Saturday’s announcement that the Orioles and first baseman Chris Davis reached agreement on a new contract represents a watershed, a crossing of the Rubicon, if you will.
The deal, which will pay Davis a reported $161 million for seven years, appears to signal a new way of thinking among the Orioles’ brain trust, a willingness to spend large sums of money in pursuit of players.
Davis becomes the highest paid player in franchise history and by a considerable margin. The Birds had, for years, under owner Peter Angelos, resisted breaking the nine-figure mark, either to retain one of their players or to bring in new blood.
Fans with longer memories recall how the Orioles let Mike Mussina, arguably the second best pitcher to wear orange and black after Jim Palmer to the New York Yankees over roughly $16 million. A few years later, they lost a chance to bring Baltimore-area native Mark Teixeira back home, instead watching him sign with the Yankees.
But by retaining Davis, the Orioles have now crossed a line. And their fans should never allow them to go back, even as some writers believe they spent too much on Davis. The Orioles must not be permitted to plead poverty, to tell their faithful that they don’t have the money to be competitive with teams like the Yankees or Red Sox. It’s just not true any more.
Not that it ever was, or not recently. In addition to the gate receipts they receive from Camden Yards ticket sales and their share of national television money and other sources, the Orioles own 90 percent of the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network.
That means if you have cable or satellite in this area or in a geographic swath that extends from North Carolina to Pennsylvania, you pay the Orioles a subscriber fee each month. And the team gets advertising revenue from those 162 games that air on the channel.
Sure, there are player costs, which are significant. And they do have to pay the Washington Nationals a rights fee to air their games on MASN. And no, they don’t have the vast sums of money that the Red Sox and Yankees have. But that shouldn’t preclude the Orioles from being bigger fishes in the player acquisition pond than they have been to date.
Resigning Chris Davis – a player who had been on their own roster, is a nice first step, but if that’s all that happens between now and the beginning of the season in April, it will be just a step.
For starters, the Orioles will need, a starting pitcher. Left-hander Wei-Yin Chin departed last week for the Miami Marlins, leaving a sizable hole in the rotation. The delay in signing Davis did put a crimp in the team’s plans, but only if you assume the Orioles intended to go big in the market.
The Orioles reportedly made an offer last week for free agent outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, who helped push the Mets into the playoffs. Signing him would send a powerful message to fans that the Orioles are really open for business.
A local restaurant has offered Cespedes free crab legs for life if he comes to Baltimore. It’s clear that the Orioles have enough in their till to keep him stocked with all the mallets and nutcrackers he’ll ever need.