Andrew Stetka: Davis’ struggles don’t mean contract was a mistake

Orioles manager Buck Showalter benched first baseman Chris Davis for a second straight game yesterday, giving him time to clear his head and work on some adjustments at the plate. Hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh was providing instruction this weekend for Davis, who is off to perhaps the worst start of his career.

The 32-year-old is hitting just .167/.257/.256 with two home runs, 33 strikeouts and 10 walks. He’s carrying around an OPS+ of 44 with 25 games under his belt. Any way you slice it, he hasn’t produced the type of numbers that everyone knows he’s capable of. But some are also going way too far in calling his contract a complete anchor on the franchise. If anything, Davis’ deal opened the door for the Orioles.

I’ve seen it a lot over the first month of the season. Many national pundits have produced think pieces on why Davis is carrying the worst contract for the Orioles. I can see why many would say it. Davis is making a lot of money, and I already pointed out his current production. The O’s gave Davis a new deal following the 2015 season, the second-best of his career. It didn’t quite match his 2013 output when he hit .286 with an OPS of 1.004 and 53 home runs while finishing third in the MVP vote. But 2015 was a productive year for Davis, and it was time for a new deal. The slugger was always going to get paid by a team. It just so happened that the Orioles opened that door by giving him a seven-year deal worth $161 million, including $42 million in deferred money that will be paid out through 2037.

That contract was monumental for a few reasons, especially when it comes to the Orioles. The fact that the O’s were the team to hand out a deal that large (the largest in team history) was and remains meaningful. The Davis contract was nearly double that of the second-largest in team history, given to Adam Jones in 2012. It showed that after a few years of winning baseball, the Orioles were committing to a player that had helped them compete in the way they did.

For many years, much of the handwringing about the franchise was for being too frugal. The Davis contract changed that, and gave fans the belief that the team would be willing to go out and sign players to free agent contracts. It also came on the heels of a contract given to pitcher Ubaldo Jiménez, that many viewed as a failed deal. Jiménez was a frustrating pitcher at times in Baltimore, and halfway into that contract the O’s easily could’ve cited it as a reason not to give a deal to Davis. But instead, they did.

Whether or not you agree with the player, the message remains the same - the team was ready to spend some money to win. The O’s followed this by signing two more pitchers just this past offseason to long-term deals. Andrew Cashner and Alex Cobb were both given deals that we may have never seen had the Davis contract not been inked. In some ways, Davis could be viewed as the player that opened the floodgates for the Orioles to spend money, something fans have been clamoring for year after year.

I’m not going to try to defend Davis’ high strikeout numbers or weakened power performance since he signed the contract. But there’s every reason to defend the motive behind it. That contract was extremely important for the Orioles. Signing a fan favorite to solidify a position for multiple years was a big deal at the time. There were certainly some whose eyes bulged when they saw the details of the contract after it was signed, but there weren’t many barking loudly about it being a mistake.

It remains a big deal that the Orioles made an important commitment two years ago. It has led to other commitments that the team has made in an attempt to stay competitive. They knew they weren’t going to get the 2013, or even the 2015, version of Davis every year. But they got the power bat they paid for, and it’s one that according to Showalter is currently dealing with “inner pressure.” Showalter is also confident in Davis’ ability to turn it around and finding himself. I’m in that camp, as well.

Andrew Stetka blogs about the Orioles for Eutaw Street Report. Follow him on Twitter: @AStetka. His thoughts on the O’s appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s continuing commitment to welcome guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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