The Orioles re-signing of Chris Davis seemed to take a lot of the baseball world by surprise. It certainly took the Camden Chat population by surprise. Will it prove to be a good deal? Will it prove to be an awful one? Right now, absolutely no one knows, not even the Orioles, who will be paying Davis $119 million over the next seven years and a total of $161 million once all deferred money is paid. Knowing nothing is never going to stop the hot take machine from firing up.
There was a notable split in the tenor of the opinions on the contract based on whether or not the individual writers raced to post their thoughts before the news of the deferred money was reported. The deferred money renders obsolete a lot of objections along the lines of, "The Orioles bid against themselves!" but it doesn't settle concerns over when and how Davis will decline.
On Fangraphs, Dave Cameron had a simple theme: "Scott Boras strikes again"
Given the limited suitors looking for a first baseman, the remaining crop of quality outfielders, and the risks surrounding Davis' skillset, this might be Scott Boras' most impressive victory over reason yet. As an agent, he has perfected the ability to go around the baseball operations department, dealing directly with owners who simply don't have the same level of knowledge as the people they employ to run their team on a daily basis. Except in this case, even Peter Angelos had to know he was bidding against himself.
Your instant reaction to the signing may also have included some fretting at the idea that Boras got Angelos to negotiate against himself. So was ours. That was a reasonable reaction based on what was known at the time. Who else was going to sign Davis, after all? But the deferred money quells that concern in a big way.
Also of interest in this article is a chart in which Cameron lays out what Davis would have to do to earn a $161 million contract, in terms of WAR accumulated. The key questions are what talent level Davis begins with and how fast he'll decline. The gist is he'd have to be worth 18.2 WAR over the seven years. I mean... that's not a lot. I like his chances. I guess I'm just a homer.
He now has to do even less to earn $119 million over seven years. A total of 13.5 WAR would get you to that number, based on Cameron's valuation. I like those chances even more.
At The Sporting News, Jesse Spector ran with a playful take on the idea of the O's bidding against themselves:
There's also the matter of the cost, because $161 million is a lot of money when you look around and see that most teams either lacked the payroll space for Davis or a position in which to play him. Still, it only takes one team to drive up the cost of acquisition, and the Orioles got their man by beating the seven-year, $150 million offer that Davis had received from Baltimore. There was a hint that another team, likely the former St. Louis Browns, was involved in the bidding for Davis.
Do you get it, guys? The Orioles are also Baltimore, and they're the former St. Louis Browns too! Haha, they were bidding against themselves!
Like Cameron, Spector's opinion was driven in large part by the scarcity of other teams in need of a first baseman who might be willing to pay a premium price. That's still the case and Scott Boras surely knew it, which is why, when it came down to it, he was willing to take the deferred money in order to increase the total dollars in the contract.
On ESPN, Keith Law also finds the contract excessive as he thinks it overvalues what Davis might bring to the table:
Davis hit .196/.300/.404 in 2014, then, while having an excellent season in 2015, still had the American League's highest strikeout rate (by a wide margin), worst contact rate and second-worst swinging strike rate (stats courtesy of Fangraphs). ... He has been a $23 million player only twice in his career, is not going to get any better entering his 30s, and had no other probable landing spot this offseason.
The story checks out on all of those points about the strikeout rates. Also, while the number changes from $23 million to $17 million, it's also the case that he's only been worth $17 million or more twice in his career. But, the Davis performance in 2012 (2.1 WAR) comes pretty close in today's dollars - Fangraphs assumes a win is presently worth $8 million, and $16.2 million of value is pretty close to a $17 million contract. As more money comes into baseball, the worth of a win increases accordingly.
Davis does not have to keep hitting 47 home runs per year to earn this contract, although of course it would be nice for the Orioles and for O's fans if he did.
Back on Fangraphs, great baseball writer Jeff Sullivan comes in with a very fair look at the risks, but also with what might have been appealing for the Orioles:
The idea presented: the money budgeted for Chris Davis wasn't being budgeted for just anyone. Angelos has a particular fondness for Davis, and a particular appreciation of everything he's done. It's not quite that Davis is being paid right out of Angelos' pocket, from a completely separate budget, but there are hints that the Orioles' payroll might go higher with Davis than it would've without Davis. If that's in any way true, then it has to also be a factor, because it means the Orioles would spend more on a team with Davis than they would on a team with, say, Yoenis Cespedes. Again, if that's true, it would mean Davis is getting money that wouldn't have been put elsewhere.
One reason why Sullivan is a particular favorite of mine is his willingness to turn around questions like this in his mind, even if they don't always have a satisfactory answer. What he presents above is not an outrageous speculation, either, given that earlier in the offseason it was rumored that, while the O's would spend some money on Davis, that same amount of money wouldn't necessarily be spent on other free agents if they hadn't signed Davis.
On MLB.com, Richard Justice appreciates the value of dingers:
His swing is a thing of beauty, swift and majestic and absolutely perfect for Camden Yards. He hits the ball hard more consistently than almost anyone. Only J.D. Martinez, David Ortiz and Matt Kemp had a higher hard contact percentage last season, according to fangraphs.com.
There's also a human aspect to this story. ... By the time the Orioles acquired Davis in 2011, he wasn't exactly brimming with confidence. Enter the genius of Orioles manager Buck Showalter. He methodically helped restore Davis' confidence in ways large and small. Showalter has deflected credit, saying Davis got this far through his own talent and relentless work ethic.
The idea of clubhouse chemistry being a factor in team performance is one of those things that tends to be scoffed at by the newer crowd of baseball thinking. And why shouldn't it be? It's kind of ridiculous, and more importantly it's not something that can be directly quantified.
But let's just suppose that the Orioles had made every one of the same personnel moves from the time of Showalter's hiring until now. Suppose they suffered every one of the same injuries for the same length of time. Everything about the team from 2010 until now stays the same, except instead of Showalter taking over, the manager continued to be Dave Trembley.
Do you think that team still is on a streak of four straight non-losing seasons? Do you think that they make the playoffs twice in four years? To me, there is only one answer to those questions: Hell no!
Showalter may not stick around for the whole of Davis's contract. Even if the Orioles continue to win and be successful, he might not want to keep managing until he's 66. But for now he's here, and that matters.
Closer to home, Peter Schmuck writes in The Baltimore Sun that the rotation was always going to be a problem and there's not much left to do about it:
The Orioles now have five regulars who have hit 30 or more home runs in a season at least once in their careers, and they already were a long-ball force to be reckoned with before the Seattle Mariners needed to unload Trumbo's salary.
They are not, however, a measurably better team than they were last season and won't be unless they can find a way to upgrade the starting rotation. ... The list of quality starting pitchers available in the free-agent market was never very long and the remainders with one month left until spring training are - with a couple of exceptions - unimpressive.
I'd go even farther than Schmuck because in my estimation, with no exceptions, none of the remaining starting pitchers are impressive in any way. Whether the Orioles do or don't sign another starter, the fact is that a lot of their hopes for success this season are going to hinge on whether the returning starters from last year can improve.
If they don't, the Orioles are going to need to be winning a lot of 7-5 games. Adding Davis to what they already had is a pretty good way to put themselves in a position to try to be able to do that, regardless of the quality of the rotation. And significantly to me, at least, it's not like they could have taken any of this money and improved the rotation much this offseason.
In the media landscape, the opinions on the Davis signing seem to run just about the whole range from positive to negative.
Where do you fall in all of this? Are you concerned about a loss of bat speed robbing him of the power that distinguishes him? Worried about nagging injuries that might crop up as he gets older? Do you think that another free agent (or combination of free agents) might have helped the Orioles more for the same money?