Orioles have tough decision to make on suspended slugger Chris Davis

After poor season, 25-game suspension, he might have played his last game here

September 13, 2014|Peter Schmuck

While the Orioles deal with the reality that slugger Chris Davis cannot come back this year unless they get past the divisional round of the playoffs, it might be time for Orioles fans to deal with the possibility that he won't be coming back at all.

Davis is still under club control for one more season, but even before he was suspended for 25 games for a second violation of baseball's amphetamine policy, you had to wonder whether he would start the 2015 season in an Orioles uniform.

He will be heading into his final year before free-agency eligibility, which is the time when cost-conscious teams begin considering whether they would be better off dealing a high-priced player rather than risk losing him for possible draft choice compensation after his sixth year of major league service.

The Orioles face the same contract situation with catcher Matt Wieters, but they have little choice but to allow him to complete his comeback from Tommy John elbow surgery and return to the starting lineup before they decide whether to re-sign him, trade him or make him a qualifying offer after next season.

Baseball operations chief Dan Duquette said Saturday that the front office won't focus on the offseason until the offseason and was careful to strike a balance between Davis' poor judgment and the role he has played in the renaissance of the franchise over the past three years.

"He's done some great things for the team,'' Duquette said. "He has hit more home runs than anybody else in baseball the last couple years. He's been a good solid defender. He made the transition from first base to third base when we had the injury. The body of work has been good. Very good."

That's all true, and Davis is not accused of a serious crime. What he is clearly guilty of is putting the team's postseason prospects at risk by gambling that he would not be caught using Adderall without MLB approval.

Certainly, that doesn't disqualify him from returning next season, especially to a team that just gave Nelson Cruz a second chance after he served a 50-game suspension last year for his part in a performance-enhancing drug scandal. It might, however, change the way Davis is perceived by the teammates he let down in the late stages of what already has been a very successful and uplifting season.

It could come down to whether the Orioles play well in the postseason and — if not — whether there is a perception that Davis' absence clearly damaged the club's chances of going all the way.

"So many things are going to happen between the end of this season and next year," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "I don't know. It would be part of the overall evaluation. When you step back and say where are we, where are we going and what are we going to do. That's pretty deep. I don't know if we're there yet. We're trying to kind of stay at face value."

Showalter moved quickly on Friday morning to make sure his players had all the facts available so they could evaluate the situation without having to filter out inaccurate information.

"I talked to the position players in the advance meeting like I always do,'' he said. "I wanted them to know everything I knew, all the stuff that might floating out there and exactly what I know. The timeline. What happened. Same thing with the pitchers and catchers. Sat down with them. You're trying to put rumors and what have you (aside) and make sure you put it in the light that it should be put in.

"I talked to a couple of his closer friends who have been with him. I think they both were disappointed in him. ...We've all made stupid decisions."

There is one decision that the Orioles probably aren't going to get a chance to make. The fact that Davis has had a very disappointing season and capped it with a drug suspension might appear to put the club in a more favorable position to negotiate a contract extension, but agent Scott Boras doesn't figure to hold a distress sale this winter.

The Orioles might feel the same way if a club comes looking to acquire Davis on the cheap, so the odds are he will start next season in Baltimore. Whether he finishes it here is another story.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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