It’s May 5, 2014 and the Baltimore Orioles batting average leader is Matt Wieters. That’s something I never expected to type. At .337, Wieters average is 17 points higher than their second ranked O’s slugger, Delmon Young and ranks eighth in Major League Baseball. I should just copy and paste that second sentence right here again:
That’s something I never expected to type.
With every hit that Wieters records, I have to admit that I do grow a little more concerned. Don’t get me wrong, it’s exciting to see the Birds switch hitting catcher finally live up to that 2008 PECOTA projection and some of those Matt Wieters Facts from back in the day, but I can just hear the sounds of cash registers going off the more with each clutch hit.
It’s been said a million times here on BSR, but I’ll say it again just for emphasis: Wieters and Chris Davis are scheduled to hit free agency after the 2015 season. This year is the perfect time to negotiate a contract extension. Unless of course his agent, Scott Boras, recommends that no matter what Dan Duquette and the O’s offer, Wieters turns it down to make the most money in free agency. And that’s what Boras tells all of his clients.
Of course, agents work for players and if the player hears an extension offer he wants, he can tell the agent he’s taking it. Believe it or not it has happened before with Boras clients. Jered Weaver signed his extension with the Angels before hitting the open market.
What concerns me though is that we’ve never heard Wieters talk about wanting to stay in Baltimore. Maybe he’s just not the type of guy to ever talk about his contract or doesn’t want to give phony lip service to the fans. Maybe he wants a big payday.
Davis on the other hand has addressed a potential extension numerous times, likely because when you hit 53 dongs people want to know if you’re going to stick around. “If things start getting serious, I’ll address it, but at the same time, if we’re in the thick of things, I don’t want to be sidetracked by contract talks,” Davis told MASNSports.com’s Steve Melewski back on March 16.
For some reason, I always assumed that the O’s could get a contract extension done with Davis and would lose Wieters to free agency. There’s no real logic to that hypothesis (it’s likely just wishful thinking), it was based solely on the comments that had been made by Davis and hadn’t been made by Wieters. However, now that Davis is down with an oblique strain and Wieters has suddenly turned into the switch hitting phenom everyone expected him to be, maybe I had it backwards.
It’s curious to me that the Orioles seemed to have ended contract extension negotiations with J.J. Hardy. Back in spring training, it seemed like a deal with Hardy was impending. Now it sounds as though the Orioles are taking a wait and see approach. Maybe they’re confident enough in Manny Machado‘s ability to move to shortstop and need the money to keep Wieters and/or Davis.
What about Nick Markakis? Yeah, the power is probably gone, but he’s slashing .306/.361/.413 through the first 29 games of the season. His $17.5 million team option won’t get picked up, but I would imagine the Orioles will work out some of deal to keep him in Baltimore.
Last one, I swear. Nelson Cruz. His one-year, $8 million deal with the O’s is looking like the steal of the season. After failing to sign a long-term deal last winter, Cruz is highly motivated to prove his nay-sayers wrong and has hit a team-high 9 homers and 29 RBI. I always assumed that the Orioles were using him as a one-year rental this season and would let him walk at the end of the season, but maybe he’s proving to be even more valuable to the front office than I expected.
Matt Kremnitzer at Camden Depot wrote a great breakdown of why the Orioles should hold off on re-singing Cruz right now:
But I’m not really sure what the hurry would be to extend Cruz, because things can certainly change quickly. Cruz turns 34 in July, and he’s a player who only adds value with his bat. He has been brutal defensively so far while mostly playing left field (-3.2 UZR, -3 DRS). And regardless of how fans feel about them, Cruz was suspended 50 games last season for using performance-enhancing drugs. If he happens to fail another test, he could be suspended for 100 games or potentially an entire season. He is also relatively injury prone, as he has battled both hamstring and quad injuries in the past. On top of all that, there are still other red flags to keep an eye on. These issues matter less because the Orioles have Cruz inked to a one-year deal. But a long-term contract for Cruz would mean taking on substantially more risk.
There’s a lot of baseball left to be played, but I can’t help but be a little worried about the future of the Orioles. Do all these signs mean that they should really go with an all-in approach in 2014? Who knows what’s going on behind the scenes to keep this core together?
Image Credit: Keith Allison