The Baltimore Orioles are paying Chris Davis because he can do one thing well, and the same idea worked out pretty well for the Ravens with Joe Flacco.
Baltimore, Maryland — Charm City. It’s a pretty nice place to call home with a solid sports history that can boast three World Series titles for the Baltimore Orioles and two Super Bowls for the Baltimore Ravens. Despite the past successes, the city itself does pose difficulties for its sports franchises. Baltimore is the 26th-largest market in MLB and the 22nd-biggest in the NFL.
With those figures in mind, it’s understandable that both teams will always have to find creative ways to win if they want to keep up with the richer teams in their respective leagues. The Orioles actually held a massive advantage in the late 1990s with Camden Yards revolutionizing ballpark design and drawing huge crowds. Now, though, it is more important to generate revenue through massive television deals. The Orioles still have a sweetheart deal with their own network, but the Washington Nationals are working hard to rip up the initial agreement that allowed them to leave Montreal and move into the Mid-Atlantic market.
Because the NFL operates under a hard salary cap, the Ravens do have an easier time keeping up with the New Yorks, Chicagos and Bostons of the world. The Orioles went 15 years between playoff trips from 1997 to 2012 as they floundered about without a concrete rebuilding plan to keep pace with their more well-heeled AL East rivals.
Despite the minor differences in their league’s financial structures, the Ravens and Orioles are a fascinating case study based on their decisions to pay out massive money to inherently flawed players at key positions. Chris Davis, the homer-happy first baseman, and Joe Flacco, the deep-ball chuckin’ Super Bowl Hero, were both paid top dollar without possessing any of the skills that make a player truly elite, and their contracts could set the Orioles and Ravens back half a decade when it comes to fielding a competitive team.
Since Flacco signed his monster contract, the Ravens are just 40-40 and have missed the playoffs three years in a row for the first time since they entered the league in 1996. The front office has been unable to find competent receivers to run routes for Flacco, and he has barely thrown more interceptions than touchdowns since signing his contract. Additionally, the Ravens have been forced to make cuts in spending on their vaunted defense and have struggled to defend the pass.
The Orioles appear to be getting an even worse deal with Davis, whose only valuable skill is hitting home runs. He is off to a 1-for-20 start to 2018 with six strikeouts and has hit .215/.319/.435 since signing the most expensive contract in Orioles history. Davis is being paid through his age 36 season and already looks completely done as a useful MLB hitter. He struck out looking 75 times last season in only 524 plate appearances.
Thanks to the salary cap (and non-guaranteed contracts), the Ravens should be able to rebound more quickly from Flacco’s disastrous contract than the Orioles will from their $161-million mistake. The decision to sign Davis could potentially set the team back a decade in terms of rebuilding, and it will likely cost them even an outside shot at scrounging up enough cash to make a remotely competitive offer to keep actual superstar Manny Machado. In Machado’s final year, the Orioles — decidedly “all-in” — are running out a bullpen that features two Rule 5 picks who have no business being in the big leagues and a rotation that looks barely improved from last year’s disaster.
Of the two franchise-crippling contracts, Flacco’s does look better, but not by much. At least he won a Super Bowl and was coming off one of the best playoff runs in NFL history. Davis hit below .200 during the Orioles run to the ALCS in 2014 and was suspended for the postseason due to a failed drug test. That he received a seven-year deal seems due more to the fact that notoriously-controlling owner Peter Angelos felt stung by the blowback after he failed to spend enough to put his team over the top after coming a series short of winning it all.
Flacco and Davis came riding into Baltimore on a high, but both will likely end their careers as the most disappointing players in team history. They will forever be linked in city history as the one player who crippled a franchise financially and brought it to its knees. That’s truly a shame because both are pillars in the community and stand-up men. The money, though, and a failure to produce, is what will define the legacies of Joe Flacco and Chris Davis in Baltimore.