Before the Orioles re-signed Chris Davis, they were reported to be heavily interested in outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. When the Davis signing was concluded, you might have figured that was it for that. Not so fast, reports MLB Network's Jon Heyman, who reports that in the run-up to Cespedes re-signing with the Mets, the Orioles were still in the picture with a five year contract offer.
On its face, this seems like such a crazy notion that it couldn't possibly be true. That said, it's important in all aspects of life to consider ideas that challenge your existing world view. "The Orioles tried to sign multiple huge-dollar free agents in the same offseason" is a nutty thing to think. Yes, it could be a load of nonsense, or it could be a sign that the landscape is much, much different than any of us realized.
The last offer to Cespedes that was reported from the O's was said to be for five years and $90 million, with some reporters believing a sixth year option was a possibility. At least one national baseball writer scoffed at this offer as non-serious. In reality, Cespedes took a three year contract to return to the Mets, with $75 million guaranteed. Additionally, Cespedes has the opportunity to opt out after only one season. If he does so, he'll have banked $27.5 million for that one year.
The opt out is the key. Dan Duquette is on the record as saying the O's don't feel it makes sense for the team to go down that path, although in this offseason it has become more and more common. If the Orioles hadn't upped their offer any, they were offering an $18 million average annual value (AAV) while the Mets were offering a $25 million AAV. And unless Cespedes craters hard in 2016, he'll probably be back on the free agent market in a year, looking for the bigger payday he wasn't offered this year.
Let's suppose that the O's upped their offer to $100 million - a $20 million AAV for five years. This does still seem crazy going off what we would have assumed as the baseline reality of the O's finances. The 2016 payroll is currently estimated to be $139 million. Kick another $20 million on top of that and you get to $159 million - about $35 million above where they ended last year.
Even if some money was deferred (it's all the rage these days), say maybe $5 million per year, a hypothetical Cespedes signing would leave the O's at $154 million. Yeah, that still sounds crazy, which doesn't necessarily mean it's not true.
Supposing it is true, how much more would the O's have had to kick in to make their offer the more attractive one to Cespedes? Only $25 million more guaranteed for two more years probably wasn't going to get anything done. What if they topped out at $110 million, a $22 million AAV? Were they able to go there, even in this free-spending scenario of our imagination? Or was it a conscious, baseball-driven decision not to go any higher than their previous offer?
Maybe it wasn't even all about money. Some of the baseball chattering class offered musings that Cespedes enjoyed being The Man in New York, a role that's already settled in Baltimore. The spotlight on the third or fourth fiddle on the O's will never be as large as the one on the New York star.
In a lot of ways, it doesn't matter how much truth there is in the O's interest. They didn't sign Cespedes, just like they didn't sign Justin Upton, so who cares? Our hypothetically available $15 million for the 2016 payroll isn't going to be doing jack squat to help the team after all. Survey the desolate wasteland of remaining free agents and you won't find a player on whom the O's should spend that money, though there are those adherents of Yovani Gallardo and Doug Fister who might argue otherwise.
It remains to be seen whether next offseason will bring another toe-dipping into the waters of profligacy. And by the way, even if you're out there agitating for Peter Angelos to dip into his coffers some more to help the O's, take a gander at next year's free agents. There aren't many names on that list where, if the Orioles signed them, we'd all be running through the streets whooping and hollering. There aren't even many names who look like uninspiring but solid improvements over the players who are already going to be here, or replacements for the few pending free agents who might depart.
If the Orioles are willing to expand their payroll, that's a positive for the club in the long run, but it remains to be seen how much free agent money can fix their problems or prevent new ones from arising. It's at least a little bit exciting they still made a run at Cespedes. Still, this is nowhere close to as exciting as it would have been to actually land Cespedes on top of everything else they've done.