What Will Orioles Slugger Chris Davis Be Worth if He Continues Torrid Hitting?

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterJune 20, 2013

We keep waiting for him to stop, but it would appear that Chris Davis either doesn't have an "Off" button or is keeping it very well hidden.

His wallet approves. Or will approve, anyway. 

If you missed it, Davis was at it again on Wednesday afternoon in Detroit, slugging two more home runs as part of a 3-for-5 afternoon in a 13-3 Baltimore victory over the Tigers.

The Orioles first baseman is now hitting .337/.413/.720 with a league-leading 26 home runs. Pretty good stuff for a guy who came into the season as a .258/.310/.466 career hitter and a reputation as nothing more than just another slugging meathead. 

Davis is so much more than that now, and the article that Grantland's Jonah Keri penned earlier this month made it clear that Davis has himself to thank for that. With a little nudging from Orioles hitting coach Jim Presley, Davis went to great lengths to remake himself into a more complete hitter. Obviously, he's succeeded.

Davis' efforts could pay off in an American League MVP award in the short run. But in the longer run, there's going to be a massive paycheck coming his way eventually. If he refuses to cool down, he'll be your garden-variety slugging first baseman. At last check, they get paid well.

If Davis continues his current pace, ESPN.com projects that he'll end the season with 58 home runs. That would be the most for a first baseman since Ryan Howard also slugged 58 homers in 2006, and it would also be the 12th 50-homer season by a first baseman in baseball history.

Even the more modest projections are still impressive. Per FanGraphs, ZiPS sees a .301/.370/.600 line with 42 home runs at the end of the season for Davis. Steamer sees a .305/.377/.613 line and 39 homers.

No matter which way you slice it, it's hard to see Davis as anything less than a .300 hitter with 40 bombs at season's end. The last few first basemen to hit .300 with 40 bombs in a season were named Albert Pujols, Howard, Lance Berkman, Derrek Lee, Mark Teixeira and Carlos Delgado.

Pretty good company right there, and putting himself among them will obviously bode well for Davis' future earning power. Pujols, Howard and Teixeira are particularly relevant, as they've all signed contracts worth over $100 million within the last five years. 

Davis is putting himself on a path to join them with what he's doing in 2013, but it's not going to be as simple as going from A to B. Even in a sport as liberal with money as baseball, $100 million contracts aren't given to players with only one brilliant season under their belts.

If Davis wants a $100 million contract, he's going to have to keep it up for a few more years. And since he's only under club control through 2015, that means the best bet is that he'll be getting his $100 million contract in free agency rather than via an extension from the Orioles—who aren't in the habit of giving out $100 million deals anyway.

Davis will be off his age-29 season if and when he hits free agency after 2015, and that represents a complication in trying to narrow down a potential free-agent contract. Unless MLB Trade Rumors' transaction tracker is missing somebody, no first baseman has ever signed a free-agent contract worth an excess of even so much as $50 million fresh off his age-29 season.

Teixeira comes close enough, however, as he signed with the New York Yankees off his age-28 campaign in 2008. He got an eight-year contract that will last him through his age-36 season.

That's not a bad target area for sluggers. Carlos Lee's six-year contract with the Houston Astros lasted through his age-36 season. Josh Hamilton's five-year deal with the Los Angeles Angels is also going to last through his age-36 season. 

In light of these guys, Davis could turn two more brilliant full seasons in 2014 and 2015 into a seven-year deal in free agency that would last him through his own age-36 season. 

As for what the money will be like, I feel safe in assuming that the going rate for a .300 hitter with 40-homer power in the winter of 2015-2016 is still going to be over $20 million per year.

If Davis is still that kind of guy, he actually ought to do even better. Teixeira, Pujols and Prince Fielder all got between $22 and $24 million per year in their deals, and that's the kind of territory Davis will be looking to crack.

Then there's inflation to take into account, and there should be plenty of that going in the next couple of years with Major League Baseball's new national TV deals set to kick in. Those are worth approximately $50 million for each of MLB's 30 teams, and don't be surprised when that money is thrown around this offseason. There will be one more offseason before Davis hits the market after 2015.

There could also be some big spenders eyeing him. The Boston Red Sox and Texas Rangers, for example, both lack long-term solutions at first base. They might already be looking at Davis as a solution down the road (assuming the Rangers aren't too busy kicking themselves for trading him).

Factoring in these things, $25 million per year sounds about right, if not conservative.

It sounds nuts now. Frankly, half of me isn't entirely convinced it isn't nuts. I know he's not the player he used to be, but, still, Chris Davis.

But then, we're talking about a first baseman who, in theory, will have been a .300 hitter with 40-homer power for three straight seasons. On top of that, he'll still be on the right side of 30, and he'll be looking for a contract in a market where every team has $50 million to spend thanks to MLB's wheeling and dealing on the TV front.

A seven-year contract at $25 million per year for a total of $175 million? Yeah, it could happen.

As long as that "Off" switch remains hidden, of course.

Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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