J.A. Happ picked the right time to get hot. After the Pittsburgh Pirates acquired him at the trading deadline, Happ went 7-2 with a 1.85 ERA.
In five of those starts, Happ pitched six or more shutout innings and allowed four or fewer hits.
It shouldn’t have been a surprise that the Toronto Blue Jays, for whom he pitched from 2012-14, signed him to a three-year, $36 million contract.
Happ’s hot streak enabled him to lift his career record over .500. He’s 62-61 with a 4.13 ERA.
The 33-year-old had been linked this offseason to the Orioles, and in 2012, the Houston Astros discussed trading him to Baltimore. The Astros liked the seven-player package the Blue Jays offered much better than what the Orioles had.
MORE ORIOLES: ORIOLES LOOKING FOR OUTFIELDERS
Fans shouldn’t be shocked by this contract. It’s what the market has dictated, and pitchers the Orioles could be interested in such as Yovani Gallardo, Scott Kazmir, John Lackey and Jeff Samardzija, will sign for that much—and probably more.
The Orioles payroll—including the four players signed for next year—J.J. Hardy, Ubaldo Jimenez, Adam Jones and Matt Wieters, estimations for arbitration eligible players as well as those not yet eligible—is estimated at about $100 million.
That means that if the Orioles want to pay Chris Davis $20-$25 million a year, which is what it’s going to cost to keep him, they can sign a pitcher from the list above—and then very little else.
I’m not sure the budget Dan Duquette is working under, but I would be surprised if it were higher than $130-$140 million.
If the Orioles are serious about Davis, and they are—and they have been, they know their payroll is going to rise substantially. Last year, it was nearly $120 million, which is in the middle of major league payrolls.
Had they not extended a qualifying offer to Wieters, and they should have, they could have used that money to try and sign Davis, a pitcher, and perhaps a quality outfielder, say Alex Gordon.
Now, it’s likely sign two of the three.
Happ was the first big name free agent to sign. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Darren O’Day sign soon.
The real fun comes when the mega-stars of this class, David Price, who Happ is apparently replacing in the Blue Jays rotation, Zack Greinke and Jordan Zimmermann sign.
Two weeks from today, the Orioles are holding their FanFest, and while they’d like to have a big name signee to trot out, it could be hard to have Davis—or someone else signed by then.
Duquette often does his best free agent work late in the process, and I don’t know if he feels any pressure to get something done more quickly than usual to assuage a restive fan base.
Davis’ agent, Scott Boras, often likes to let a market build, and the Orioles may not be able to afford to wait on him. The market for other free agent first baseman is slim.
Five of the other 14 first baseman listed by MLBTradeRumors.com have already played for the Orioles: Travis Ishikawa, Kelly Johnson, Chris Parmelee, Steve Pearce and Mark Reynolds.
I don’t think fans would be excited about any of them replacing Davis, although re-signing Pearce is certainly not out of the question.
Jeff Baker, Corey Hart, Garrett Jones, Justin Morneau and Mike Napoli are some of the other names on the list.
Once upon a time, Morneau was a star, the American League Most Valuable Player. But that was in 2006, and last year played just 49 games for Colorado.
While Morneau wouldn’t be a bad one-year flyer, he’s hardly the long-term solution at first.
The Orioles have Trey Mancini, who was the Eastern League’s MVP at Bowie, but he hasn’t played above Double-A. They also have Christian Walker, but he’s had only a handful of major league at-bats.
This week, the Orioles signed South Korean Ji-Man Choi, but that was to a minor league contract, and he’s never played in the majors, either.