In the end, the Orioles meandering through the free agent market this offseason was all about one man: Chris Davis. It sure doesn't seem like a coincidence that the day after the O's had reportedly made an offer to another top-end free agent was when their waiting game with Davis finally came to an end. After all that, the O's and Davis are in agreement on a seven year contract for $161 million guaranteed.
As soon as it's official, that will be the largest contract in Orioles history, not quite double the guaranteed money of the Adam Jones contract extension negotiated in 2012. It is a lot of money, and, notably, one million dollars per year more than the O's were said to have offered Davis a month ago. This despite the fact that no other suitor ever seemed to emerge at all.
Talk about an unsatisfying way to reach what should hopefully, at least for a while, be a satisfying outcome. Just about all there is to think about right now is whether or not the O's got the best of agent Scott Boras or whether Boras hoodwinked the O's out of an extra $7 million. Now, too, we face the reality that seven years is a lot of years, and at the end of this contract, Davis will be 36 years old. The possibilities for bad performance nagging injuries increase as players move through their 30s. There's no getting around that.
The go-to standards for worrying about long contracts are Ryan Howard's five year, $125 million contract with the Phillies, and the eight year, $184 million Joe Mauer contract with the Twins. Acting as if such significant disaster in the latter years of the Davis contract is surely not going to happen would be to ignore reality.
That said, Davis also should not have the particular problems of Mauer, a longtime catcher whose body suffered a lot of wear and tear of years behind the plate, in addition to having recurring concussion issues. He will surely decline, as all professional athletes do in their 30s, but you shouldn't be worried about Mauer for why.
As lefty slugging first basemen, Davis and Howard would seem to have more in common, but Davis has demonstrably better athleticism to start out. Even in better days, Howard was probably not capable of patrolling the outfield at any point. That's not to say Davis was a great or good outfielder. His ability to play out there for even short periods does show that at least he's not some fat, unathletic first baseman who can stand there with a glove and not much else.
The specific fears of a decline based on that superficial comparison to Howard seem, to me, at least, to be overblown. Another problem with the Howard contract for the Phillies is that they signed it so much sooner than they needed to that it was always a ticking time bomb, and as it ended up, Howard tore his Achilles before the $125 million extension ever kicked in. With Davis, at least the O's know where he'll be starting out health-wise. They were fully able to factor in his performance in deciding how much he's worth.
Did they decide he's worth too much? Perhaps. There will always be those nagging concerns about negotiating against themselves, and the idea that Davis might earn his keep at $23 million in the year 2022 is a pie-in-the-sky dream. Even considering the seemingly-inevitable salary inflation in baseball changing the value of a win, that $23 million at age 36 isn't happening. But when it comes to "worth", well, in the most recent season, the guy provided $44.8 million of value to the team, according to Fangraphs.
That the Orioles could use Davis right now and over the next few years is not much in doubt. Barring a sudden disaster, and knock on wood that won't happen, Davis should earn this big paycheck in the here and now. To get the next three years of Davis for sure, they had to absorb some more risk on the back end.
There was no other way around it. Keeping Davis for the remaining three years of Adam Jones' contract and the team's control of Manny Machado is something that matters. Not only that, but all three of Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, and Ubaldo Jimenez will be free agents after the 2017 season, as things stand now.
That group was underwhelming at best in the most recent season, no doubt. Tillman and Gonzalez, at least, have had recent success in an O's uniform, and Jimenez's 2015 performance would look just fine if he was the fourth-best starter rather than the second-best. Like them or not, they're what the O's have got, and once they're all gone, things look a whole lot less sure as far as the team's success.
The farm is not going to save this rotation in two years time, nor in the present, if it becomes necessary. That would be the case whether or not Dan Duquette traded three young starting prospects last year in two failed attempts to acquire an outfielder who did not suck. The next 2-3 years are the key. Davis may not hit 47 home runs again in all three of those years. He should still be able in that time to be THE power hitter, the guy who will punish any pitcher at any time in any direction, and especially the guy who is the all-time leading Eutaw Street home run hitter. That matters.
By signing Davis, the Orioles have missed out on the opportunity to get a draft pick (which as of right now would be pick #29) had he signed elsewhere. It's a loss, if not a huge loss. The signing probably also ensures that the O's won't upgrade that problem of a rotation this offseason either, but let's not act like having Davis is not a gain in the short term. Let's get real. Forget about years 4-7 for a minute. Would you rather have Yovani Gallardo for the next three years, or Davis? We can all worry about the rest later.
For now, let there be home runs hit with such ferocity that they wake up sleeping men. You know, kinda like this: