Orioles first baseman Chris Davis has done his best to sidestep talk about his uncertain contract situation beyond this season, but he said Monday that his long-term future with the team may depend on the long-term outlook for it.
He shares the concern of many Orioles fans that the team is on the verge of a major personnel shift with 11 players eligible for free agency after this season and that the front office is sending mixed signals about its commitment to keep the group together.
"Some things are going to have to change as far as contracts are concerned, because we have a lot of young guys that you're going to have a chance to sign before free agency and, I'll tell you one thing, I'm not going to play for a team that has no shot at competing every year,'' Davis said. "The next contract I sign I would like it to be my last one, and I have no desire to play for a loser every year."
Davis' comments came less than a week after center fielder Adam Jones was critical of the communication between the front office and core players on the team.
Davis was speaking in an even tone. He didn't appear mad at anybody, and he knows he has some ground to make up this season after struggling through an injury-marred 2014 and getting himself suspended in September for using Adderall without league approval.
He said he's also grateful for the opportunity to play on the winningest team in the American League East over the past three years and is complimentary of the job the front office has done to build the team that won the division last year and reached the American League Championship Series.
"I've made it very clear over the last few years how much I love playing in Baltimore,'' Davis said. "It's a great park to hit in, and with the success that we've had pretty much since I've been here, it would be a really hard place to leave. But you have to understand it is a business. They're going to have certain priorities. Certain things they're going to go after, and you have to understand the business side of it."
The Orioles have made it clear that they are going to work within a certain set of economic parameters and they have had so much success doing that that Buck Showalter won two Manager of the Year awards after last season and baseball operations chief Dan Duquette was named Executive of the Year.
Though Davis gives Duquette credit for making some brilliant moves to build a division championship team, he said he doesn't know if the Orioles can stay competitive on the field without getting more competitive off of it.
"I think that the things they have done the past few years have worked in their favor,'' Davis said. "You obviously got Nelson Cruz at a pretty good price because of what happened the year before, but to compete in this division you're not going to be able to do that year in and year out. You see it every year. The Red Sox, the Yankees, even the Blue Jays are spending money to get guys. That's what it's going to take.
"You might run into a couple of years where you have the right mix of guys, and I do believe in what we're doing here. I do believe the coaching staff, the front office has a good plan, but I still think at the same time to be competitive year in and year out, you're going to have to add some guys who have been through the fire and have established themselves as perrenial All-Stars. That's what it takes to compete every year."
Duquette said Monday that he and Davis have the same ultimate goal, to field a winning team every year, but that the Orioles do work under payroll limitations that some of the teams Davis mentioned don't.
"It's refreshing to hear a player say that he wants to play on a winning team,'' Duquette said. "A lot of players would go to the team that offers them the most money, but I'm glad to hear that Chris wants to play for a winning team, because our whole objective here is to have a winning team every year."
The Orioles have given out some big contracts, but Duquette said they don't view themselves as a team that can win a bidding war with the Yankees and Red Sox for top free agents.
"I think best way to have a good team year in and year out is to have good player development, good scouts and good depth in your organization,'' Duquette said. "We aim to have that every year."
Whether the Orioles end up making a competitive effort to keep Davis and cornerstone catcher Matt Wieters at the end of the year remains to be seen, but one big event over the winter — the departure of longest-tenured Oriole Nick Markakis — reminded Davis not to get too sentimental about the organization.
Though Markakis chose to accept a four-year deal with the Atlanta Braves, the fact that the club could not figure something out with a player who wanted to stay in Baltimore did not sit well with some of his veteran teammates.
"It just kind of opened my eyes, because I thought that was a guy who would be in an Oriole uniform forever,'' Davis said. "And I didn't think what he was asking for was that outrageous. He's been one of the most consistent players I've know for the last few years. I thought it was just a lock for him to be here, and the fact that they were not able to get the deal done, it was like 'Wow, I guess you aren't really safe. You have to go out and prove yourself year in and year out and just hope for the best.'"
That's what Davis says he's going to do this season, and he insists that his contract situation will be far from his mind. He stopped short of saying that he and agent Scott Boras were committed to entering the free-agent market in November but hinted that the Orioles may have already missed their best chance to re-up him long-term.
"I think they had an opportunity to do something last year,'' he said. "That was a great position for them, because I was having a terrible year. Even though the power production was still there, obviously because of the [.196] average, the ball was in really in their court, but that's just not the way we do things."
Still, he said that another great season and an indication that the front office is committed to building on that would go a long way toward getting him and some of his teammates to stick around — perhaps at a hometown discount.
"I think if you ask every guy in there, this is a really fun place to come to work every day,'' Davis said. "It's a good clubhouse. It's a really good group of guys. That goes a long way, but one of the reasons it has been so much fun the last few years is because we've won."
He concedes that the fact so many core players might not be here in 2016 has increased the club's sense of urgency going into this season.
"It makes this year a little bit more important,'' he said, "but at the same time I think it also entices some guys to say, 'You know, if we can keep this thing going for a few more years, maybe I'll take a little less. Maybe I'll do something that I wouldn't normally do.'"