Chris Davis, a key piece to the Orioles' resurgence and one of the franchise's most adored players, was noticeably absent from Saturday's FanFest at the Baltimore Convention Center.
When the offseason began, the Orioles promised their fans that they'd make a legitimate play to retain the free-agent slugger, who has the most homers in the majors since 2012. And the club made good on its pledge, making Davis a reported seven-year, $150 million offer. But the Orioles left this week's winter meetings in Nashville, Tenn., unable to complete a deal with Davis' agent, Scott Boras.
On Saturday, as an estimated 11,500 filled the Convention Center for the Orioles' annual offseason fan event, the club's message was clear: While the Orioles still want to retain Davis, they are prepared to move on without him.
Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said that the club has pulled its contract offer to Davis off the table, and has ramped up its search for a left-handed bat to replace him.
"There's no offer on the table right now," Duquette said. "I'm not exactly sure where that's going to end up, but we've been very aggressive on that front and it didn't yield a deal, so at some point we're going to have to look at some other options. … We're looking for other options for left-handed hitting. We've been doing that all along and we're looking at that a little more aggressively."
About an hour after Duquette's comments, Boras said Duquette's proclamation was news to him. Boras told The Baltimore Sun that he is under the impression that the door between Davis and the Orioles continues to be open.
"The dialogue is continuing with a number of teams about Chris Davis, and Baltimore is one of them," Boras said.
Boras wouldn't disclose which teams he is still talking to besides the Orioles, but the club internally believes it is the only one seriously negotiating with Davis at the moment.
Saturday's event was kicked off with a question-and-answer session for season-ticket holders with Duquette and manager Buck Showalter, and the third question inquired about the team's chances to retain Davis.
"What would you do?" Showalter asked.
"Sign him," the female fan said.
"OK, there's a donation bucket right over here," Showalter joked.
The Orioles seem confident that they've done their best to keep Davis. Showalter said he's preparing to give recently acquired slugger Mark Trumbo most of his work at first base this spring. He added that the Orioles will also take a hard look at first-base prospects Christian Walker and Trey Mancini, and even left open the possibility of a reunion with free agent Steve Pearce later in the offseason.
"We have been and will be competitive to a point, and they've got to make a decision how much is enough," Showalter said. "The game will move on without me, you, him, the Orioles. We'd like to have him, but we'll be fine either way. … There are a number of possibilities there, but we'd like to have Chris first. But if it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen."
Orioles players — together for the first time since the season ended the first week of October — were pleased with the club's early offseason moves and their effort to retain Davis. The club's payroll is already beyond the $100 million mark. The Orioles have agreed with reliever Darren O'Day on a four-year, $31 million deal, made a $15.8 million qualifying offer to keep catcher Matt Wieters and took on Trumbo's $9 million projected salary.
And that's before the Orioles made Davis their largest free-agent offer since Mark Teixeira turned down a seven-year offer worth about $150 million before the 2009 season.
"It's nice to know that, if all the rumors and everything are true with what they offered Davis, it's nice to know they're willing to go out there and spend that much money to stay competitive," said shortstop J.J. Hardy, who is signed through 2017. "Hopefully, he accepts and we get him back. Everything else is awesome. Trumbo is a good player and getting O'Day back … that's also a good move."
Center fielder Adam Jones, who was vocal during the season about his desire for the club to make a serious play for Davis, said the Orioles have done their part in his eyes. Jones is currently signed to the largest contract in club history, a six-year, $85.5 million extension he signed during the 2012 season.
"By what they're doing right now, offering seven years, north of $150 [million], I think they've grabbed a hold of what I wanted to get through to them," said Jones, who is signed through 2018. "That's all I asked. I didn't ask, 'Do this.' I just asked make the effort. Show me and show the city and show the fans that you're making a conscious effort to keep this team intact because as a core we have a really good team, and if you take away pieces of it it's not that good for the team."
As much as Davis is a fan favorite, Showalter said many fans told him Saturday that the Orioles have made Davis a fair offer.
"I've heard many of them voice the other side of that," Showalter said. "Right now, I'm looking at first base from within our organization until it changes. … Everybody likes and respects Chris and where he is with his life and career, and they have decisions to make just like Darren did."
Boras said at the winter meetings that he's not one to put timetables on negotiations. He has commonly let his clients wait out the market and his patience typically pays off with the lucrative deal he wants, like when Prince Fielder signed a nine-year, $214 million deal on Jan. 26, 2012.
"I'm not really sure what the club's appetite is on a January deal," Duquette said. "But we're going to proceed and staff our ballclub so that we have a good ballclub when we get to Opening Day. We're going to proceed down some other tracks right now."
But the Orioles made it very clear — and very public by telling their entire fan base Saturday — that they are preparing for life after Davis.
"From the club perspective, we'd like to have our roster in place when we can, but by Christmas we like to have a lot of the building blocks we like to have in place," Duquette said. "But like I said, it doesn't always work that way. We've got to look for some other options for left-handed hitting, which we're currently doing."