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BALTIMORE ORIOLES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed 1B-L Chris Davis to a seven-year, $161 million contract. [1/15]

It’s official: Davis can now buy every item inside of a Target. The poster boy for why teams will give power hitters every possible chance before cutting them loose now has the mind-blowing free-agent deal that every ballplayer (and every agent) dreams of. The slugging first baseman will be paid approximately $23 million per year, and will presumably man the three for the Orioles well into the next decade.

The $161 million-dollar question is this: is he worth this amount of money, or was this a classic Orioles overpay? The answer, as always, probably lives somewhere in between. First, we establish Davis’s bona fides. If you simply count the home runs, Davis is the game’s premier slugger—no hitter has jacked more homers over the last three years than Davis’s 126. And while long balls aren’t everything, they are awesome, and are the foundation of pretty solid value in his case. He’s racked up 14.1 WARP over the past four seasons, and that’s no small feat when defensive metrics and positional adjustments constantly tug that number down towards the replacement-level quagmire.

Homers aren’t exactly Davis’s only game: his approach is solid and he reaches base at a fine clip (.361 OBP in 2015). Remarkably strikeout-prone, Davis makes contact less than almost any other player in baseball—only rookies Kris Bryant and Joc Pederson made less contact that Davis among qualified hitters last season. However, his walk rate helps him reach base, and when you have an isolated power of .300 or more, strength can forgive most other offensive failings.

Is there any hope Davis is secretly a defensive wizard? Not a chance. He grades out as a below-average defender at his corner by BP’s FRAA metric, and other defensive metrics consider him average at best. Although locked in as a first baseman, Davis has shown a little versatility, spending some time in right field last season and at the hotter corner in the past. Neither of those are particularly enticing options in either the short or the long term, however—going from Manny Machado’s defense to Davis’s at third base is like switching from sipping a fine whiskey to drinking out of a fire hose. No, expecting him to move up the defensive spectrum as his passes the age-30 bump would be futile.

While most teams would absolutely adore featuring a bat like Crush’s in their lineup, fans and pundits appear to be balking at the cost. In a market where we keep hearing rumors of Justin Upton taking a one-year pillow contract and Yoenis Cespedes being so desperate for a good deal that he may return to the Mets, of all teams, Davis rang up a deal greater than many anticipated. While a $23 million per-season average isn’t so crazy for a three-to-five win player (which may be what Davis is today), that same amount over seven seasons is a huge amount of scratch.

Davis’s contract has now become the fourth-largest (in total dollar value) free-agent deal to be given to a first baseman, and the three ahead of him don’t exactly scream “great value". Those three contracts all look like uncomfortable anchors today: they’re the deals given to Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, and Mark Teixeira. Though none of those players has cratered, these deals soak up huge swaths of their franchise’s payrolls. In the case of the Angels (Pujols) and Yankees (Teixeira), that might not be such a big deal, however in Baltimore, Davis’s contract may be a burden sooner rather than later. According to Cot’s Contracts, the Orioles have carried a payroll between $90 million and $120 million over the past few seasons, which puts Davis’s deal as cordoning off about 15-20 percent of the whole thing. Peter Angelos and the O’s don’t exactly operate on razor-thin margins, but the team does need to hit right on their big-ticket deals, as they seem to be less likely to be able to write off large contracts. And with the crop of players they currently have, this may be a team that needs to make another large purchase or two, in addition to a Manny Machado extension, to keep up with the Joneses in the AL East.

Another item of note is that, like the Max Scherzer deal, this contract will see $42 million deferred without interest, making the actual year-to-year payout something closer to $17 million per season. On one hand, this is kicking the can down the road. On the other hand, the present value of money is not the same as the future value of money, and this makes the current value of the contract something much closer to $140-$150 million dollars. Like Ultron says: finance is so weird.

No matter what the cost, Davis needs to remain a consistent, viable offensive threat in order to remain in a non-albatross state. There appears to be a lot of variance in his game, as displayed in the performance swings between 2013 (MVP-caliber), 2014 (LVP-caliber), and 2015 (All-Star-caliber). The O’s have to be fine as long as the fluctuations stick close to 2015, but that will require Davis to have a very graceful aging curve, hardly a sure thing. Then again, as a very athletic human—even for a ballplayer, Davis is pretty impressive—perhaps he'll age more gracefully than others who are thicker and slower. If he can remain an effective everyday player through the next four seasons, one could see this deal as a big win. Otherwise? The Orioles will be kicking themselves for not inking a Justin Upton or Yoenis Cespedes to a shorter contract. —Bryan Grosnick

Fantasy Impact

Chris Davis

The 29-year-old has evolved into one of the most mercurial sluggers in fantasy over the past five years in Baltimore. He’s prone to extended stretches where he’s either hotter than Kristaps Porzingis jersey sales in New York or colder than Vikings kicker Blair Walsh’s twitter mentions.

Year

PA

R

HR

RBI

AVG

OBP

SLG

TAv

2013

673

103

53

138

.286

.370

.634

.348

2014

525

65

26

72

.196

.300

.404

.272

2015

670

100

47

117

.262

.361

.562

.300

A return to the Charm City is excellent news for Davis’ prodigious power profile and represents a best-case scenario for fantasy owners in long-term keeper and dynasty formats. An Orioles hitter has led the major leagues in home runs in each of the past three seasons, with Davis accomplishing the feat twice in 2013 and 2015 with 53 and 47 dingers, respectively. Camden Yards is simply a fantastic home park for left-handed power and Davis is it’s chief beneficiary.

What truly makes Davis such a polarizing fantasy asset is the impossible to overlook disastrous 2014 season sandwiched in between the pair of monster campaigns. The risk that his swing mechanics disintegrate (like they did two years ago) and he falls off a cliff shouldn’t be ignored entirely. However, after finishing as a top-20 hitter in standard mixed leagues last year, Davis should remain a safe bet to return that type of value again in 2016. Despite losing third base eligibility, Davis is currently being selected 26th overall (second-round) on average in early NFBC drafts. With his return to Baltimore finalized, fantasy owners should expect his ADP to continue to rise going forward. —George Bissell

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GBSimons
1/18
"the Orioles have carried a payroll between $90 million and $120 million over the past few seasons"

And with more and more money pouring into the game every year, there's every reason to believe Baltimore can afford to increase that number significantly.
jkaflagg
1/18
Honest question here : who were they bidding against ? Several years ago Scott Boros famously got the Dodgers to significantly up their offer to pitcher Kevin Brown although there appeared to be no others suitors in sight, but had not seen anything quite like that since. Who (or why) were the Birds forced to not only put their original offer back on the table but also increase it ? Hard to believe they just decided they loved him so much they wanted to do him a solid by giving him a lot more money than anyone else seemed likely to.....
sldetckl16
1/18
Peter Angelos is not necessarily known for his practical decision-making skills when it comes to baseball...he let Boras hold his team's off-season hostage and then let the 'stats' of the deal (AAV, 1B FA contracts, etc) slot Davis in all the right spots to pad Boras' resume. I don't see how this can't be categorized as a huge win for Boras and a classic O's overpay as referenced. I think it's arguable that anyone out there would have even approached 6 years at $120 million....
Schere
1/19
It's possible, but I wouldn't be surprised if there was another offer out there in the ballpark of this one. We'll never know for sure.
cnote66
1/20
Didn't he get back on the Adderall last year? If he is still on the drug (or generic offshoot), I would be buying Davis.
wharfrat73
1/20
He did get the waiver to take an ADHD drug last year. It would seem like it made a difference.