The best window of opportunity to keep Gold Glove catcher Matt Wieters and power-hitting first baseman Chris Davis from entering the free agent market in November will close in about four weeks, and there appears to be nothing in the works that would prevent that from happening.
Orioles baseball operations chief Dan Duquette confirmed this week — as he did at this time last year — that he will not engage in contract negotiations during the regular season, and all sides appear content to let spring training proceed without any substantial negotiations.
The Orioles, according to an industry source, do not plan to make a last-ditch multi-year offer to either player and are operating under the assumption that superagent Scott Boras intends to put both up for free-agent auction.
Whether that's the result of an irrational case of Borasphobia on the part of Orioles management or a logical conclusion based on his uncanny ability to beat the market with his premier players probably isn't relevant at this point, but the players involved both insist that they will call the final shot in their individual contract situations.
"I think there are a lot of factors that contribute to him [Boras] waiting so long,'' Davis said Monday. "I think if a team came to a player in the middle of the season with a legitimate offer, everybody thinks that he [Boras] is sitting there in the background telling you not to sign — just wait — but the fact of the matter is, if you get a deal that you feel comfortable with and you want to sign the deal, he's going to encourage you to do that."
Davis just made headlines outlining the conditions that would prompt him to re-sign with the Orioles. He wants some assurance that the team is committed to fielding a winning club beyond 2015, considering the Orioles could lose as many as 11 free agents after the season.
Wieters said Tuesday that there will be a lot of soul-searching next fall if he is forced to choose between the Orioles and another team because of the close relationships he has formed in the clubhouse. He'll get all the info from Boras but said that he will be the one who weighs all the factors involved.
"I'm the boss,'' he said. "Scott is great at giving you all the information possible, giving you all the comparables, all the different things, but he always says that ultimately you're the one who's going to make the decision. It's always been that way. He's always given me great advice and in the end I've always been the one to give the final yes or no."
Forgive any club official who has tried to re-sign a high-profile Boras client for being a bit skeptical of such accounts and, while you're at it, forgive any high-profile player for putting a lot of trust in Boras, who has a long history of delivering on his talent for getting them top dollar. Trouble is, more often than not, he usually ends up delivering them to other teams.
That's why it's hard to understand why Duquette bothers to draw a line in the sand by shutting down negotiations on Opening Day, unless he actually wants to limit negotiations to the small window that is open to re-sign players in October.
It worked with J.J. Hardy, who signed a contract extension during the playoffs last year, but no one seriously believes that Boras is going to wait until the last minute and then decide not to wait the final few weeks until the free agent market opens.
If both Davis and Wieters are telling the truth when they say they feel they are in a very special situation right now — and both said exactly that this week — then the Orioles should keep the lines of communication open throughout the season to take advantage of any possible opportunity to trade on that comfortable environment and the current winning culture.
Though it may be logical to be fatalistic about the likelihood of retaining a high-profile Boras client, there really isn't any percentage in that approach unless the only object is to make a qualifying offer to each player and run out the clock until the multi-year price gets too high.
In an organization as budget-conscious as the Orioles, that just might be the plan.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.