Chris Davis' $161M Megadeal Is Risk Orioles Had to Take

Jacob ShaferFeatured ColumnistJanuary 16, 2016

FILE - In this Sept. 8, 2015, file photo, Baltimore Orioles' Chris Davis hits a home run during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the New York Yankees in New York. The Orioles have withdrawn their multi-million dollar offer to free agent first baseman Chris Davis,  executive vice president Dan Duquette said Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, File)
Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

More than two months into the offseason, Chris Davis got his payday. The Baltimore Orioles got an impact hitter. And the battle for supremacy in the American League East got even more interesting.

On Saturday, Davis inked a seven-year, $161 million pact with Baltimore, per MLB Network's Jon Heyman. The deal ended a protracted standoff between Davis and the O's and took a premium bat off the market, possibly setting the stage for the Yoenis Cespedes and Justin Upton dominoes to fall soon.

More than anything, though, the takeaway is that Baltimore kept baseball's reigning home run leader in the fold. That's a big deal.

Oh, this contract—the largest in franchise history by a long shot—is a risk, as we'll get into shortly. But as they attempt to flutter back to the top of a highly competitive division, it's a risk the Orioles had to take.

Davis' $161 million deal is the largest in Orioles franchise history.
Davis' $161 million deal is the largest in Orioles franchise history.Patrick Semansky/Associated Press/Associated Press

First, the good news: Davis is coming off a monster season in which he clubbed 47 home runs, racked up 117 RBI and posted a .923 OPS. In this power-starved era, that's a stat line worth savoring.

"For a guy like this to hit the market, it's just an opportunity teams don't get: a 29-year-old player who has 40-plus home run power, and he's already hit 50 home runs," Davis' agent, Scott Boras, said in November, per ESPN's Jerry Crasnick.

Boras was talking up his client, obviously. He also wasn't wrong.

Baltimore made other additions this winter, including Mark Trumbo and Korean outfielder Hyun-Soo Kim, but Davis is the difference-maker.

The Boston Red Sox are aggressively retooling under president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski. The New York Yankees, a wild-card team last year, have upgraded at second base and added Aroldis Chapman to an already-deadly bullpen.

The Toronto Blue Jays, despite losing David Price to Boston, are the defending AL East champs and still loaded with bats. Assuming they keep their starting rotation intact, the Tampa Bay Rays could be in the picture as well.

Really, this might be baseball's most balanced division, with no odds-on favorite and no obvious doormat.

That meant the Orioles couldn't afford to be complacent. They won the division and advanced to the American League Championship Series in 2014 but slid back to a disappointing 81-81 last year. Further regression loomed if they had let Davis slip away and didn't add any more significant pieces.

Despite his potent pop, Davis carries risks.
Despite his potent pop, Davis carries risks.Nick Wass/Associated Press

OK, now about that risk. First, there's the obvious issues associated with any long-term deal. Davis turns 30 in March, meaning this contract—which doesn't feature an opt-out, per Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthalwill carry him through his age-36 season. 

Davis is an excellent athlete who can play the corner outfield spots as well as a capable first base—and even pitched a pair of scoreless innings in 2012. But the list of hitters who avoided decline as their 30s progressed is a short one.

Then there's the matter of Davis' troubling 2014 season, wherein he hit a paltry .196 and was slapped with a 25-game amphetamine suspension. His huge 2015 bounce-back erased most of the fears about his production. And Davis had a therapeutic use exemption for the ADHD drug Adderall, which triggered the suspension, per USA Today (via the Associated Press).

Still, those are resume blemishes that can't be ignored.

Davis also strikes out—a lot. In fact, he led the game in whiffs last year with 208. That's not considered as big of an issue in today's game as it used to be, but it's worth noting.

Davis and Manny Machado form part of the O's offensive core.
Davis and Manny Machado form part of the O's offensive core.Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

On balance, though, this was the right move for Baltimore. Add budding superstar Manny Machado and All-Star center fielder Adam Jones, and the Orioles have an enviable, locked-in offensive core.

They've also got more work to do, as Rosenthal outlined:

The O's still need starting pitching, need it badly. Otherwise, Davis will be nothing more than an ornate showpiece, a freak-show, home-run hitting attraction at Camden Yards.

The Orioles' rotation ERA increased from 3.61 in 2014 to 4.53 last season, and that was with left-hander Wei-Yin Chen as the team's top starter; he since has signed with the Marlins. 

There are options, including right-hander Yovani Gallardo, whose name has been "floating around" all winter, according to Peter Schmuck of the Baltimore Sun.

Whether the Orioles are willing to part with the cash and draft pick it'd cost to land Gallardo remains to be seen. But this is an obvious area of need, and the options are dwindling.

For now, however, Baltimore fans can exhale. Davis comes with baggage. And like any massive contract, this one's fraught with possible pitfalls. But when you get a chance to retain a guy with relative youth and game-changing pop, you pounce.

The Orioles pounced. Davis got paid. Now, we can all sit back and watch what promises to be a top-to-bottom dogfight in the AL East.

Is it spring yet?

 

All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.