After first baseman rejected contract, Baltimore seeing how situation plays out
By Richard Justice
This is some serious game of chicken the Baltimore Orioles and Chris Davis are playing. Lines have been drawn, and the longer this drags on, the more it feels as much like a war of wills as a negotiation.
Money and ego are part of the mix. Pride, too. In short, a combustible combination. To review:
• About six weeks ago, the Orioles offered the free-agent first baseman approximately $154 million over seven years.
• Davis rejected it.
There you go. You're caught up.
Agent Scott Boras may have seen $154 million as a good starting point. He hasn't publicly said how much more he wants for Davis. Given that Boras got Prince Fielder $214 million over nine seasons four years ago, that's probably what they consider a starting point.
Only thing is, Boras seldom deals in absolutes when he's negotiating. He sells his clients hard, preferably to multiple teams. Amid this game of smoke and mirrors, he has become the most effective agent in the history of professional sports.
When the Texas Rangers gave Alex Rodriguez (another Boras client) $252 million over 10 years in 2001, they later became convinced they'd outbid every other competitor by $100 million, that they'd ended up bidding against themselves.
Boras adamantly disputes this, saying A-Rod had other competitive offers. Besides, that contract ended up being reasonable compensation for the production it delivered -- 424 home runs.
The O's were mindful of all these factors when they drew the line with Davis at seven years and $154 million. They looked at the marketplace and came to the conclusion Davis didn't have a better offer and was unlikely to get one.
And here we are. Boras is working furiously to stoke the market for Davis, selling him as either a first baseman or a corner outfielder.
Meanwhile, the Orioles wait.
Who has the most to lose?
Davis can take Baltimore's $154 million and be set for life. He can hold out awhile longer and hope the Tigers, Angels, White Sox or some other team makes a better offer.
Even if Davis elects to sign a one-year deal and try free agency again next offseason, he seems certain to end up with financial security. As for the O's, there are two ways to see their predicament. Losing Davis would be devastating, both on the field and in terms of public relations.
They could compensate by signing Justin Upton or Yoenis Cespedes, but they would merely fill the hole left by Davis. There's still work to be done with the lineup and the rotation. At the moment, it's easy to project them finishing last in the American League East.
On the other hand, having Davis off the payroll could free them up to improve the team in other areas. But the bottom line is they're unlikely to find anyone else as good as Davis. He has led the Major Leagues in home runs in two of the past three seasons, and at a time when every team is attempting to acquire power, Davis is the best option in the game.
Davis changes games dramatically and quickly, and he's one of the reasons the Orioles have won more regular-season games than any other AL team the past four years.
Here's the other part of this story: This has been a tremendous marriage for both Davis and the O's. Manager Buck Showalter did a magical job helping restore Davis' confidence after Baltimore acquired him from Texas. And Davis flourished as part of the core group of players that has resurrected the sport in one of this country's great baseball towns.
Davis is not just a great offensive player and a solid defensive first baseman. He has been a great teammate, a grinder and a gamer, and he has prided himself on being a good citizen of the community.
Now there's this business side of the sport. Everyone understands this part of it. On the other hand, Davis is going to have trouble going anyplace else where he's as beloved and respected.
Davis has been happy in a clubhouse with Adam Jones, Matt Wieters and Darren O'Day; happy in a place with one of the great managers in the history of the sport pushing the buttons and one of the most thoughtful and innovative general managers, Dan Duquette, finding talent here, there and everywhere.
We've become accustomed to players switching teams. But in this case, it would take some time getting used to Davis wearing another uniform.
Maybe it won't come to that. If these negotiations really are -- as reports indicate -- Orioles owner Peter Angelos and Boras attempting to hash out a deal, there's a chance something will get done.
Angelos and Boras are alike in many ways, both tenacious negotiators, both fiercely committed to protecting their own interests. In this case, those interests might be one and the same.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.