Free Agent Projection: Chris Davis

Baltimore Orioles first baseman, Chris Davis, is in the final year of his contract where he is making $12 mil/yr. At age 29, Davis has had a roller-coaster of a career starting in Texas where he burst onto the scene hitting 17 & 21 homers in his first two seasons. After which, he declined dramatically the next season hitting just under .200 for Texas. The following season he was traded to Baltimore where he revived his career and met his long-awaited potential. Today, Davis is one of the biggest power hitters in the game. He hit 53 homers in 2013 and 43 homers thus far in ’15. With Davis on the market we know clubs will be interested in his bat along with some other big FA names such as Yoenis Cespedes, Justin Upton and Alex Gordon.

Photo by Algerina Perna

Photo by Algerina Perna

The problem with Chris Davis is that he’s somewhat inconsistent. As a power hitter we can take a look at his slugging percentage, which will give us a better indication of his extra-base hits and power numbers. In seasons with at least 300+ at-bats he slugged an average of .507 but has a standard deviation of .091. It seems he has struggled to find consistency with his hitting, especially last season when he hit .194, with 23 homers and a slugging mark of .404. Compared to his .286/53 HR/.634 campaign in 2013, it is a huge difference.

If we take a look at a similar power hitter in Nelson Cruz, in his seasons with at least 300 ABs he slugged a similar average of .515 with a SD of only .04. Cruz is more of a model of consistency and has been less risky than Davis. Besides his one season of slugging .460, Cruz was always in the mid-.500s. Which is great for a power hitter. This is a big reason I am not a huge fan of Chris Davis. He just hasn’t shown a high level of consistency.

Another is his strikeout rate, which is extremely high. Since his first full season in Baltimore, Davis struck out 169, 199, 173, 182 times over the last 4 seasons. That’s good for a 31% K-Rate. Easily one of the worst in the league. His 196 strikeouts this season also happen to lead the league! Although he strikes out a ton, he gets the job done by driving in runs. Which at the end of the day could be seen as more important. Davis drove in 138 runs in 2013, 86 in ’14 and so far 110 in ’15. Did I mention he’s also eighth in the league with 118 runs created. A stat used to measure how valuable a player is to contributing runs to his team. So with great power comes great responsibility. Davis may strike out but he can really drive the ball. To me, he’s a high-reward/high-risk guy.

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Interested teams:
Chris Davis is so valuable to the Orioles in terms of producing runs it’s hard to imagine him being let go without a fight. I think the Orioles will absolutely make him an offer. He’s already making $12m/yr and the O’s have a lot of money coming off the books this winter (Orioles’ Payroll). Only $41m is committed to next season ($119m payroll this year). So I can see them raising their price tag to about $18m/yr. The O’s are in a position to win now with Machado/Jones and a fairly young team so if they aren’t getting Davis they will no doubt be spending on others.

Other teams I can see having interest in Davis would be Seattle, San Diego, and Houston. Seattle is the kind of team to pay up for hitting; I could see them doing that with Davis as they did with Cano/Cruz. They need offense but they already have Trumbo at first base who has been decent. If they could move Trumbo I could see them making a play for Davis. Having Cano-Cruz-Davis would be quite powerful. They’re losing some money with Rodney & Jackson coming off the books. Seattle could be really interesting to watch.

The Padres I could see showing some interest but only if they lose Justin Upton and keep Wil Myers in CF. I think they’ll try to re-sign Upton who has had a good year playing in Petco Park. They’ve played Myers at 1B occasionally because of his injury concerns. With no DH, it’s harder to maneuver players around. Yet, again, AJ Preller is a magician so no one can really predict what he will do next. I think the Padres’ concern would be as Davis gets older he could regress on the defensive side of the ball and offensively. Petco Park is a pitcher’s palace so if Davis’ power dropped off his value would really take a hit. Putting Davis in as a full-time DH later in his career would help him maintain his power and consistency like it has for David Ortiz and A-Rod.

The Astros are a wild card I think. I said in the Cespedes post, they have a ton of cash to spend but only if they’re willing to spend it. They love guys who hit home runs. That’s basically their back end of the lineup (Carter, Valbuena, Rasmus). Their 1B Chris Carter ($4.5m) is a mini Chris Davis (low avg/high power) and he will be headed to arbitration. But in the offseason I think they will look to upgrade. They’ll obviously want to replace him with someone more improved. But Davis will cost them a lot; as a more analytics front office I’m not sure if they would see the value in paying up for him. Then again, pairing Davis, who hits lefty, with Correa/Altuve would really help them score runs along with mixing and matching their lineup.

Honorable Mentions: 
The last two teams I looked into with 1B trouble were the Cardinals and Pirates. St. Louis has Matt Adams coming off the DL and we’re not sure if he’s 100% just yet. We know Brandon Moss is not a long-term solution. The Pirates’ Pedro Alvarez has been super inconsistent with Pittsburgh. I think they’ll look to upgrade or float around some other names during the offseason. To be honest, I think Adam Lind would be a great addition to the Cardinals or Pirates instead of Davis. Adam Lind has a club option for $8m this offseason; he hits lefty and has had a solid year for Milwaukee. Overall, I don’t think these two teams will end up throwing money at Chris Davis but they may need 1B help next season. Its baseball, anything can happen.

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In the end, I believe Davis enjoys playing in Baltimore. Due to his success there, the favorable ballpark and the DH factor I think he should stay. For his long-term career he should seriously consider staying in the AL with the DH factor. But I think another club will come in and make a play to acquire Davis. Power/RBIs come at a premium these days. Dan Duquette, GM of the Orioles, has experience and knows what he’s doing. If the price tag became too high I think he will definitely consider looking elsewhere on the market. Possibly an Adam Lind or Mark Trumbo.

Similar players such as Nelson Cruz signed a 4yr/57m (14m AVV) at age 34 and Albert Pujols signed a 10y/240m (24mAAV) in 2011. This sets a decent basis for Davis. In terms of his contract, I think Davis could get a 5-year deal worth about $18-21 million a year. His WAR for this season is 4.2 which puts him in the ballpark for this. So, it’s near our estimation. Personally, I would not give Davis $20m for 5 years. I think that’s going overboard but some teams are more into his skill than others. Power really comes at a premium in today’s game and Davis has a ton of it. I wouldn’t be surprised if it went to 6 years, but I just don’t see as many teams bidding on Davis right now. Scott Boras is his agent which will probably drive up the asking price. That may turn off the Orioles which could lead to another club coming in and swooping up Crash Davis. I think it’s favored to be the Orioles or Mariners come signing day.

Projection: 5 years, $100 million



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The Dude
Guest
The Dude

The Orioles need to do some real soul searching and consider a full blown rebuild this offseason. They have 7 players hitting free agency this year, and one of the worst minor league systems in all of baseball. With Jones/Machado, they have two young, bona fide stars, and very little else (excluding the impending free agents). Trading Jones and/or Machado would be incredibly painful. But the return in prospects would be astronomical, which, along with a handful of draft compensations, would make their inevitable rebuild much quicker.

rustydude
Member

Davis added 1.4 WAR down the stretch, from the time this piece was written. Boras will be selling the hell out of the 2013 and 2015 production. He’ll sign for well over $100 mill now.