Quick, if you are Dan Duquette, which of the below options most concerns you?
A. Holding off as long as you can to make a decision about how much is too much for one of your top players
B. Signing a somewhat lesser player, but one that allows you cost certainty
If your answer is A, then go stand in the long line with Comcast SportsNet Baltimore's Rich Dubroff, who says the Orioles have two more years of control in the case of catcher Matt Wieters, which is plenty of time to figure it all out. Or, you can stand in the shorter line with me in saying the Orioles should jump on signing either Brian McCann or Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and turn around and shop Wieters, one of their mainstays and most valuable players.
That debate is out of the closet, with Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal suggesting it might be wise for the Birds to go ahead and lock up some cost certainty with a four-year deal for $36 million to $40 million with Saltalamacchia, rather than wait idly by as Wieters' agent, Scott Boras, delays any substantive talks until he is in full free-agency mode.
Boras routinely does this to great effect for his players and often helps his clients get the top dollar they can get. That's his job, and any argument that he isn't the best in his business is off-kilter.
But a general manager and his mission are oftentimes diametrically opposed to Boras' delaying precepts. Duquette needs to line up his ducks in a row to ensure the Orioles keep gaining ground on the top five teams in MLB -- and not recede from the large strides they have made to get into the top dozen.
The big-market teams will outspend those that reside in markets the size of Baltimore. This much remains as true today as it was in 1976, when Reggie Jackson left the Orioles for the big free-agent dollars in New York. As long as the clock ticks, the dollars go up.
If that last part of the equation were not true, then why would Boras delay until the last minute in almost every deal he ever does? He has the commodity, and the price for commodities seemingly always rises.
That is, unless once in a while the team proactively stops that process by refusing to play in Boras' sandbox. Further complicating the situation with Wieters is that Boras also represents Orioles first baseman Chris Davis.
Both Wieters and Davis are under team control through the 2015 season. Does anything figure to change between now and then that would help with the fiscal insanity approaching the twin contracts these two will command?
I wrote a column in March 2012 and predicted the then-ungodly contract Yadier Molina had signed (a five-year deal for $75 million, which kicked in during the 2013 season) might well cost the Orioles Wieters. Although Wieters has been a disappointment offensively, he figures to be in a good position to command somewhere near a six-year deal worth $108 million to $115 million.
So that would be about $19 million per year for Wieters. Now, say you do not sign Davis this offseason, and he has 42-45 home runs, 115 RBIs and close to a .300 average in 2014. What is he worth? He could command a six-year, $135 million deal -- that's $22.5 million per season.
You catch my drift, then? These discussions don't even take into account long-term deals for third baseman Manny Machado and ace-to-be Chris Tillman. You can also read the tea leaves -- that no matter how much manager Buck Showalter supports closer Jim Johnson, he'll support him only so long as he is willing to sign one-year deals.
All this whirling dervish of dollars and you hope it stops with a World Series appearance or two.
My point is that saving $7 million to $8 million per season during the next 4-5 years is more worthwhile than sticking to the status quo with a Boras client and finding new ways Boras can extract green from you.
Showalter is protective of his players, and he speaks glowingly about them. Wieters is at the top of his field in terms of handling a pitching staff and throwing out base runners. Although those are great attributes to have in a catcher, the Braves made the 2013 playoffs with McCann and the Red Sox won a World Series with Saltalamacchia as their primary catchers. Showalter can learn to talk glowingly about one of them, who could afford his club the opportunity to sign another player that makes it inch closer to the top.