For a player coming off a season in which he batted only .196 and saw his slugging percentage drop by over 200 points from the previous season, Chris Davis has a lot to say entering his walk year. Yes, the Orioles offseason left much to be desired, but if anyone was going to criticize the front office, it should not be the player the team succeeded in 2014 in spite of.
Here is what Davis had to say earlier this week in an interview with The Baltimore Sun’s Peter Schmuck, “Some things are going to have to change as far as contracts are concerned, because we have a lot of young guys that you’re going to have a chance to sign before free agency and, I’ll tell you one thing, I’m not going to play for a team that has no shot at competing every year,” Davis said. “The next contract I sign I would like it to be my last one, and I have no desire to play for a loser every year.”
In case Davis has forgotten, he plays for the winningest team in the AL East the past three years, a team that has gone to the playoffs twice in that span, and stayed in the race late into the season in the other. This is a team with an extremely competent management team that has cobbled together one of the best starting rotations in the league despite modest expectations, built a farm system with a crop of prospects nearing readiness for the big leagues, and no signs of slowing down.
Yes, the Orioles have been outstripped in the free agent signing department, but let’s be honest here, did Davis really expect the Orioles to sign Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez, or Max Scherzer? Or maybe, he would have preferred the Orioles shell out $63 million for an unproven 19 year old Cuban or $85 million for an aging catcher, two deals that drove headlines in Boston and Toronto. Even the Yankees did not make a headlong charge into the free agent market this winter.
Teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, and Phillies dominated the free agent market in the early years of this decade. Yes, they contended for a World Series. Now, the Phillies are in a full blown rebuild mode, the Yankees are trying to keep their heads above water with another aging set of free agents, and in the same time that the Orioles have been to the playoffs twice, the Red Sox have finished in last place, although they do have a 2013 World Series title to fall back on.
Building a winning baseball team is a delicate dance, one that Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter have played to perfection the past three years. The Orioles front office has developed a primarily home grown rotation, a feat that previous regimes could not seem to accomplish for 15 years. That is step one in developing a winning team. The lineup that Buck puts out on the field is balanced and powerful. One through nine, the Orioles have a player capable of going deep. Yes, the Orioles have dipped into the bargain bin multiple times, but those shrewd moves have always paid off.
If Davis wants to be part of a team that will blindly toss dollars around every winter, he is in the wrong spot. I understand the outrage expressed by many Orioles players, including Davis, over the loss of Nick Markakis. Here’s the thing about Markakis, and keep in mind that I love Nick just as much as any Orioles fan. The Orioles made the right decision in letting him walk.
Markakis has been in a rapid decline each of the past three seasons. In plain and simple English, he is not worth $44 million over four years. From 2007 to 2010, there was no safer bet in baseball for 40 plus doubles and 20 home runs than Markakis. If he were still putting up those numbers, the Orioles would have jumped through hoops to retain him, but the sad reality is that Markakis has slugged over 50 points below his career average the past two seasons. The Braves will ultimately regret signing Markakis while the Orioles will get similar or better production from Alejandro De Aza for under $1 million this year.
The Orioles won 96 games last year, playing replacement level players at catcher and third base for the majority of the season. If you want to be mean, they played the entire season with a replacement level player at first base as well. Oh wait, they played almost an entire season with a replacement level player at first base. Davis was suspended most of the last month of the season after testing positive for Adderall.
If you are sitting out Opening Day due to a positive test, you should probably not be talking about your contract. If you batted .196, you should probably avoid discussing free agent signings, as your job may be the one up for grabs. Davis is not sitting in the right seat to be chastising the front office. Free agency has never been the route to building a winning team in Baltimore. The Orioles went down that road in the late Nineties and it sent them into a 15 year run of irrelevancy. The Orioles cannot spend with the likes of Boston, Toronto, and New York. If that is what their players expect, they are in the wrong place. If Davis proves his worth, you can bet those three clubs will be coming after him. Hopefully he realizes the value of the Orioles measured approach to roster building.