Slugger Chris Davis has agreed to a seven-year, $161 million deal with the Orioles. Davis led the majors in home runs in two of the past three years, and will remain with the team where he posted his best career numbers. (Kevin Richardson)
It's a tricky business trying to figure out the greater meaning of something like the $161 million contract the Orioles just agreed to with slugging first baseman Chris Davis.
Buck Showalter attempted to do so Saturday morning, tying the deal to the importance of stability and continuity in a successful sports franchise. No doubt, others will wonder if this signals a new commitment by Peter Angelos to put the team in position to finally reach the World Series under his ownership.
The Orioles had already shown signs of both over the past several years, starting with the big commitment to Adam Jones and, more recently, by giving Darren O'Day a record contract for a setup reliever and tendering the $150 million offer to Davis that finally got bumped up Friday night.
No one can say the Orioles haven't been willing to pay top dollar for top-quality players because they have done that several times during the Showalter/Dan Duquette era. But it took a deal like this to prove that the front office and ownership learned a big lesson from some of the damaging decisions that undermined the 2015 season.
Give Angelos credit. He decided he wanted Davis back and made that happen. Though it could be as simple as the owner deciding to go above and beyond for a popular player and personal favorite, the Orioles need it to be more than that if they are going to rise up from last year's .500 record and regain the high ground in the American League East.
Keeping Davis certainly is a huge step in that direction, especially combined with the acquisition of big-swinging Mark Trumbo. The Orioles now have five regulars who have hit 30 or more home runs in a season at least once in their careers, and they already were a long-ball force to be reckoned with before the Seattle Mariners needed to unload Trumbo's salary.
They are not, however, a measurably better team than they were last season and won't be unless they can find a way to upgrade the starting rotation.
That will be no small task, and not just because they've already spent a ton of money on Davis, O'Day, Matt Wieters and Trumbo. The list of quality starting pitchers available in the free-agent market was never very long and the remainders with one month left until spring training are — with a couple of exceptions — unimpressive.
Duquette opened the offseason with the rotation as one of his top priorities. But the Orioles were never going to be in on megabucks superstars David Price and Zack Greinke, and the pitching search quickly got sidetracked while the team waited to see where Davis would end up.
Now, there's the very real possibility that the Orioles will have to go into spring training hoping for an across-the-board improvement in the performance of the four starters that will return from last year. Even in that event, they need one more starter from a shallow pool that includes prospects Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson, and maybe Brian Matusz.
Don't go to sleep on Duquette's ability to pull off a late trade for a significant pitcher. He certainly has done that before. But the Orioles might have to settle for becoming a team that scores enough runs to gloss over its pitching deficiencies during the regular season and try to fix the rotation at the midseason trade deadline.
If that's the case, the reported offer to Cuban slugger Yoenis Cespedes might not have been just a negotiating ploy aimed at hastening a deal with Davis. The Orioles probably aren't interested in giving him a five-year deal now that Davis is in the fold, but there has been some speculation that Cespedes might be willing to sign a short-term deal and wait for a better chance to exploit the free-agent market.
That would give the Orioles an amazingly explosive lineup and, perhaps, give the starting rotation some room to breathe.
It would not exactly be Plan A, but the prospects for a return to strong playoff contention in 2016 are a lot brighter than they were two days ago.