1) Baltimore Orioles
I really wouldn’t want to be an Orioles beat writer. Sure, that applies all year round. You’ve got the ups and downs of being a perennial middle-of-the-road team with an identity crisis, neither flush enough to spend big nor humble enough to await a serious rebuild, that makes for a pretty difficult to predict, and thus write about, season.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the current offseason has to go down in record as one of the quietest and ultimately underwhelming for some time in Baltimore. Writers contractually obligated to provide content have struggled through endless unlikely rumours and to-and-froing about only one major player – Chris Davis.
Davis was originally the Orioles first baseman prior to his entering free agency where, as expected, he simply re-signed with Baltimore again. What wasn’t expected was the price tag. A staggering contract worth $161 million over 7 years, mostly deferred but nonetheless still applicable. This one, I have to confess, is a touch of a head scratcher for me. Baltimore really didn’t have much competition for Davis and the money will almost certainly tie their hands going forward.
The joke going around was that the Orioles wouldn’t budge beyond $150 million for Davis, so they lost him to the Orioles. A classic case of a joke being funny because it’s true. In the end, the contract is good for Davis and stereotypical of the kind of long term, expensive contract mitigated only through deferrals that his agent Scott Boras advises his clients to seek in free agency. A worrying precedent for the Red Sox as they seek to extend Xander Bogaerts, also a Boras client.
As for Davis, well, he is what he is. He strikes out more than any other player in the league, some 31% of the time in 2015 matching his career average, but what he has is power and lots of it. His clandestine AVG of .262 and OBP of .361 in 2015 belie the beast within. His SLG was a whopping .562 and he hit more dingers than any other player in baseball at 47 for the year. Throw in an OPS of .923 and you have quite possibly the most prolific example of a hulking power bat, the prototypical first baseman that sits somewhere around third or fourth in the batting order and brings many, many runs.
Of course, the figures show he brings many K’s as well, more than any other as noted, but the effects of this are somewhat muted. Take note, for example, that as soon as there are men on base, suddenly Davis is slugging .617, his OPS hits the dizzying height of 1.011 and, in case you were wondering what kind of contact he generally makes, his ISO sits at .338.
Though Davis did have a rather rough 2014, hitting for a hilariously bad AVG of only .196 and yet again cementing himself further as candidate you should definitely not choose to use for a strikeout drinking game at 33%, I’m willing to put this off as a flier. His norm is what it is. He misses a lot, but when he hits he launches.
All this added up to a player worth a pretty 5.6 WAR for the Orioles in 2015 and certainly would be someone they’d struggle to replace should he have left. All the same, how exactly did Baltimore improve from this? Ok, you’ve got Davis back, now what? Instead of looking to improve in other key areas, the Orioles have stood pat and only really lost this off season.
Want another example? They re-signed reliever Darren O’Day. Certainly a good acquisition, but how does this help Baltimore get better in 2016? While the other teams are at least trying to move forward, the Orioles are running up a going-down escalator , fighting to stay still. And losing.
They lost starter Wei-Yin Chen to the Miami Marlins (see number 2 in our list on the first page) and honestly, an argument could be made that he was their best, or at least most consistent, pitcher in 2015. Meanwhile what have they gained? The same strikeout heavy slugger they had all along and that elite reliever who may not even have the chance to make much impact. It doesn’t look promising for Baltimore and certainly, I don’t foresee an uptick in their fortunes barring a major coming-together of breakout seasons.
Though obviously it’s early to tell, Boston likely can rest easy on competition from Camden and perhaps even in the long run. Davis’ contract is a dangerous precedent and likely closes many doors to the future for the Orioles.
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