Orioles first baseman Chris Davis knew his drawn-out re-signing this offseason might have hindered the team from making earlier free-agent moves. But Davis said he’s happy to see the club was able to remain active in acquiring talent several days into spring training.
The Orioles’ restructured two-year, $22 million deal with right-hander Yovani Gallardo is done, and their three-year, $33 million deal with outfielder Dexter Fowler, which was pending a passed club physical, shouldn’t be far behind.
For the second time in three years, the Orioles have signed two players tied to draft-pick compensation after declining qualifying offers as spring training began. Before the 2014 season, the Orioles signed right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez to a four-year $50 million deal six days into workouts for pitchers and catchers. They then signed outfielder/designated hitter Nelson Cruz to a one-year, $8 million contract six days into full-squad activity.
“I was hoping so,” Davis said about the prospects of adding free agents late. “The way the Ubaldo thing worked out a few years ago, I think it kind of gives us a little bit of hope even going into spring training that the team is still working on stuff. Yeah, I was hoping once I signed that it would kind of open up the door for other guys. I know that I was kind of a roadblock for a while, so to speak, but I was excited and happy with the way the front office continued to move forward and add to the team.”
The Orioles used those late signings in 2014 to propel them to an American League East title, but Davis said he believes this year’s team might be better.
“To be honest with you, we have a little bit more power than we did that year and a little bit more depth in our pitching,” Davis said. “I think anytime your team’s making moves to put you in a position to win, you get excited as a player and you appreciate that, and you want to take advantage of that opportunity.”
Davis’ seven-year, $161 million deal, the largest in club history, didn’t become official until Jan. 21. It was the major piece of an unprecedented offseason of spending that saw the team commit about $270 million toward free-agent deals, moves that included retaining setup man Darren O’Day, catcher Matt Wieters (on a $15.8 million qualifying offer) and signing South Korean outfielder Hyun Soo Kim.
“I’m really excited,” Davis said. “I think really the last few weeks everything has kind of come together," Davis said. "Obviously, with the moves we made at the beginning of the offseason, it was looking good. And then after Darren signed and I signed, it was like, ‘OK, we’re starting to move in the right direction.’ And really the last few weeks before getting ready to come out here, I just felt like we were so much more of a complete ballclub. There were times last year where we really showed what we were capable of, but we just could never push through that wall and get out from behind the eight-ball. I think we have a really complete club this year and I’m excited to get started.”
Davis knows both of the Orioles new additions. He played against Fowler in the Perfect Game All-American Classic as a high school senior – he said Fowler’s team crushed his – and Gallardo lives nearby in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
“I actually played against Dex in high school in the All-American Game,” Davis said. “He played for the East Coast team and I played for the West Coast team and they crushed us. I think he hit a home run. They just dominated us. So I’ve known him for a long time. Yovani [lives] up not far from me. I’ve known him kind of through guys. We’ve played with a lot of the same guys. Obviously, I’ve known about him since he’s been with the Brewers and the success he’s had. We’re excited to have him here and hopefully see him soon. I keep looking for him.”
Once Fowler’s deal is made official, the next question is how the Orioles’ power-packed lineup is organized.
“I kind of have a rough idea, but just when you think you have everything figured out, it’s always interesting when Buck’s your manager," Davis said. "I’m sure the first intrasquad, Wiety will be hitting first or something like that, and I’ll be hitting in the nine hole. He always finds a way to mix it up and keep us on our toes. I really like the options that we have. There’s no doubt we have a lot of power in the lineup, but we have a lot of versatility.”
The addition of Fowler does improve the team’s on-base capability. Fowler’s .363 career on-base percentage -- as well as Kim’s .406 career on-base percentage in the Korean Baseball Organization -- should improve an Orioles lineup that tied for 12th in the AL in team OBP in 2015 (.307).
“I think a lot of it is just going to be run production,” Davis said. “I think we’re going to have the ability to score six or seven runs on any given night, have the opportunity to drive each other in. I know they threw out stats about strikeouts being at an all-time high. We understand what’s going on with the pitching. Guys are changing speeds, throwing harder. Everybody’s swinging and missing a lot more, but I think if we can go out there and score more runs than the other team, we’re going to be all right.”