The Chris Davis Contract – 1 Year Later

While we are awaiting the unthawing of the Orioles’ offseason from the annual holiday deep freeze, I thought I’d look back at last offseason’s major headline – The Orioles sign Chris Davis to a 7 year/$161 million contract.

I keep seeing fans lamenting this deal over and over again, but I think the Orioles still have a solid deal with Davis.  Let’s go over some of the common topics of conversation.

1. They are paying Davis $161 million total/$23 million a season.

Dan Duquette and the Orioles may have signed Chris Davis to a 7 year/$161 million contract, but that contract included deferred money.  Let’s take a look at the breakdown via Cot’s Contracts at Baseball Prospectus:

7 years/$161M (2016-22)

  • re-signed by Baltimore as a free agent 1/21/16
  • 16-22: salaries of $23M annually, with $17M paid as earned and $6M deferred without interest
  • the $42M in deferred money is to be paid in 10 installments of $3.5M annually each July 1, 2023-32, and five installments of $1.4M each July 1, 2033-37
  • MLB calculates present-day value to $147,831,478 with deferrals, while the MLBPA’s present-day value calculation is $147,737,635
  • limited no-trade protection

The bolded section is key – Davis is only a $17 million hit to the payroll over the next 6 years, not a $23 million hit.  $42 million of his contract is deferred until 2023 with installments to be paid until 2037.

That deferred money may sound like it will hurt future payroll flexibility, but consider the Orioles have paid this much money to players that they have cut from their bench and/or have delivered negative value.  It’s a minimal impact to any MLB club, especially when we are talking about the 2020s and 2030s.

2.  The Orioles bid against themselves and should have let Davis walk.

When Davis was signed I mentioned that some would say this. It might be true to a certain extent – however as we’ve seen Scott Boras can usually find a market for his star clients.   Mike Ilitch, the owner for the Detroit Tigers and a man infamous for huge contracts with Verlander and Cabrera to name a few, reportedly wanted to spend $200 million on Davis, but spent on Justin Upton instead after his GM talked him out of it.  Sure he wouldn’t have spent $200 million, but had the Orioles dragged out negotiations further, I have no doubt a team like the Tigers would have come in, with an opt-out and stolen Davis away from the Orioles.

Would anybody really have loved to see Mark Trumbo at 1B all season with Joey Rickard in right field?  Remember Peter Angelos had only earmarked the money for Davis, not Upton or anybody else they were rumored to be pursuing.  Had Davis gone elsewhere, so would have the 2016 Wild Card berth that the Orioles almost (and could have) won.

At the end of the day the Orioles increased their original offer of 7 years/$150 million by $11 million but deferred that $42 million of the total.   That $119 million that will be paid directly was also similar to what the Cardinals agreed to pay for another Boras client, Matt Holliday when he was a free agent in the 2009-2010 offseason.  I talked about how both free agent situations were similar last offseason.

Holliday produced 19.8 fWAR over his 7 year deal  for a total of $170.2 million worth of value according to Fangraphs so he easily was worth his contract and had over $50 million in surplus value.

We’ll see what Davis produced below in the next section.

3.  Davis had a bad season last year

Looking at Davis’ batting line, the .221 batting average stands out, but this is 2016 and we should be looking at more than just that to determine how a player performed.

Davis had a career best 13.2% BB% last season with 88 BBs, both leading the Orioles by far and good enough for 13th and 11th respectively in MLB for each stat.  Davis also saw 4.14 P/PA in 2016 a mark which also led the Orioles and was 24th in MLB.

His O-Swing%, which had declined since 2013, was also a career best 28.2%.

For years the Orioles have needed a hitter in the middle of the lineup that was willing to take pitches and work the count if the pitcher wasn’t going to give them something they could hit.  Now they have one in Chris Davis who had his best performance of understanding the strike zone in his career.   He may have not put up a career season overall, but Davis matured as a hitter while the majority of the Orioles were swinging for the fences.

Defensively Chris Davis was at his best too as he matched his career high with +8 DRS at 1B.   He made Manny Machado look even better at 3B with numerous saves of errant throws.

Looking at his $17 million cost, Davis was worth 2.7 fWAR  in 2016 for a value of $21.9 million.  So while it’s not a huge surplus in value, there was still a surplus just like there was with Holliday’s contract.

4.  Davis will only get worse just like all of the other contracts signed for premium first basemen.

You know the names and the contracts – Ryan Howard, Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols and Mark Teixeira.  Most long-term, big money 1B contracts have not worked out well for their signing teams.

Chris Davis will be 31 on Opening Day next year, so he’s still in his prime years, albeit on the down side.

However all you need to do is look at his  home and away splits while he’s been an Oriole to see a major outlier for 2016.


2012 69 272 0.288 0.342 0.588 0.930 0.392 146
2013 80 326 0.307 0.390 0.668 1.057 0.442 180
2014 61 234 0.187 0.300 0.419 0.720 0.313 95
2015 79 330 0.283 0.376 0.636 1.012 0.422 168
2016 80 328 0.196 0.326 0.415 0.741 0.322 96


2012 70 290 0.253 0.310 0.419 0.729 0.314 97
2013 80 347 0.266 0.352 0.602 0.954 0.400 156
2014 66 291 0.202 0.299 0.393 0.692 0.305 94
2015 80 340 0.241 0.347 0.490 0.837 0.358 128
2016 77 337 0.244 0.338 0.502 0.840 0.357 125

As you can see, Davis has always performed better at Oriole Park at Camden Yards than he has on the road.   Even during his worst year in 2014, he still had better numbers at home than on the road.   To see him do so poorly at his home park compared to his road splits, seems like it’s not a trend that is going to continue as the Orioles didn’t do anything different between 2015 and 2016 to the park dimensions or any other major alterations that would cause his numbers to decline so much.

My bet is Davis will bounce back because  1) his hand injury should be healed,  2) because his away splits were the same as they were in 2015 and 3) because 2017 is an odd year and odd years are when Davis has been a monster at the plate.

You also never hear about him being out of shape as the man is a gym rat, just like Holliday so health wise, he should age better than either Howard or Fielder, two players known for weight issues. While the hand injury is concerning, he still managed to have a decent season in spite of it and should return to full health with an offseason of rest.

5.  The Orioles could have used the money they are extending Davis to extend Manny Machado.

First of all, the Orioles aren’t likely to  extend Machado.  That was clear when they attempted to do so, and you heard $400 million floated as speculation as what Manny would earn as a free agent.  No way would he extend for anything less than $30 million per season and the Orioles aren’t going there, nor should they.

Second, had the Orioles let Davis walk, there would be no way Machado would ever want to extend with the team.  Signing Davis is a commitment to winning.  Players see that, not just fans.  So the only way to show Machado you were serious about winning was to keep the players that helped the Orioles win.   I’m pretty sure Manny knows what Davis means to him at 1B and protecting him in the lineup.   Trumbo just isn’t the same player in spite of the fact he can also hit HRs.

And the $17 million per season cost to the payroll also helps the Orioles with flexibility, just in case they do somehow manage to extend Machado or definitely to be able to extend players like Chris Tillman.  I’m pretty sure Davis knew that if he took up a huge chunk of the Orioles’ payroll similar to A-Rod in Texas, then the team would have a harder time maintaining the ability to stay competitive.

An interesting fact also – Chris Davis may be the Orioles’ highest paid player in 2017 as he was in 2016, but barring any other extensions, in 2018 Adam Jones is set to take that title with a payroll cost of $17.3 million.

Chris Davis may have signed the largest contract in Orioles history, and while he did have a poor season offensively last year compared to 2015, it was largely due to his hand injury, and he still managed a 111 wRC+ and .340 wOBA and should have won the Gold Glove.

If that’s a poor season for Davis, I can’t wait to see what his bounce back season is in 2017.

Image:  CC Image courtesy of Keith Allison on Flickr

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