chris-davis-ap articlefeature--baltimore-orioles

Baltimore Orioles 2016: Choose Your Own Adventure

Two days ago, I wrote the following, “..it’s hard to completely mentally move on to the questions of the Winter when it is still to-be-determined how ’15 ends.” In hypocritical fashion, let me do just that.

No matter how you envision ’15 ending, the season will end. The questions which are apparent today, will need to be answered tomorrow. So, no harm in looking ahead.

(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)

When you have a series of questions to be addressed, to me you always start at the top, and work your way down. For the Baltimore Orioles, the first thing that has to be addressed is Dan Duquette. Internally there might be no question that the O’s Executive VP of Baseball Operations will be returning. Among O’s fans, this is something without a definitive answer.

On the BSL Board, a number of posters refer to Duquette as ‘Canada Dan.’  There is distaste from many by the maneuvering of the O’s Front-Office this past Winter, with a feeling that the flirtation from the Toronto Blue Jays to Duquette impacted Baltimore’s planning.

My opinion is this.

I don’t agree with the narrative that Duquette tried to leave for Toronto.

I think the narrative is that Toronto was interested in hiring him. He was interested in being allowed to discuss the opportunity, and probably wanted the position (Team President) due to the vast salary difference.

Had he had no interest in the position, he could have immediately killed the story by saying he wasn’t interested.

I don’t think him being interested in the position, equates to him wanting to leave Baltimore. I think once Angelos made clear that he would not allow Duquette to leave, that Duquette was comfortable with the decision. He might have liked the promotion, but I do believe he recognized he had a signed contract, and also enjoyed/enjoys his experience here in Baltimore. It’s just that a promotion, and higher salary obviously had it’s own appeal.

The issue of the off-season in-my-opinion was not Duquette having interest in at-least discussing a promotion, it was that the Orioles allowed the story to linger longer than it should have. Angelos should have shot it down immediately and left it at that. Instead, what happened was that Angelos shot it down, then used back channels to say there was a price that Toronto could pay to make it plausible, and leaked to The Sun which external candidates they would be looking at if Toronto paid the price they had in-mind for Duquette.

I don’t think Duquette will be gone, and I’m fine with that.  I look at Duquette as being somewhere between the upper-half to upper-third in-terms of GM’s. I think his working relationship with Showalter, and the relationship that duo has with Angelos has been a key component in the success since 2012 on.

If I’m wrong, and Duquette is allowed to leave, this needs to be announced the day the O’s season ends, and a replacement should be hired quickly. My rationale here is that the O’s will have had extensive time to decide their position with Duquette. If you are going to let him leave, don’t let it linger. If you have decided you are going to let him leave; then you should have a list of replacements ready to go.

When the rumors of Duquette to Toronto first broke, we wrote about some potential replacements here. Later in the off-season we surveyed some Media members. One of the questions we posed, was if Duquette left, who would you advocate to replace him? My personal top two choices match that of those who participated in the survey – current Orioles VP of Baseball Operations Brady Anderson, and Atlanta Braves Assistant GM John Coppolella.

So, to bring this back to the article’s title, this is like the Choose Your Own Adventure books in the ’80s. The O’s can either A) Keep Duquette, and maintain this known Front-Office structure, or B) Have a change in leadership, and a new voice leading the organization.

Either track would have it’s own set of variables.

Again, I’m currently going to go with the assumption that Duquette will return. With that decision made, what is the next priority?

There are only two logical choices, and some would say there is only one. The leading choice from just about everyone who follows the O’s would be finalizing an extension for Machado. While he is not a Free Agent until the 2019 season, there will never be a better time for the O’s to get a potential extension done than now. If anything, the O’s have only cost themselves leverage and dollars by waiting this long. Should an extension be completed, the O’s might also want to start planning out where Manny’s statue will be placed on day in the picnic area beyond left-center field.

As Machado is under team-control for sometime no matter what happens extension wise, one could argue the immediate priority for the Orioles is deciding how they will approach Chris Davis. Yesterday, Duquette was quoted as saying that resigning the pending Free Agent is one of the the O’s top priorities. O’s fans have seen Davis be good in ’12, MVP esque in ’13, horrific in ’14, and currently on-fire here in the closing weeks of ’15. Last night O’s fans saw Davis win the game with a walk-off homer, his 2nd of the game. The walk-off showing his true ’80′ power, as he literally found the RCF seats with a one-handed flick.

Since baseball made the removal of steroids of baseball a focus, we’ve steadily seen a decreasing run-environment, and a decrease of power in the game. Davis has as much true-power as anyone in the game. That’s a tremendous skill which is not going to be easily replaceable. He can play 1st, he can play RF. He won’t be 30 until next March. He’s athletic, and he’s willing to take a walk. The negatives are that he k’s 31% of the time, and we’ve seen extended stretches where he could swing and miss trying to hit a beach-ball. The other issue is the O’s overall salary. Here in 2015, the O’s team salary was roughly $116M.

Let’s say the O’s were to reach an extension with Machado, and also resigned Davis. Are you comfortable with roughly 33% ($40M out of a hypothetical $120M Team Salary) being tied-up with those two players?

I am. A Davis extension? Yes, please. Tell me which page to turn to for that. Even if the eventual outcome is Davis’ average production over the extension being his career averages (or basically what he produced in 2012). 5 years, $100M would be my goal. With every homer Davis puts up in this current barrage though, you have to wonder if that will be enough.

Of course, even if the O’s provide that offer, Davis would have to still want to be here. Even if he likes it here, if the O’s don’t get him locked-up prior to hitting the market, Baltimore will then face the prospects of Davis seeing the welcome mat rolled out in multiple other locales. It’s easier to explore moving on, once you let yourself envision being somewhere else.

There is a short-window once the World Series ends (less than a week), that teams can exclusively negotiate with their Free Agents, before those FA’s hit the open market. If Davis is truly a priority, the O’s should have their best offer ready to go to Davis the second the World Series ends (assuming they don’t want to make such an offer now during the year). Presenting their best offer doesn’t mean that Davis will automatically say yes, and not explore the open market. It does mean that the O’s would be putting their best foot forward. If it is your best offer, he either says yes or no. If he says no, you have the most time possible to begin trying to address his departure. (If he says no, you make qualifying offer.)

The worst thing that could happen this Winter with Davis and the O’s, is not Baltimore losing the power hitter. The worst thing that could happen would be Davis leaving later in the Winter, and Baltimore not having adequate time to adjust.

Though it should be pointed out that replacing Davis at any point on the calendar would not be easy, and of course that is the larger point.

Let’s say that Davis did leave, what options would there be for the O’s?

It’s been a lost year for Steve Pearce. He’s also a pending FA. He is making $3.7M this year. A 1 year deal giving Pearce a chance to refine his 2014 magic is something I could see.

You don’t really want Paredes anywhere in the field, but maybe he could prove to be adequate at 1st? The bigger question with Paredes would be his bat. After a fast start this year, he’s struggled mightily for months. Let’s be clear here though. Paredes is not anything ‘real’, but with him making the minimum, I do have some remaining hope he can be useful to the roster. I feel like JP has a chance to collect himself over the Winter. Maybe he will go back to working with Robinson Cano? I can see him reflecting on what he did well, and the adjustments the league made to him. He will have to focus on pitch recognition. Potentially next Spring he will be able to be a positive contributor once again? As much as he is struggling, it’s hard to envision right now though. I do have some confidence that despite never doing a lot in the Minors, that he is a late bloomer. I just don’t think anyone consistently squares up with the authority he showed for two months, via pure luck. On the other-hand, he literally appears to have zero chance at the plate right now. What you would be hoping for in a best case scenario is that he is somewhere between these two extremes. 

Bottom-line with Paredes is that you would have realistic questions about his defense, his patience, and there would be no scenario where he would be an adequate replacement for Davis. What he would be is cheap, and the money you would not be investing in him – could be used elsewhere with the roster.

The two other cheap internal options would be Christian Walker, and Trey Mancini. I’m not excited about either one, but do think both could give you ‘something’. Neither project (even long-term) as Major League starters. Both could be stop-gaps, with very limited upside when factoring in their minimal salaries.

Pearce, Paredes, Walker, Mancini?  Each individually could help the O’s roster. As replacements for Davis? Yuck. Good luck with that. Good luck trying to convince the fan-base (or the clubhouse) that continued contention is a legitimate goal of the organization if that happens.

Of course, there are multiple ways to skin a cat.

What if the O’s let Davis move on, but replaced his bat in the lineup, with a FA signing of Alex Gordon, or Jayson Heyward, or Yoenis Cespedes, or Justin Upton? Each player has their positives and negatives, but each are legitimate talents. Going with one of the aforementioned quartet at 1st, certainly would become more palatable with the signing of one of these FA OF’s.

If it was Cespedes, the O’s might also have the financial ability to pursue a FA SP.

Why could the O’s be looking at a FA SP? One, there would be opportunity if Wei-Yin Chen departs as expected. It’s been debated for sometime, but the current thinking is that the O’s can make a qualifying offer to the left-hander. If that is accurate, the qualifying offer should be made. If he accepts it, having Chen on-board for 2016 with a 1 year $15-$16M deal would not be a horrible outcome. With the high cost of FA SP, I’m sort of curious to see if the expectation of Chen leaving for FA riches elsewhere happens or not. Might the O’s leadership decide that given the set-backs of Bundy, and Harvey this year – that signing Chen to a 4 year $60M extension is an outcome they can live with?

My sense is no, and I would agree with that decision. After all, if you are going to pay Chen $15M a  year over 4 years, you could use that annual average value towards someone like a Jordan Zimmermann, or a Jeff Samardzija (not sure I’d advocate going after either, just using as hypotheticals). Or you could offer a 1 or 2 year deal (decreasing the overall risk) to the best available veteran starter, that is not capable of receiving a long-term deal.

If Chen is gone, I’m looking to replace his innings somewhere. I’d feel pretty comfortable with starting the rotation with Tillman, Jimenez, Gausman, and Gonzalez; but I’d want to add a starter I felt good about providing 190+ innings.

Going with Mike Wright, or Tyler Wilson as a penciled in 5th starter (vs. those guys existing as extended depth) would be a recipe for disaster to me.

I’m pretty high on resigning O’Day, but truthfully I don’t have a great grasp on the dollars he will likely see in FA. The RH turns 33 in October. You always hear how relievers are volatile, but in every season where O’Day has been healthy – he has been productive. O’Day made $4.25M this year. According to FanGraphs, his already accumulated 1.1 fWAR has been worth $9M in production. 2 years, $15M?

With guys like Wright, Givens, and Bundy likely being part of the O’s bullpen next year, there should be an ability to pay O’Day slightly more than you may like.

Another 2 year deal I would advocate is the signing of the recently acquired Gerrado Parra. Can play all 3 OF positions if needed, has some pop, and doesn’t figure to be particularly expensive. Locking him up early in the off-season would give you an option with some upside, and eliminate one of the questions that remains.

In that aforementioned Media Survey, 19 of the 28 Media Members surveyed said the O’s should pursue an extension with Matt Wieters. That is the adventure which would surprise me the most. Of course the O’s will offer him a qualifying offer, with the expectation that he will turn it down. I don’t see it happening, but perhaps he decides he would rather return to the O’s on a 1 year deal, and attempt to reestablish his value as an everyday C before entering Free Agency? My guess is that the 29 year old will be able to find significant dollars from someone. I also can’t see the O’s being that team (or think the O’s should be that team), even with Matt being a personal favorite of Showalter. Joseph has shown he can be adequate starting option, and should remain as such for the next year or two.

These questions and the possible outcomes are fun to think about. Not as fun to think about though, as picturing the 2015 O’s possibly reaching the post-season for the 3rd time in 4 years. How things finish this year, does figure to be another variable with the forthcoming questions.

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Chris Stoner

Chris Stoner founded Baltimore Sports and Life in 2009. He has appeared as a radio guest with 1090 WBAL, 105.7 The Fan, CBS 1300, Q1370, WOYK 1350, WKAV 1400, and WNST 1570. He has also been interviewed by The Baltimore Sun, Baltimore Business Journal, and PressBox (TV). As Owner, his responsibilities include serving as the Managing Editor, Publicist, & Sales Director. You can reach him via email at [email protected].

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