Their pursuit of Chris Davis still stagnant nearly two weeks into the New Year, the Orioles are intensifying their pursuit of another free-agent power bat, according to an industry source.
In recent days, the Orioles have increased their interest in outfielder Yoenis Cespedes and are considering a lucrative multi-year deal in the neighborhood of $18 million per year, according to the source. The length of any potential offer is unknown, but Cespedes was reportedly seeking a six-year deal earlier this offseason.
MASNSports.com reported Thursday that the Orioles had made Cespedes an offer.
The increased interest in Cespedes could be a sign that the Orioles are growing frustrated with Davis, who rejected a seven-year, $150-million offer earlier this offseason, and are now looking to invest a large chunk of payroll elsewhere on the free-agent market. However, it could also be a poker play to see how much Davis really wants to stay in Baltimore.
Cespedes, a 30-year-old Cuban outfielder, hit .291/.328/.542 and set career highs in home runs (35) and RBIs (105) in 2015 while playing with the Detroit Tigers and New York Mets. The Mets acquired Cespedes in a non-waiver trade deadline deal and the move was instrumental in getting the Mets to the World Series as Cespedes hit .287/.337/.604 with 14 homers and 54 RBIs in 57 games with New York.
Despite the offer to make Davis the highest-paid player in club history, the Orioles have been unable to make progress with Davis' agent, Scott Boras. Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette has repeatedly said the club will eventually be forced to pursue other alternatives in building their club for 2016.
The Orioles' $150-million offer to Davis was earmarked exclusively for him — he is a fan favorite and team ownership knows that — but making a lesser deal to a player like Cespedes would likely also allow the Orioles to address one of the team's other top priorities — upgrading the starting rotation.
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Another of the Orioles' top offseason priorities had been upgrading their corner outfield spots, and a pair of top free-agent outfielders — Alex Gordon and Denard Span — came off the board last week.
That leaves Cespedes and Justin Upton as the top remaining available free-agent outfielders. The Orioles have expressed interest in both, but Cespedes appears to be more attractive because the Orioles would avoid losing their first-round pick next year. Upton, who declined a qualifying offer, is tied to draft-pick compensation.
The Orioles own the 14th overall pick, their highest since 2012, and would likely be hesitant to relinquish it.
The market on Cespedes has been murky, but picked up in recent days. He reportedly could be interested in a short-term contract so he could test the market again, but considering he is coming off the best season of his career, it appears likely Cespedes would continue to pursue a multi-year deal.
While Cespedes is one of the best power bats remaining on the free-agent market, he's also been traded three times over the past two seasons. While he would help the Orioles' home run numbers if the club has to replace Davis' production, Cespedes' career .319 on-base percentage would fail to address one of the team's top offensive offseason focuses. The Orioles' .307 team on-base percentage tied for third-worst in the American League.