The big seven-year offer from the Baltimore Orioles to free-agent slugger Chris Davis is off the table. While the front office has made it clear the team will explore other options besides Davis this offseason, the possibility of resuming talks at some point is very real. The Orioles have presumably moved onto Justin Upton, and his price tag will at least equal the $150 million offered to Davis.
The Orioles have likely filled one hole in the outfield with the signing of Hyun-soo Kim, and adding Upton would fill out a corner outfield group that failed miserably in 2015. It’s not that easy for the Orioles, unfortunately, as the Los Angeles Angels and several other big market teams figure to have plenty of interest in signing the 28-year-old All-Star. If the Angels want an outfielder, Upton figures to be their primary target over Yoenis Cespedes and Alex Gordon. The Orioles do have the advantage of playing close to Upton’s birthplace in Virginia Beach.
Should the Orioles miss out on Justin Upton, they may set their sights on Cespedes or Gordon. Picking talks up with Davis, however, seems the more logical course of action. The Orioles felt strongly enough about Davis to offer him the richest contract in team history. The offer was not pulled because the Orioles somehow soured on Davis. It was pulled because the team felt it had made its best offer and needed to move onto other targets before they went off the board.
Davis is after an eight-year contract for $200 million, which seems like a reach. There were reports surfacing during the Winter Meetings that the team had bumped its offer up to $168 million before pulling it off the table. The Orioles squashed those rumors, and it remains unclear whether the number was merely floated by Scott Boras. Regardless, the Orioles remain the sole team to make Davis a serious offer. It is very hard to determine who will step up. The St. Louis Cardinals, Texas Rangers, Houston Astros, Toronto Blue Jays, and Angels all make sense to a degree, but none have expressed an outright interest in Davis. That could lead him back to the initial offer from the Orioles.
The Orioles are clearly not going to eight years, but perhaps there is another way to sweeten the deal for Davis if the sides get to talking again — the dreaded opt-out clause. At Fan Fest last weekend, Dan Duquette spoke dismissively of the opt-out clauses in Jason Heyward‘s new deal with the Chicago Cubs. The Baltimore front office does not like the opt-out clause, as it puts the power into the player’s hands. Hit or pitch well, opt-out, cash in somewhere else, or so goes the general line of thinking with opt-out clauses. It worked rather well for Zack Greinke, and it will eventually work well for Heyward and David Price. The Orioles do not like the way the clause shifts power back to the player, but it may make sense for a player like Davis.
Everyone in Baltimore drools over the 53-homer and 47-homer seasons Davis has produced. Sandwiched between 2013 and 2015 was a miserable year in which Davis hit .196 and struck out 173 times in only 127 games. Although Davis hit 47 home runs in 2015, he also struck out 208 times. Many of his home runs came against weak pitching staffs in the second half. As the Orioles’ offense went into an August swoon, Davis slumped as badly as anyone on the team. He remains one of the biggest boom-or-bust players in the league.
As Davis prepares to turn 30, he should just be entering his peak years. Why not give him the option to opt-out after three years. At that point, Davis can re-enter the market at age 32, entering his age-33 season, still conceivably with a few peak years left in the tank. Should he hit 40 home runs per year over the first three years of the deal, Davis will have earned himself a raise. Of course, the same questions that dog him this offseason will be magnified as he ages. In this situation, however, the onus is on Davis. If he produces, he will earn even more money on his next deal.
Opt-out clauses are extremely alluring to players, as the carrot of earning more money dangles. Many front offices eschew them, but the clauses are actually a way of reducing risk if viewed the right way. It was not a mistake for the New York Yankees to sign CC Sabathia to a huge contract. He pitched quite well, exercised his right to opt-out, cashed in, and then proceeded to get injured. Had the Yankees walked away when they had the chance, the deal would have been a massive success. The Boston Red Sox need to view David Price’s deal as a three-year deal for $93 million, not a seven-year deal for $217 million. Teams have the same ability to get in while the getting’s good and walk away right before it’s not.
The risk with giving Chris Davis an opt-out clause would be that he re-signs, struggles, and elects to stay. Those same risks would have been there for the Orioles on a seven-year deal with no out clause. The addition of the clause after three or four years could allow the Orioles to minimize their downside risk.
For the time being, Chris Davis is not in line to return to the Baltimore Orioles, but his market could be dwindling. The Orioles have already shown a willingness to go outside their comfort zone by making the initial offer. If it comes to an opt-out clause, the Orioles may have to go outside their comfort zone one more time to keep Chris Davis wearing black and orange for a few more years.