An Orioles offseason focused on retaining first baseman Chris Davis had its twists and turns. But just as the club was ready to truly turn its back on the popular slugger, the Orioles were able to re-sign him to a deal that will make him the highest-paid player in franchise history.
The 29-year-old Davis agreed to a seven-year, $161 million contract early Saturday morning that will keep the two-time major league home-run king in Baltimore, according to multiple sources. The contract includes $42 million in deferred money to be paid out over 15 years after the contract ends, from 2023 to 2037, an industry source confirmed.
The deal is pending a medical review. Davis, who turns 30 in March, will receive limited no-trade protection over the course of the deal, according to a source, even though he would receive full protection four years into the deal anyway based on his service time and his tenure with the club. It is believed that the included no-trade clause was critical to finalizing the deal.
The agreement is also without an opt-out clause, which protects the Orioles from Davis leaving for better free-agent riches.
"Obviously, we're getting a good player back, but I think the other thing that it represents is the continuity we've established with our coaching staff and players," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said.
Catcher Matt Wieters texted with Davis on Saturday about the news of his return.
"I just said, ‘Tell me if it’s true. Don’t play with my emotions,’" Wieters said. "I’m extremely excited to have him back and I’m really happy for him to be able to come back to Baltimore and a city that really embraced him and I know will embrace him moving forward."
So after a long, drawn-out courtship, Davis and the Orioles are now essentially married through the 2022 season.
The Orioles made their push to re-sign Davis at last month's winter meetings, when the team opened with a seven-year, $150 million offer to the best power hitter on the free-agent market. It was the only known offer to Davis.
Realizing Davis' popularity with the club's fan base, Orioles ownership was committed to retaining the slugger, earmarking an unprecedented financial commitment to him and only him. But Davis let the offer hang, and the Orioles were determined not to outbid themselves with no other obvious suitor emerging.
Davis' agent, Scott Boras, waited for the market to develop, a move that paid off with other clients such as Prince Fielder and Max Scherzer, who both received deals upwards of $200 million by not signing until January. Boras marketed Davis to other clubs not only as a first baseman but also a corner outfielder, but still maintained a dialogue with the Orioles at the team's highest levels as managing partner Peter G. Angelos was heavily involved in the process.
The Orioles' frustration escalated in recent days, with one club source saying that ownership was at its closest point of turning its back on Davis, willing to walk away as recently as Thursday. In a ploy of sorts, the Orioles' focus shifted to outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to fill the power void in their lineup. The former New York Mets outfielder did not have a draft pick attached to signing him, meaning the team could keep its first-round pick.
Still, Davis was the player the Orioles wanted all along. They desperately needed his left-handed bat to balance the middle of the order and he was the club's best first base option.
Things changed Friday evening, according to a source, when Angelos went to Boras and drew a line in the sand with one final offer despite being convinced there wasn't a serious second suitor. Negotiations dragged late into Friday evening, but Boras ultimately took the offer, even though the difference between the initial proposal and the accepted one is marginal and mostly evened out by deferred money.
Boras was looking to net a $200 million deal for Davis with an average annual value of at least $25 million per year. The Orioles' original offer was just south of $22 million per year.
Ultimately, the sides met in between as Davis' seven-year deal pays him an average value of $23 million per year and will keep him in Baltimore through his age-36 season. He is the only Orioles player to be locked up beyond the 2019 season.
The ship has sailed on the Orioles giving Cespedes a lucrative long-term deal, per a source, but the slim possibility remains that he could land in Baltimore if he accepts a contract of two years or fewer.
A source said Angelos was a leading force in the Orioles staying in on Davis and continuing to deal with Boras all offseason. Ownership is fond of Davis on top of recognizing the slugger's importance to the fan base and the club's on-field product, and thus never wavered from its desire to keep him.
The signing keeps the Orioles’ core intact for another season. A year after losing outfielders Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz to free agency, the team retained Wieters on a one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer, and also re-signed reliever Darren O’Day to a four-year, $31 million deal.
"I think everybody is proud of the relationship these players have with the city and with each other, whether it's J.J. [Hardy] or Matt or Adam Jones or Jonathan Schoop and O'Day," Showalter said. "I don't want to call it comfort, because that indicates complacency, but when you're in a place that has shown a lot of confidence in you and you've established yourself as a player and as a person, it just makes me feel good to see the relationship between the players and ownership."
Landing Davis also puts the Orioles' 2016 payroll at an all-time high, over the $130 million mark. Aside from keeping Wieters and O'Day, the Orioles traded for first baseman/outfielder Mark Trumbo, who will make $9.15 million, and signed South Korean outfielder Hyun-soo Kim to a two-year, $7 million deal.
The focus now turns to upgrading the starting rotation.
"Scoring runs wasn't an issue for us last year and happily we've improved it a little bit with Trumbo and Chris," Showalter said. "We lost [Wei-Yin] Chen from our rotation and we've got some work to do there, but if you had told me at the end of the season that we'd be able to bring back Matt, Darren and Chris, I would have been pretty happy about that, because those are three guys who are a big part of what we are as a team."
In 2015, Davis rode a second-half surge to a major league-leading 47 home runs with 117 RBIs while batting .262/.361/.562. It was a bounce-back year after a difficult 2014, when he hit .196 with 26 home runs and was suspended in September for Adderall use. In 2013, Davis was a breakout star for the Orioles, hitting a major league-leading 53 home runs with 138 RBIs and a 1.004 OPS, finishing third in the American League MVP voting.
Orioles closer Zach Britton, who is also represented by Boras, said he kept tabs on the negotiations through his agency, but was surprised to see Davis re-sign with the Orioles.
"I felt the closer we got to spring training, I thought the Orioles might just go in a different direction, because I knew with Scott and Chris and the way he represents, they’re not afraid to wait for the best deal," Britton said. "But I think this is great for us as players. You’re always looking at what the team is trying to do and for them to go out and spend some money this offseason, I think it shows that we’re not just allowing guys to become free agents and then, ‘See you later.’
"We’re willing to pay guys what they deserve. I think it’s huge. I know Scott went out to meet with Mr. Angelos, so I think it shows that Mr. Angelos and his family, they’re willing to spend the money to field a competitive team and that’s important."
MLB Network’s Jon Heyman first reported the agreement. ESPN first reported the amount of deferred money.
Sun columnist Peter Schmuck and reporter Jon Meoli contributed to this article.