The signing: The Baltimore Orioles and Chris Davis have reached agreement on a seven-year, $161 million contract. The deal, pending medical review, is the largest in Orioles franchise history. It is worth nearly double the $85.5 million the team gave Adam Jones in 2012.
The reason: Since he came to Baltimore in a 2011 trade with Texas, Davis has evolved into one of the club's cornerstones. Besides his prodigious power, the lefty slugger -- who clubbed 47 home runs last season and led the AL for the second time in three years -- is an excellent athlete and solid first baseman who probably doesn’t get as much credit as he should for his defense. Despite all the whiffs (his 208 K's last season were the fifth-most in MLB history) and an abysmal 2014 campaign that ended with his receiving a 25-game suspension for violating the league’s PED policy, Davis is something of a cult hero in Baltimore. Not to mention, he is well-liked in the clubhouse. Judging by owner Peter Angelos' involvement in the negotiation process and the amount of dough he just dropped, Davis must also be an ownership favorite.
The impact: Re-signing Davis does many things. For starters, it puts the Orioles' payroll into uncharted territory. It remains to be seen how the megadeal will be structured, but assuming the $23 million average annual value is spread evenly over the life of the contract, the Orioles' 2016 payroll is already in the $140 million neighborhood. That’s without a starting pitcher to replace Wei-Yin Chen. Add to that the very real possibility that the O’s still might add a right fielder, and Angelos' 2016 tab could easily be north of $150 million. That might not sound like much to folks in Los Angeles or New York, but in Charm City, where the home team set a franchise-record with last year’s $118 million payroll, it’s roughly equivalent to a gajillion dollars, give or take.
Defensively, the signing means Mark Trumbo, whom the team acquired in December and who was Plan B at first base if Davis didn’t sign, probably won’t need his glove much. Instead, he is likely to be the team’s primary designated hitter. Trumbo should see some time in right field, and Davis might play there occasionally too, but manager Buck Showalter values defense too much to have either of them out there on a regular basis, especially if Hyun-soo Kim -- the Korean free agent known more for lumber than leather -- is manning left field. In other words, the Orioles still need a right fielder. They might try to fill the void from within (Nolan Reimold and Dariel Alvarez are among the options), but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them bring in a cost-effective free agent.
Offensively, the Davis deal gives Baltimore a homer-happy squad that could conceivably challenge the major league record for most long balls in a season. In addition to Davis, the projected lineup features four others who have hit 30 home runs in a season (Jones, Trumbo, Manny Machado and J.J. Hardy), plus another who very well might do it this year (Jonathan Schoop). On the flip side, it also wouldn’t be a surprise to see the free-swinging Birds challenge the big-league mark for whiffs in a season.
Leading the K brigade will, no doubt, be Davis. The big question is: With all the acrimony surrounding Davis' contract negotiations, will Baltimore fans be as willing to forgive the home run champ for his foibles going forward as they have been in the past?
Given what Davis has meant to the team and the city of Baltimore the past few years, and given how quickly fans got over 2014, I’m guessing they will.