The Chris Davis Saga – Less Like Teixeira, More Like Holliday

Greetings once again Orioles fans, and actually I should say “Seasons Greetings” as we are in not only the holiday season but the offseason of MLB as well.  It’s been awhile since I last wrote here on this site, but I wanted to weigh in on the Chris Davis saga that is the headline of the Orioles’ offseason thus far.

Here’s what we know:

  • The Orioles offered a deal to Davis some time before the Winter Meetings in the ballpark of 7 years, $150 million, with possible deferred money.
  • The Winter Meetings is where they hoped to get a deal, but Davis’ agent, Scott Boras basically slow-played Duquette and Peter Angelos, who still wants Davis back in an Orioles uniform.
  • The Orioles have only talked with Boras and not Davis.
  • Boras is looking for an 8 year/$200 million deal for Chris Davis
  • The Orioles have apparently withdrawn their offer but have left the door for either Davis or Boras to come back and re-start negotiations, but the Orioles have not guaranteed they will have the resources to make the same offer if they move on to other options.

Got all that?

One might get the impression that Davis does not want to play for the Orioles again, because the tactics that Boras seems to be employing, and the way negotiations are playing out, sound somewhat similar to the Mark Teixeira saga of the 2008-2009 offseason.

In that negotiation, the Orioles made an offer, never withdrew it, thought they were still in negotiations all along with little to no progress with Boras, only to be spurned by Teixeira as he signed with the Yankees.  It’s worth noting that the Red Sox were really spurned the worst, as they thought they were close enough in negotiations that they flew all the way to Texas with a contingent including the owner John Henry  to try to wrap things up, only to leave with nothing but expended jet fuel.

So is Davis going to spurn the Orioles like Teixeira did?

I don’t think so, and the reason for that is that he wants to return to Baltimore, and also I think  that the Orioles learned an important lesson with the Teixeira negotiations, and have copied some of the Cardinals’ negotiation tactics with another Boras client, Matt Holliday in the offseason of 2009-2010

The Cardinals had acquired Holliday from the Athletics at the deadline after he had been traded from the Rockies in the previous  offseason because Boras refused to have him sign a 4 year extension worth $18 million per season.  Holliday helped propel the Cardinals to the NL Central title, and there was mutual interest in him coming back on a long term contract.

Of course, Scott Boras, seeing as he got an 8 year/$180 million deal for Mark Teixeira in the offseason before, immediately recognized that besides Jason Bay, Holliday was the best position player on the market and he let people know it:

Boras called Holliday one of “less than 30 franchise players” in the major leagues, and indicated that he considers Holliday on a similar plane with Teixeira, who signed an eight-year, $180 million contract with the New York Yankees last winter.

“I’m not here to put ceilings on players,” Boras said. “But certainly, I think the comparison of the type of players they are and the impact they could bring … it’s there for the two of them.”

In that offseason, Holliday’s market, like Davis’ was fairly limited.  At that time, only the Cardinals, Mets, Angels and Giants were looked at as possible suitors, with the Yankees as an outside candidate.  The Orioles should have been a suitor as well, but I digress…

The Cardinals’ first offer to Holliday – $15-16 million over eight years – was reportedly below that annual value what he turned down for an extension from the Rockies earlier.  That offer would also be about $52-53 million short of what Boras wanted but it was also the highest offer ever offered by the Cardinals to any player.

Sound familiar?

Boras of course, didn’t accept that offer and the Cardinals weren’t going any higher:

Boras has attached Holliday’s market value to first baseman Mark Teixeira, who signed an eight-year, $180 million deal as a free agent last winter. Teixeira also is a Boras client.

The Cardinals steadfastly refuse to enter that neighborhood; hence, a seeming impasse. Though classifying a continuation of talks as encouraging, a source familiar with the process denied significant movement in the past several days.

A seeming impasse, continuing talks, yet no significant movement.  Yep this is definitely sounding familiar.

Let’s move forward to December 31, 2009 as Holliday remained unsigned, while Jason Bay, his competition, had signed with the Mets with a 4 year, $66 million contract.  After several weeks had passed since making their initial offer, the Cardinals were suddenly close to a deal:

The Cardinals have had a growing sense of optimism in recent weeks that they would be able to re-sign the left fielder and former batting champion, willing to let the market move around them while they focused on Holliday. Sources with knowledge of the negotiations said progress is “strong” and a resolution could come as early as next week.

Holliday’s representatives and Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak confirmed ongoing talks.

“I’m still hopeful,” Mozeliak wrote in a text message. “But there is still work to be done.”

The Cardinals have led the pursuit of Holliday, first making a formal offer three weeks ago to his agent, Scott Boras. The exact details of the Cardinals’ current offer are not publicly known. Sources indicated the sides have discussed several structures, including a five-year guaranteed deal and an eight-year framework.

And here’s what happened that next week on January 6, 2010 as we all might know:

Matt Holliday has agreed to the richest contract in the illustrious history of the St. Louis Cardinals.

On Tuesday, the free-agent slugger announced on The Doug Gottlieb Show on ESPN Radio that he is re-signing with the team for seven years. The deal is worth $120 million — Holliday will make $15 million a season, plus another $2 million a year in deferred payments — with a vesting option for 2017. If the option doesn’t vest, then the Cardinals can either pick up the option at $17 million or take the buyout for $1 million.

The contract is contingent on Holliday passing a physical.

“Well, I think first of all going into free agency I had in the back of my mind that I really liked my time in St. Louis and felt it was a good fit for me and my family,” Holliday said on the show.

“At the end of the day we decided that was best for us.”

So at the end of it all, Holliday re-signed with the Cardinals for far less that Scott Boras wanted.  Holliday’s deal was 7 years for $106 in present value, with $14 million deferred and a vesting option for an additional $17 million, a far cry from the 8 year $180 million deal Boras thought he could get.

The reason is he had no market other than the Cardinals.  The Red Sox’s offer wasn’t even close enough to the Cardinals’ original offer to be worth consideration.   Once the Mets had signed Jason Bay – nobody else was looking for an expensive,  yet productive outfielder.

Some like Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal even questioned why the Cardinals increased their offer:

The Cardinals will say they caught a “break” on the average annual value of Holliday’s seven-year deal — $17.1 million, or about $16 million in present-day value when factoring in deferrals. That is a win of sorts, considering that Holliday wanted at least $18 million per season.

But seven years?

The contract will cover Holliday from ages 30 to 36 — his late prime, then post-prime. Holliday is a hard worker and tremendous physical specimen; those are not the issues. It’s just that A) deals of this length rarely work to the club’s benefit and B) the Cardinals did not appear to be seriously pushed by other suitors.

The Orioles were involved, no matter how much they deny it, but they would have needed to make a monster offer to persuade Holliday to leave St. Louis.

The Angels and Yankees never appeared serious on Holliday. The Red Sox made an early run. The Mets signed Jason Bay.

Sure looks like the Cardinals bid mostly against themselves.

I still don’t believe that part about the Orioles as I’m pretty sure Boras made them a mystery team just to make it appear like there was competition.

The takeaway is that Cardinals got Holliday, who wanted to stay in St. Louis to begin with, and they got him for the price they were willing to pay, not Scott Boras’.   Looking at that deal as well, it was good value for what they have got out of Matt Holliday so far.

So how does this apply to Chris Davis and the Orioles?

Well we know that Chris Davis would like to return to Baltimore just like Holliday wanted to return to St. Louis, so the Orioles have that in favor, as Teixeira wanted to be a Yankee.

Also the Orioles are the only known serious suitor right now for Chris Davis.  The Cardinals, ironically are the other team that as seen as a good fit and they have more interest in Alex Gordon and adding to their pitching staff.

The key with this negotiation is the Orioles don’t seem to want to play the waiting game like the Cardinals did, but ultimately if they are to re-sign Davis for the price they want to pay, that’s what they will have to do.  They could move on to other options and have said they will, but they haven’t closed that door.

Personally, I think the Orioles will play the waiting game with Davis, continuing the seemingly unproductive dialog with Boras, and you’ll see other bats like Alex Gordon, Justin Upton and other outfield and/or left handed bats sign elsewhere.  The Orioles might make a few moves like signing  Pedro Alvarez.  However,  like the Cardinals and Holliday, Davis is the player they want the most, especially owner Peter Angelos, who always seems to get the player he wants for better (Matt Wieters) or worse (Albert Belle) when he gets involved.

Eventually Boras won’t have a market other than the Orioles, and he’ll realize that the Orioles are the best fit financially and personally for Chris Davis and the two sides will reach a deal for close to what the Orioles originally offered, though potentially slightly higher – maybe an additional vesting option year like Holliday got would be added.  Folks like Ken Rosenthal will also surely say that the Orioles bid against themselves, but if they want Davis, they’ll have to do something to move the needle – that’s how negotiations work.

Of course I could be totally wrong and the Orioles could sign Justin Upton tomorrow, but in the end, they will not have been spurned, rather they will have spurned Chris Davis and Scott Boras in that case.

That would be a welcome change for Orioles fans that are so used to the opposite.