Orioles' pursuit of Chris Davis could be affected by string of megadeals

It was bound to happen eventually. Baseball’s free-agent market erupted this past week with a string of giant contracts that are certain to impact the big-name players who remain unsigned — most notably top slugger Chris Davis.

That’s no news flash. When premier starting pitcher David Price became the latest free-agent hurler to break the $200 million barrier and Zack Greinke quickly followed with a deal that averages a record $34.4 million per season, it became obvious that the price of top-flight talent has taken another large leap.

What that means for Davis is difficult to predict, but it probably means that the Orioles are out of the running to re-sign him. He’s the top power prize in this year’s market and superagent Scott Boras hasn’t even gotten warmed up this offseason.

The likelihood now seems very low that the Orioles will be able to snag him for less than $150 million, and $150 million is more than double the biggest free agent contract (Miguel Tejada’s $72 million deal in 2003) they have ever handed out. Maybe Dan Duquette was already resigned to that, despite his frequent public statements to the contrary.

Maybe that’s why he acquired a lesser version of Davis in the deal that brought Mark Trumbo and a left-handed relief prospect to the Orioles for catcher Steve Clevenger. Maybe not, but Duquette is headed to the winter meetings in Nashville, Tennessee, in search of players to fill several voids on the Orioles roster, and he cannot afford to wait too long to see how the Davis situation shakes out.

There’s no reason for Boras to rush into a deal with one of his most valuable clients. There should be plenty of interest in the guy who led the majors in home runs twice in the past three years. Who knows where the bidding goes, but in a winter in which new San Francisco Giants starter Jeff Samardzija just got five years and $90 million without ever having a winning season as a full-time starting pitcher, well, that ought to tell you something.

There are several ways that Duquette could play this. He could wait to see how high Boras jacks up the price and then make an offer close enough to tempt Davis to remain in familiar surroundings. That seems unlikely to succeed unless the Orioles are willing to go far beyond their typical budget parameters.

Duquette could be very proactive and relay the Orioles’ best possible offer right now and put an acceptance deadline on it, hoping to force Davis to make a quick decision while there still might be uncertainty about his true value.

That also seems unlikely to succeed, but it would free the Orioles to get on with the rest of their offseason business. Of course, the sudden string of megadeals could also create cover for Duquette if the club really isn’t interested in spending what it would take to significantly upgrade the roster after last year’s .500 finish.

It could be another month or more before Davis signs, and by that time a lot of the other quality free agents will have come off the board. If the Orioles take the wait-and-see approach, Duquette might find himself in a familiar position— picking over the remaining qualifying-offer guys in early February.

Though that approach has worked for him before, it would be particularly risky this time around because the Orioles paid a big price for failing to assemble sufficient talent to replace the free agents they lost last winter. Duquette bought himself some insurance against that with the deal for Trumbo and by retaining Matt Wieters with a qualifying offer. But the Orioles could still find themselves at a talent deficit to 2015 with the likely departures of Wei-Yin Chen, Darren O’Day and Gerardo Parra.

There will be a lot of disappointed fans if Duquette forces the issue with Davis and gets rebuffed, but it might be the best option. The Orioles need to stay aggressive and stay in play for the best players they can afford.