Davis deal makes perfect sense for O's

Free-agent slugger's return solidifies Baltimore's lineup

January 16th, 2016

Chris Davis loves Baltimore. Baltimore loves Chris Davis. So doesn't this feel like a smart, sensible conclusion?

Davis is returning to the Orioles for a deal reported to be worth $161 million over seven years -- a contract finalized Saturday morning after both sides had pushed the envelope to its logical end game.

Davis returning to Orioles

Did the O's reported interest in free-agent outfielder Yoenis Cespedes bring everyone back to the bargaining table? That would be a logical assumption, since free agency doesn't play out in a vacuum.

Regardless, the Orioles are dramatically better than they were 24 hours ago. They're still not a finished product -- they need at least one more starting pitcher and are hoping their two top prospects according to MLB.com, Hunter Harvey and Dylan Bundy, make a run at the big leagues.

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Another bat would be helpful as well. How about signing both Davis and Cespedes? (Sportswriters love nothing more than telling someone else how to spend their money.) But to put those two in a lineup that already has Manny Machado, Adam Jones and Mark Trumbo, well, the O's would look awfully nice in October.

While signing Cespedes may be a long shot for the Orioles, every other team in the American League East has questions. Nothing new there. In the past four seasons, the AL East has had four division champions -- the Blue Jays in 2015, O's in '14, Red Sox in '13 and Yankees in '12.

Davis agreed to the fourth-largest contract given to a free agent this offseason so far, behind only David Price ($217 million), Zack Greinke ($206.5 million) and Jason Heyward ($184 million).

And Davis' special talent is one every team covets. That's power. He has led the Majors in home runs in two of the past three seasons and averaged 40 per year during four full seasons with the Orioles.

Davis' swing is a thing of beauty, swift and majestic and absolutely perfect for Camden Yards. He hits the ball hard more consistently than almost anyone. Only J.D. Martinez, David Ortiz and Matt Kemp had a higher hard contact percentage last season, according to fangraphs.com.

Davis led the Majors with 208 strikeouts, but that's part of the package. His power is the kind that changes games, that wins a division, and his departure would have been a tough, tough blow for the O's.

There's also a human aspect to this story. Davis broke in with the Rangers in 2008, and he was a nearly instant success, hitting .285. He hit .238 and .192 the next two seasons, and by the time the Orioles acquired him in 2011, he wasn't exactly brimming with confidence.

Enter the genius of Orioles manager Buck Showalter. He methodically helped restore Davis' confidence in ways large and small. Showalter has deflected credit, saying Davis got this far through his own talent and relentless work ethic.

But Showalter -- and Jones and Matt Wieters and others -- constructed one of baseball's best clubhouse environments. Davis has thrived in that environment and is one of the reasons baseball has been resurrected in Baltimore.

The O's have won more regular-season games than any other AL team the past four seasons, and attendance at Camden Yards has increased from 1.75 million in 2011 to 2.46 million in '14.

General manager Dan Duquette has done an extraordinary job of finding talent in unexpected places. For instance, he signed Miguel Gonzalez out of the Mexican League in 2012, and he emerged as a solid starter, with a 3.85 ERA in 101 games (95 starts).

One of Duquette's first significant signings with the Orioles was left-hander Wei-Yin Chen, who led the club with 191 1/3 innings in 2015 before becoming a free agent. Chen signed a five-year deal with the Marlins this week, and his absence creates a significant hole in the rotation. Duquette has prioritized pitching in these final weeks leading up to Spring Training.

All that said, Saturday was a good day for the Birds. Had Davis signed elsewhere, the lineup would have a different look. While there's more to do, this is a big step in the right direction.