Baltimore Orioles Big Mistake With Chris Davis Contract?

Sep 6, 2016; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Baltimore Orioles first baseman Chris Davis (19) waits on deck at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 6, 2016; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Baltimore Orioles first baseman Chris Davis (19) waits on deck at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Did the Baltimore Orioles make a BIG mistake last offseason by signing Chris Davis to a big dollar, long-term contract?  The probable price tags on remaining big-slugger free agents could indicate so.

The Baltimore Orioles made a decision last offseason to sign first baseman Chris Davis to a hefty 7-year, $161M contract.  While the merits of such a  large long-term contact at the time could have been debated ad nauseam (and it was), the fact that price tags continue to fall on sluggers who could actually be more productive than Chris Davis gives me reason for pause.

I lauded Dan Duquette’s decision (with Peter Angelos’ approval) to invest big money in Davis during the offseason.  I respected the fact that the front office wanted to keep a player who was a fan favorite even though he hit just .196 one year earlier.  Crush was “the man” and to see ownership commit a $161M, 7-year contract to one player was very promising.

Fast forward 1 year.  The Winter Meetings have concluded and we still have some very big sluggers on the market facing a nebulous market.  It is very possible that the Orioles could get 2 sluggers, each the caliber of Davis, for the same average annual price they are paying Davis – and, it’s possible they could get each of those sluggers on a 1 year deal.

Baltimore Orioles
Could Mark Trumbo be headed back to Baltimore on another team-friendly deal? Perhaps he’s not the only one in the mix for the Birds. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports /

I’m focused on 3 free agents in particular – Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Mark Trumbo.  For a few minutes, let’s forget the fact that the Orioles won’t sign Bautista because the fans hate him.  With a very uncertain market for these 3 players, it is very possible that the Orioles could sign 2 of these players at a total cost of perhaps $20M – $25M for just 1 season.  True, the price will stabilize at some level and it could be $25M – $30M or more.  But, as we saw 2 years ago with Nelson Cruz when he signed a 1-year, $8M deal with Baltimore, it is very possible the Orioles could pay a bargain price for 2 of these guys.

Last year was an injury-plagued year for the 36-year old Bautista who batted just .234 with 22 HR and 69 RBI in 423 ABs.  Still, his OBP was .366 and his OPS .817.  He walked 87 times while striking out 103 times.

The soon-to-be 34 year-old Encarnacion had an incredibly productive season, batting .263 with 42 HR a league-leading 127 RBI.  He also gets on base as he walked 87 times, had a .357 OBP and an .887 OPS.

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Baltimore Oriole fans know what Mark Trumbo brought to the table last year as he hit .256 with a league-leading 47 HR and 108 RBI.  Trumbo only reached base at a .317 clip and walked just 51 times while striking out 170 times.  Still, you can’t argue Trumbo’s productivity in the Oriole’s lineup.

If the Birds sign 2 of these guys – say Bautista (however unlikely) and Encarnacion, they would begetting 64 HR and 196 RBI value for potentially $20M-$25M over 1 year.  Last year, the Orioles paid Chris Davis $23M (average contract value) for 38 HR and 84 RBI.  Have the Orioles handcuffed themselves by locking up Davis for so long and at such a high contract price?

This is money that could have been filtered to extend a younger guy like Manny Machado or used in the international free agent market.  Hindsite is 20-20, but in retrospect, the Davis deal appears to have been a reach – one that could hurt the Orioles for years to come.

The current expiring system with draft picks assigned to qualifying offers have benefited the Orioles as they landed Nelson Cruz and Yovani Gallardo at significantly reduced prices as teams were unwilling to part with draft picks to sign these players who had received qualifying offers.  They almost landed Dexter Fowler last year as well – a second free agent signing who was tied to a qualifying offer – but instead Fowler bolted to the Cubs at the last minute.

While details of the new qualifying offer system are still unclear, it appears that teams who sign a player tied to a qualifying offer will no longer be penalized to the extent the current system penalizes teams.  As such, the Orioles may not be able to execute upon this strategy in the future.

Next: Baltimore Orioles Select Outfielders in Rule 5 Draft

Was the Davis deal a bad one for Baltimore?  What do you think?  Would you rather have Chris Davis as part of the Baltimore Orioles for the next 6 years, or have more flexibility with payroll?