11 January 2016

A Plea To The Orioles: Move On From Chris Davis And Sign Justin Upton

The Orioles have expressed interest in dozens of players this offseason, but they have yet to land one of the top free agents despite having the money available to nab one. It's clear that the Orioles, and primarily Peter Angelos, would prefer for Chris Davis to return. He's a fan favorite and a familiar face, after all. Angelos's involvement in the negotiations with Scott Boras demonstrates their high level of interest, and their early offer of around $150 million over seven years (which more or less seems to be a standing offer) is more than fair -- and possibly an overpay.

But Davis is a Boras client, and Boras usually gets what he wants. He's going to keep banging the Davis/corner outfielder drum in an effort to drive up his price, and it'll be interesting to see who signs first among Davis, Yoenis Cespedes, and Justin Upton. Those are the three remaining big bats, and the Orioles desperately need one.

According to various reports, the Orioles have at least shown interest in all three of the above names. Davis is the favorite, with Cespedes recently gaining some steam because he is not tied to draft pick compensation. Still, despite the team-friendly four-year, $72 million deal Alex Gordon recently signed with the Royals, Upton and Cespedes are in prime position to cash in; the question is when they'll do it and for how much. (The recent report of teams hoping Upton would accept a one-year deal seems like complete nonsense.) And if both players receive deals that are close to $100 million, which they should, then maybe the Orioles will look elsewhere.

But they shouldn't. The Orioles shouldn't spend $150 million (or more) for a first baseman who will be 30 when the season starts. And Upton isn't a significantly better option than Cespedes, who is a very good player and would fit in nicely on the Orioles. But it would be difficult to pass on the consistence of Upton, who's not a superstar but is unquestionably an outstanding talent.

At 28, Upton is a year and a half younger than Davis, and he's two years younger than Cespedes. In his last seven seasons, he's played in at least 133 games every year. In his two worst offensive seasons (2010 and 2012), he still hit 9 percent better than league average. He has a career 121 wRC+, is anywhere from an average to a decent defender in the corner outfield (0 UZR/150, 20 DRS), and is above average on the basepaths. His on-base skills (career .352 OBP) should also be valued.

He most likely doesn't have the ceiling of Davis or Cespedes, who have gone on fantastic runs in recent seasons. But Upton also seems to present the wisest investment and is less susceptible to a collapse.

There would be a cost of losing a draft pick (14th overall) to sign Upton. Would you rather have Upton and a pick in the 30s or Davis and the 14th pick? That would depend on the exact contract amounts that get handed out and also which model you use to evaluate how much each draft slot is worth. I'd take Upton and the compensation pick.

Huge fans of Davis would be sad to see him go. But if the Orioles are still pursuing a starting pitcher, perhaps Yovani Gallardo or Ian Kennedy, who would also force the team to sacrifice a pick, then it makes sense to double down and sign two qualifying offer players instead of just one because of the reduced price. That's exactly what the Orioles did when they signed Nelson Cruz and Ubaldo Jimenez, and it was smart.

Sure, it would cost two draft picks, but the Orioles would also get two back when Davis and Wei-Yin Chen sign elsewhere. The Orioles should be looking to get/keep as many draft picks as possible (they aren't), but they also have a clear need to improve the major league club's overall talent.

Maybe the money isn't there to sign both Upton and Gallardo/Kennedy, but the argument for Upton over Davis stands. Davis is still a great fit for the Orioles, and of the three options above, his return is the most likely thing to happen. But Upton has his share of supporters, and many fans would be thrilled if the Orioles opted for him instead.
Of course that poll is for fun and does not represent the entire fan base. But some in the O's organization agree. According to a recent ESPN Insider post by Buster Olney, "there is strong sentiment within the organization for owner Peter Angelos to either reduce any future offer to Davis from the $150 million dangled in the past to reflect the falling market prices, or to simply move on from Davis and target others in the high volume of available players."

It sure seems strange that the Orioles are in the position of offering top money for a free agent, which is what many fans want and frequently complain about, when it could be for the wrong guy or the funds could used better if allocated differently. The Orioles are still Davis's primary suitor, but they just can't sit and wait forever. With Mark Trumbo, they are covered at first base for next season, if needed. And with Christian Walker and Trey Mancini in the minors, plus another offseason to plan, they should be able to fill first base adequately without needing to spend exorbitant money.

Maybe the Orioles will switch gears. Or maybe their big contract offer is truly available for Davis and no one else. If that's true, it's hard to argue that the Orioles and Angelos aren't interested in rewarding a popular player for past accomplishments instead of going after a younger and less risky talent. At the very least, that's worrisome.


Anonymous said...

I'm concerned about a scenario in which Cespedes & Upton go elsewhere and Davis does not return. What options are left in that scenario to make this team a contender? I feel if the O's don't land one of those 3, it's gonna be hard to picture them in the race next year unless they go after a guy like Cargo (which will be costly).

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Like you note, it probably has to be a trade. Those are the three impact bats still on the board. Maybe they could go after Jay Bruce again, but that doesn't seem like enough.

Philip said...

It is a legitimate question whether the Orioles can contend regardless.
Although I really want Upton, I wonder if it wouldn't be better to sign nobody at all, and go into the season actively planning to trade our most expensive assets( Jones and Manny excepted) for MLB ready prospects who can replenish the team for '17.
Dan's moves really indicate no long-term vision at all.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Maybe, but if so, then why wait? Anyway, that seems like a strategy that would happen if/when Showalter and Duquette aren't running the show.

Anonymous said...

Can't sweat losing that 14th pick, would probably turn into another Billy Rowell, Matt BLOBgood or Brandon Snyder. The Orioles draft like the Detroit Lions, terrible!!!

Jon Shepherd said...

Manny Machado sucks doesn't he?

stevej said...

Thought it was a good strategy: early, bit-too-low bid for a volatile asset so as to look good for fans, then withdraw it and spend on bargains. 3 observations:
1) owner sentimentality messing up plan
2) market may not offer bargains; still 5 teams chasing 3 corner bats (B,H,M,Ch,D)
3)QO system is anti-competitve with $8mm penalty for .500 teams. Picks 11-20 are worth avg. 3 WAR, playoff team picks are worth 2. Should either 'protect' non-post-season teams or make playoff teams give up first 2 picks.