Which team doled out the largest free-agent contract of calendar year 2016? The Orioles - BaltimoreBaseball.com
Dan Connolly

Which team doled out the largest free-agent contract of calendar year 2016? The Orioles

Photo Credit: Joy R. Absalon

I’ve noticed a familiar refrain in the past few weeks as free agents are signing with teams.

“When will the Orioles spend money? I’m so sick of everyone else opening their checkbooks while the Orioles never do anything in the offseason but dumpster dive.”

I just smile and nod. Why let facts get in the way of a good story?

Given what has happened in baseball this winter, though, I figured this fact was worth bringing up.

The most lucrative free agent contract doled out in 2016 was … wait for it … the seven-year, $161 million deal presented to first baseman Chris Davis to re-sign with the Orioles in January. No one left on the current market is going to top it. And no one has, so far, this calendar year — with outfielder Yoenis Cespedes agreeing to the biggest prize this winter: $110 million over four years to re-sign with the New York Mets.

Davis’ deal was actually the fourth most expensive in the 2015-16 offseason, but David Price ($217M), Zack Greinke ($206.5M) and Jason Heyward ($184M) all signed in December, 2015.

So, your Orioles spent the most for one player on the open market in 2016. Soak it in. And don’t try to find a loophole; Davis was a free agent available to the highest bidder (Stephen Strasburg was not).

It’s possible that Davis’ free-agent contract remains the most lucrative through all of 2017, too, holding until the vaunted class of 2018-19 – which potentially includes Orioles’ third baseman Manny Machado, closer Zach Britton and Washington Nationals’ outfielder Bryce Harper – hits the market.

Next winter’s class is solid but unspectacular. Maybe Kansas City’s Eric Hosmer can get into the Davis stratosphere with another excellent all-around campaign and a bidding war. Old friend Jake Arrieta and/or Yu Darvish might surpass Davis if they stay healthy and have Cy Young-type campaigns. There are some opt-out candidates that could make a run for it with tremendous 2017 seasons. But clubs better be careful.

Despite popular belief, free agency is more of a desperate stroke than a fool-proof plan. Most players who reach free agency are in their 30s and on the downsides of their careers. Most will command salaries loftier than what they’ll produce during the duration of those new deals.

It’s funny. Many fans who lament the Orioles’ lack of big spending this winter also think, in retrospect anyway, that the Davis deal was a bad one. The jury on a seven-year contract should remain out for a while, but, remember, Davis would be among the best players available this year if were on the open market. This was one of the weakest classes in recent memory.

The bottom line is this: If you want to complain that the Orioles haven’t offered extensions to Machado and Britton – or for that matter Chris Tillman or Adam Jones — go ahead. If you want to complain that the Orioles haven’t yet found an everyday right fielder who can get on base, that’s probably a little premature, but an understandable gripe. If you’re grousing that the O’s threw away money on Davis, be my guest.

But if you want to complain that the Orioles, once again, refuse to spend big money on free agents, well you’re two-part foolish. They spent more money on free agency last year than they ever have, more than nearly every team in baseball. Their payroll, primarily due to those 2015-16 purchases and the upcoming arbitration raises, will be at an all-time high in 2017, and likely will be among the top dozen in the majors.

And they’ll achieve that – hopefully — without spending unwisely on mediocre players in this open market.

Here’s my advice: Next time you hear someone dusting off an argument from 2002 to hammer the Orioles’ lack of spending, nod your head and smile. And think about Chris Davis, the recipient of the richest free agent contract in the 2016 calendar year.

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Boog Robinson Robinson

    December 21, 2016 at 7:29 am

    And your point is?

    Maybe I’m in the minority, but I have absolutely no complaint about the lack of big spending this offseason. Frankly, I wish they had shown the same restraint in 2016.

    I realize the pressure was on and the fans may have risen up in revolt had Davis been let go, but that still doesn’t make the decision to give him the keys to the bank any smarter.

    In my opinion, the contract given to Davis will prevent (if it hasn’t already) the O’s from hanging on to some key assets they have now. Trumbo and Wieters are already all but gone, with Manny and a few other key players sure to follow.

    Dan, I sincerely disagree with you that the jury is still out on the Davis signing. I think the jury cast its’ verdict before the ink was dry.

    • Dan Connolly

      December 21, 2016 at 8:09 pm

      I do agree that the money given to Davis has hamstrung management to an extent this offseason along with the arbitration raises. Os are never gonna have a top 5 payroll again. But let’s have a little patience with the Davis deal. You could be right, but we are just 1 year in.

  2. Djowen

    December 21, 2016 at 10:36 am

    Dan you are correct that they spent lots of money in 2016. However, it was all to keep players on the team. That may bode well to keep Britton, Tillman and Manny. However, they don’t spend for players coming from other teams. They seem to be stuck on Trumbo as DH but Encarnacion probably would be a better fit if we could get him for 2 or 3 years. I don’t think it helps your case that DD has complained about the price for players.
    Don’t get me wrong because I don’t like these long term big contracts, including the Davis deal, but sometimes teams have to overspend to bring a player they need to the team. That is my biggest complaint.

    • Dan Connolly

      December 21, 2016 at 8:12 pm

      Dj: first, thanks for commenting. Rational opinion. Comment more. Now, my only nitpick is that a few years ago the complaint was they never keep their own good guys and instead go after somebody else’s discarded, overpriced former stars. It’s just hard to have it both ways. I guess my point is they do spend money now. And that’s a step in the right direction.

  3. Bancells Moustache

    December 21, 2016 at 5:51 pm

    Everyone trashes the Davis deal (I am a shameless Crush apologist) and in doing so, answers their own question. They all say, “look what a lousy year he had’. That’s right, Chris Davis had a bad year in which he hit 38 HRs. Again, Chris had a bad year and HIT NEARLY 40 HOME RUNS.

    • Dan Connolly

      December 21, 2016 at 8:14 pm

      You know, the argument can be made Davis’ bad year was better than the years had by the guys who got more money: Price, Greinke and Heyward. None came close to his previous year. In fact, Davis may have been the closest. Now, wait for Boog’s head to explode in 3 … 2 …. 1.

      • Boog Robinson Robinson

        December 22, 2016 at 7:17 am

        KaaaBoooooom!!!

        Fellas .. hey I like Chris. Shoot .. I named my last dog Crush after him. But let’s face it, they gave him superstar money two years after he hit below the Mendoza line. He was also just about 30 years old at the time. The trick in baseball is to pay a player for what he’s going to do, not for what he’s done.

        I know, he’s a tater machine, and I appreciate that, but what I don’t appreciate is his silly approach to hitting. Time and time again, when he attempts to go the opposite field, he shows what could be. Heck, the year he hit 50+, it seemed like half his homers went to left or left center field! And the few times I’ve seen him bunt against the shift, he’s been more than successful!

        So why then, can’t the lunkhead do these things more often? We don’t need a .220 hitter batting cleanup.
        So here’s to the 2 of y’alls belief in the man. Maybe that .268 hitter will show up again this year. If he does, maybe I’ll name my next dog Samson.

        • Bancells Moustache

          December 22, 2016 at 7:10 pm

          The man is paid to hit Home Runs, Boog. Not bunt. And he did what he was paid to do 38 times in an off year, eclipsing the career single season highs of Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken Jr in the process. If Chris Davis goes 4 for 4 with 4 bunts down the third base line, the other team won. Because he didn’t instantly score a run by placing the ball on Eutaw St.

          • Boog Robinson Robinson

            December 31, 2016 at 3:16 pm

            ‘Stache … If Davis were to get 4 bunt singles and the other team wins each time .. then why don’t they walk him every time up? Your logic is flawed.

            And you claim it was an “off year”? I agree … his best years are more likely than not, behind him. So why pay him now?

  4. giggs32

    December 29, 2016 at 11:49 pm

    This > The bottom line is this: If you want to complain that the Orioles haven’t offered extensions to Machado and Britton – or for that matter Chris Tillman or Adam Jones — go ahead. If you want to complain that the Orioles haven’t yet found an everyday right fielder who can get on base, that’s probably a little premature, but an understandable gripe. If you’re grousing that the O’s threw away money on Davis, be my guest.

    Oh, and they spent money and gave away 1st round picks on crappy pitching, ie. Ubalado and Gallardo.
    Which kills your farm system that sucks and doesn’t help your staff! Why? Because they didn’t develop or sign starting pitching of much quality. Then they screwed around last year with Dexter Fowler and totally messed that negotiation up.

    Do you really think Duquette is behind all of this? I don’t. Angelos only spends on his favorites. Not a good way to win World Series titles. When Machado and co leaves with no farm system, the Os will be back to being what they were before Showalter got here. Think Buck will stick around for that after 2018 when everyone’s contract is up?
    I think not.

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