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Precedents for an early end to the Chris Davis-Orioles contract

Chris Davis remains a constant Orioles talking point for all the wrong reasons. As the end of his contract inches closer, there’s the constant question of how long this can go on.

Baltimore Orioles v Miami Marlins - Game One
Chris Davis looks on after a home run by the Marlins’ Brian Anderson.
Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

It seems there’s no quitting Chris Davis. When he went on the IL a few weeks ago with left knee patellar tendinitis, some pondered whether he’d be seen again this season. As he makes his return to the team, it’s easy to see the considerable change that has taken place since he was sent to the alternate training site.

If you haven’t had the chance already, check out Alex Church’s excellent piece from yesterday. With the status of younger, more promising players on the roster, Davis’ role becomes more and more curious.

There have been calls among fans for Davis’ release going back several years. His drop-off in performance has been precipitous and lasting. But how likely is it that he’ll be dropped before his contract runs out?

It’s happened before — expensive players getting released prior to the official end of their contract — and it will happen again. The timing of such actions require closer inspection, though.

Once this season ends, the 34-year-old Davis will have two years and $46 million remaining on his original seven-year, $161 million contract signed in 2016. And even though that still seems like too much money for an MLB club to eat, Davis has far underperformed all the players about to be mentioned.

While taking a look at past high-profile players released early from their contracts — which is made much easier with resources like Baseball Reference and Spotrac, which were utilized for this piece — there were a few similarities between the following situations.

Hanley Ramirez

Let go by the Red Sox in May 2018 — at age 34 and with roughly four months to go on his original four-year, $88 million contract — Hanley Ramirez was once a superstar. But his skills diminished towards the end of his career and he had performed poorly from 2017-2018, with a batting line of .245/.318/.421.

Following his release from the Red Sox, Ramirez took the rest of the 2018 season off. But he jumped back into baseball the following year when he signed a one-year contract with the Indians in February 2019. But he went on to appear in just 16 games with Cleveland, mustering a .184 batting average and 63 OPS+ before disappearing from Major League Baseball.

Pablo Sandoval

Another case of buyer’s remorse came with Pablo Sandoval, who lasted only half the length of his five-year, $95 million contract in Boston. In two and a half years with the Red Sox, he hit .237/.286/.360 with a 71 OPS+.

Yet Sandoval was only 30 years old when Boston dropped him on July 19, 2017. But just a few days after that, he managed to catch on with the only other major league club he’d ever known, the San Francisco Giants. He’s been a part-time player there ever since, and the past two years he’s averaged 274 plate appearances, a .259 BA and 108 OPS+. He’s struggling this year to the tune of a 52 OPS+.

Carl Crawford

In the case of Carl Crawford, he played a bit less than two years in Boston on a mega-deal, accumulating a grand total of 14 home runs, 23 steals and a .711 OPS before being traded to the Dodgers on August 25, 2012. His seven-year, $142 million contract was scheduled to take him through the 2017 season.

Although Crawford managed to hit above .280 during his first two years in LA, his numbers suffered in other areas, most notably a steep decline in stolen bases. But in 2015, he hit .265 and in 2016 that number fell to .185. He was released by the Dodgers in June 2016, at age 34, with a year and change remaining on his contract.

In part based on these past examples, it’s got to be too early to talk about releasing Chris Davis, right?

One big difference between Davis and these other players is the fact that Boston and Los Angeles are two of the biggest markets in baseball, so they should be the most financially equipped to handle releasing such expensive players. The Baltimore Orioles aren’t quite in the same tier.

Right now, the O’s seem to be entering a new phase of their rebuild, wherein valued prospects are coming to the big leagues and achieving positive results. Some have been pulled up and down between the minors and majors over the past couple years and some have made their first MLB appearance within the past month and a half.

Interestingly enough, these young players aren’t even recruits of current GM Mike Elias. They were brought in by former executive vice president Dan Duquette; players like Chance Sisco, Ryan Mountcastle, DJ Stewart, Dean Kremer and Keegan Akin.

Just wait til the next wave of reinforcements starts knocking on the door. The clock is already ticking on the old guard like Chris Davis.