has averaged 3.9 fWAR per year - and that's if you include his 2014 numbers and his defensive WAR, which Fangraphs put at negative value. (This surprises me, since watching him play he would be appear to be average defensively at worst). But even at 3.9fWAR, that's almost $28M per year.
Another way to look at it is to assume he's peaked in 2015 and will decrease by 0.5 WAR each year. That means in 2016 he'd be at 5.1 and in the six years after that he'd be at 4.6, 4.1, 3.6, 3.1, 2.6, and 2.1. That puts his next seven years at 22.1 WAR. Assuming that $7M per year market value doesn't increase (and it will) that's $154.7M in total contract value.
So yes, he's worth that much money.
Even if they can make it work in 2016, are there issues with that kind of contract in 2017 and beyond?
In short, yes. In 2017, Adam Jones, J.J. Hardy, and Ubaldo Jimenez will all still be under contract. Combine them with Davis's potential $20M and you've got almost $64M dedicated to those four guys, or about half of the team's payroll for that year. And then there's guys who will become arbitration eligible in 2017 and see a huge jump in salary - Kevin Gausman, Jonathn Schoop, T.J. McFarland. There may be others. Not to mention if you don't sign Chris Tillman and Manny Machado to long-term deals in this offseason, doing it next year would make a lot of sense, so they'll see raises as well. This is not just a 2016 problem.
Also consider - if the Orioles are going to give one guy a nine-figure deal, would you rather that be Davis or Machado?
What else is there to consider?
There are a couple intangibles I can see. One is with the fans, the other with the clubhouse.
This team and this owner have a reputation (deservedly or not) that they're not willing to spend money to keep guys and make a winning team. Failing to re-sign Davis would not help that perception at all. To go back to the beginning of this post - when was the last time a team let the home run leader walk in consecutive years? Who does that?
Similarly, there's an issue in the clubhouse. Guys like Adam Jones were not happy when Cruz and Markakis left. Multiple reports came out that the failure to sign those guys did not sit right with the team. And then look at what happened when the season started - multiple DFAs, Tommy Hunter was traded in a salary dump, Wei-Yin Chen was optioned because they didn't think he could pitch to the Blue Jays...nothing that is going to sit right in the clubhouse. Again, not bringing back Davis is likely going to be interpreted as a message by the team that they don't care about their players.
This may be a little unfair - the team is trying to field the most competitive team it can given the limits of its market - it's not trying to avoid paying people what they're worth. On the other hand, I have a job. If rather than give people raises they were just fired and there was a sense that once you ascended to a certain level you were doomed to seek employment elsehwhere, I might feel a little ticked off at management too. It's not the same thing, but you know what I mean.
But who cares, right? No matter who's on the team, the guys under contract have to keep playing. Presumably the ratings won't fall off a cliff...what could happen? For next year, probably not much. But if you want to sign Machado or Gausman to extensions before they hit free agency and increase your chances of keeping them, you probably want them to think you're trying to build a winning team.
I'd argue that all the personnel decisions since the ALCS ended last year may have led the team to perform slightly worse due to some bad "chemistry", but that is just one writer's opinion based on no facts at all.
So given all that - should the Orioles re-sign Chris Davis?
There's probably no right answer to this question. Whether they do or don't will probably need to take into account everything I've laid out here and more. I'm sure Duquette is working up some master plan that would make it work that involves trading two guys, signing three others, and non-tendering a few more. As a fan, I want Davis back. I saw what Nelson Cruz did this year, I don't want to see that happen again.
But, without putting emotion into it, I'm not sure it's the right move. Look at the list of guys scheduled to be free agents. There's a lot of talent out there and since none of them are the reigning home run king, you can probably buy wins with them cheaper than you could with Davis. Not to mention the biggest problem the Orioles have is starting pitching - wouldn't it make more sense to spend $20M a year to improve the rotation?
If Davis is willing to give the Orioles any kind of discount, I'd jump on it in a second. If not though, that's his choice. One thing I think was missing from last offseason was at least the appearance by the team they wanted to bring back Cruz and Markakis - they didn't even offer Markakis a qulifiying offer. The team can't do this directly of course, but somehow they need to get it out there more that they made a fair offer and it was turned down. And there's always the QO for Davis too - which honestly might be more of an incentive to not re-sign him. This farm system is in a little trouble and extra draft picks could really help. Something else to consider.
In the end the decision will be simply results-based: Win next year and the decision was right, lose and it was wrong. If Davis leaves and does terribly somewhere else, it was the right move. If he stays and does well, it was the right move. That's not how decisions should be evaluated, but it's how this one will be.