Can the Orioles still have Cespedes?

Whether it was the contract offer to Yoenis Cespedes, Buck Showalter‘s thinly-veiled comments, or the extra $7 million that got the job done, Chris Davis is returning to the Baltimore Orioles. For $161 million over the next seven years, Davis will be an Oriole, for better or worse. At the end of the day, Peter Angelos always wanted Davis back, and it felt inevitable that the sides would work out a deal, even after the initial offer was “pulled” off the table.

So, where does that leave Yoenis Cespedes? If the Orioles made a five-year offer for $90 million, they are the only team to make the free-agent outfielder a long-term offer. Cespedes entered the offseason hoping for a contract in the six-year, $120 million range, but if the slowly-developing market is any indication, he will not get that. The Orioles’ initial offer was thought to have included an option for a sixth year.

With Davis back, can the Orioles afford to sign Cespedes as well?

The answer to that question, is certainly, but only if they want to.

With Davis re-signing, next year’s payroll will fall into the $130-135 million range when all the arbitration cases are said and done. That will be the highest payroll in club history by a wide margin. Still, if ownership is willing to take a one-year hit up to the $150 million range, they can have Cespedes. Matt Wieters took the one-year qualifying offer of $15.8 million with the hopes of re-establishing his value and testing free agency in 2017. No one expected Wieters to take the short-term deal, and his doing so threw a monkey wrench into the club’s plans for the offseason.

If the Orioles are serious about remaining in contention, Wieters’ money must be viewed as a sunk cost. Adding Cespedes will push the team’s payroll to a place it has never been before, but nearly $16 million falls off the books immediately. In just one year, the salary commitments will be back down in the $125-130 million range with other names like J.J. Hardy and Ubaldo Jimenez beginning to clear out. With the ongoing legal battle over MASN revenues reaching a resolution, the Orioles will begin seeing even more television revenue in the coming years. This level of payroll would be feasible for the team. Feasible, anyway, in the way that you ccccaaaannnn go to the strip club if your wife approves. You probably won’t go, but if you really, really want to go, you’ve got the option in your back pocket. It’s always good to have options, especially if you’re the type who likes to make it rain.

The Orioles were at one time, one of the highest-spending teams in the league. When Camden Yards opened, and the team was a contender in 1996 and 1997, the team’s payroll rivaled that of the New York Yankees. Angelos is not as tight-fisted as some would make him out to be. During the lean years, money was not spent because the surrounding level of talent made doing so a silly idea. The Orioles did make a huge splash in 2004, signing Miguel Tejada, Javy Lopez, and Rafael Palmeiro. At the time, the Orioles felt their young pitching was far enough along to contend. It wasn’t, and the signings look bad in hindsight.

The pitching is better (it’s passable, not great) this time around, and the bullpen is top-five in the entire league. Adding one more bat could be enough to make 2016 a playoff season for the Orioles. Cespedes would have a greater impact on the team’s fortunes than a mid-tier arm like Yovani Gallardo, Doug Fister, or Mat Latos.

For Cespedes, the Orioles should still be viewed as an attractive destination. The ballpark and division are friendly to hitters, and he could settle in right field without the added pressure of playing center field. The heart of the lineup is star-studded, and Cespedes would receive plenty of good pitching to hit. The Orioles encourage their hitters to be aggressive, and the clubhouse atmosphere with Buck Showalter is second to none. Cespedes brings a passion and energy to the ballpark that has been praised at nearly every stop of his career (except Boston, but who can really blame him for that?). Cespedes should want to sign with the Orioles if they will still have him.

Can the Orioles afford to remain in the hunt for Yoenis Cespedes? The answer to that question is unequivocally yes. Will they remain in the hunt? Clock is ticking, Peter.

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