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.