Dan Duquette knows how passionate Orioles fans are. So does Buck Showalter.
Fans here have an extraordinarily long memory, and are still moaning about the losses of Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis. Should the Orioles not re-sign Chris Davis, that wailing will return, and be much louder.
Several hours before Duquette and Showalter met with the media to rehash 2015 and look ahead to next season, a fan accosted me while I was walking up Charles Street.
I needed to tell Duquette that fans wouldn’t stand for it if Davis left. Other fans have echoed these sentiments in various forums. Duquette is listening.
But, he and Showalter both know that if an inordinately large amount of money is spent on Davis, little else can be done to improve a club that badly needs help.
Duquette put a positive spin on finishing at .500, referring to the year as a good one, which it wasn’t, and pointing to late season sweeps of the Nationals and Yankees. Showalter wasn’t buying that.
“If you think this year was good enough, you haven’t been watching,” he said.
It’s certainly true that there were some positives. For the first time in 30 years, the Orioles have put together four consecutive non-losing seasons. In each of Showalter’s six seasons, the club won more games than it lost after Sept. 1. This year, it finished 18-13, but that came after two bad months when it went 22-32.
Duquette was realistic when it came to talking about Davis’ possible pay day.
"I don't know what the final market's going to be for Chris Davis, but having looked at some of the other contracts, it's going to be a lot of money. And we're going to have to weigh the competitiveness of the team and the need of the team to staff a strong pitching staff. And a look at the possible replacements. Those are all the things we take a look at every single day. I don't know where the money's going to end up, but we have enough resources in this market to field a competitive team and our aim is to do that again in '16,” Duquette said.
There’s a lot there.
One savvy baseball insider thinks Davis’ agent, Scott Boras, is going to ask for a seven-year, $200 million contract for the slugger, which would be a non-starter for the Orioles, and nearly every team.
The six free agents: Davis, Wei-Yin Chen, Darren O’Day, Gerardo Parra, Steve Pearce and Matt Wieters have combined contracts that total nearly $40 million.
Several key players, Brad Brach, Britton, Miguel Gonzalez, Manny Machado and Chris Tillman are eligible for arbitration. So are Ryan Flaherty, Paul Janish, David Lough, Brian Matusz and Nolan Reimold.
While some in the latter group may not be back, the five notable arbitration-eligible players are in line for hefty increases.
If those players get the increases, that doesn’t leave all that much available to marquee free agents—both internal and external.
Let’s say the Orioles offered Davis five years at $100 million. He probably wouldn’t take that. Even if they offered six years at $140 million, how much would be available to try and get a creditable free agent pitcher?
Duquette also referred to possible replacements. Re-signing Pearce and putting him at first base is certainly a possibility, but his 2015 was a disappointment compared with his 2014.
Because of the importance of late season games to the Orioles and their opponents, Showalter only gave Christian Walker nine at-bats.
Walker is unproven, and so is Trey Mancini, the organization’s minor league player of the game and Eastern League batting champion.
While Walker or Mancini could be Davis’ eventual successor, it doesn’t seem likely that they’re nearly ready.
The possible replacements via free agency aren’t very inspiring. The Blue Jays will surely exercise an affordable option that have on Edwin Encarnacion. And, I don’t think fans will get excited about Corey Hart, Garrett Jones, Justin Morneau, Mike Napoli or Mark Reynolds, the top available free agent first basemen.
Trades are also a possibility. Over the past few years, Ryan Howard has been linked to the Orioles, but the Philadelphia Phillies would have to absorb some of the $35 million he’s owed for 2016-17.
Howard’s contract is a cautionary one. After years similar to Davis, the Phillies locked Howard up to a five-year $125 million deal. Howard’s performance never neared what it was before the extension took effect, and they’d like to move on from him.
Duquette is keenly aware of the market’s budgetary restrictions, and knows that ticket prices can’t be increased dramatically.
“The idea is to have a competitive team, OK? And it's to have a competitive team that's also accessible and affordable to the fans,” he said.