C | 1B | 2B (1, 2) | 3B | SS | LF | CF | RF | DH | Bench | SP (1, 2) | RHRP | LHRP | Conclusion
|Davis on Third|
2013 1B in Review or 'And then there was Davis'
In the aftermath of the 2012 season, one of the main points to argue was what the Orioles would do if they let Mark Reynolds depart. They could have taken up his option, offered him arbitration, or tried to sign him back in free agency. The Orioles chose none of those and instead told Chris Davis that he would be using his first baseman's mitt. Here at the Depot, we agreed with what the Orioles chose to do. Mark Reynolds was overrated defensively because he had jazz hands which made many a casual fan overlook how with each play extraordinarily strong magnets kept his feet in one place for a whole second before letting him sprint off to a prime vantage point to see a ground ball depart towards whoever was manning right field at the time. His bat was also underwhelming with his value coming solely from home runs and walks, nothing else.
From both of these value perspectives, Chris Davis appeared to be the same player for at least a third of the cost. He lacked Reynolds' jazziness, but had better range. He could not walk like Reynolds, but had the same power and better contact potential. The expectation was that Chris Davis would be worth between 1.5 and 2 WAR (about the same as Reynolds was expected to be worth), which nailed what Reynolds' bat was worth over the full season (1.7 fWAR--ignore baserunning and fielding). That projection did not come close to figuring out that Davis' bat would be worth 7.9 fWAR.
How did Davis match up to other first basemen this year?
One issue with Davis was that he performed poorly at first base, defensively. It cost him roughly an entire win from his offensive contribution. Another way to look at it would be that he had the best offensive season from any first baseman, but the glove pushed him down into a conversation about whether or not Davis, Joey Votto, or Paul Goldschmidt performed best this season. That may be considered a damper, but it is always great when a team's player can be argued as the best one at that position in any given season.
In his first year of arbitration, Chris Davis was awarded 3.3 MM for the 2013 season. After a thoroughly impressive season, he was certainly due more for the upcoming season. An 8 to 9 MM figure would not be surprising. There has been some discussion about dealing Davis or signing him long term. Those two options are not decisions that necessarily need to be made this off season due to the team having two more seasons of control remaining on Davis. With the way the current team is constructed with so many players potentially leaving after next season (i.e., Nick Markakis, J.J. Hardy, Jim Johnson, Wei-Yin Chen, Darren O'Day, Matt Wieters, Bud Norris, Tommy Hunter) that it is difficult seeing it as a good idea to remove major contributors for the 2014 season. An extension is a more plausible idea to consider.
Chris Davis' Career
In 2013, Davis had his second solid season in a row, so this is not exactly out of the blue even though the magnitude of his production was surprising. With his 2009-2011 years in the wasteland, there has still be concerned that Davis' production is a mere flash in the pan. However, this sort of reminds me of Jose Bautista. He too was a prospect of decent expectations who had a great deal of difficulty refining himself and becoming a solid MLB player. Below is a basic comparison.
After his big breakout during his age 29 season, the Blue Jays were impressed enough to sign him long term with a five year, 65 MM deal before the 2011 season. Dave Cameron of Fangraphs originally expressed some doubt on the deal. However, he backtracked on his doubt a few months later. With Davis, I think he provides a more sound probability of success with respect to his bat with two solid seasons under his belt. He has these skills and he is repeatedly using them.
Chris Davis Jose Bautista Age wRC+ $ (MM) Age wRC+ $ (MM) 25 88 0.455 27 86 1.8 26 120 0.458 28 102 2.4 27 167 3.3 29 165 2.4 30 181 8 31 138 14 32 134 14
Some might contend that first half Davis was not second half Davis. I'd contend that second half Davis was a very valuable player and that sample size consideration probably need to come into play. Perhaps it is not remember, but Bautista also had a similar distribution of performance in reverse.
Moving forward, it is likely a safe assumption that Davis can be a league average 1B and/or Designated Hitter. Paying him a market value of 8-10 MM for an average first baseman is perfectly acceptable. He also has a potential to being an MVP caliber player worth up to 35 MM in production (for clarification, few at that level would ever be paid so much and Davis will not see that much value coming back to him...market value for that production is probably worth about 24 MM). To me, that sounds like a pretty safe commodity for investing in long term.
Davis Bautista April 208 100 May 224 212 June 173 92 July 111 217 August 179 207 September 105 150
Who else is available?
Of these options, there are serious questions on Hart, Konerko, Kotchman, Morneau, and Youkilis. Of those five, only Kotchman is likely to accept a minor league deal. The others (perhaps even Hart) are potential retirement candidates. Napoli and Morales will probably have arbitration offered to them and would cost the Orioles a draft pick. Reynolds and Loney would likely both demand starting positions in the field. The both are not sure bets for average 1B production. Finally, Jose Dariel Abreu is an interesting candidate who at worst is a poor man's Ryan Howard bat with no defensive position. At best, he would be a punishing slugger who will be passable enough at 1B. He could probably be had on a 4 or 5 year deal at 10 MM per season. Davis is a surer bet than him.
Age WAR 2013 (MM) Jose Dariel Abreu International 27 -- -- Corey Hart Brewers 32 -- 10 Mike Napoli Red Sox 32 3.9 5 Paul Konerko White Sox 38 -1.8 13.5 Casey Kotchman Marlins 31 -- MiL James Loney Rays 30 2.7 2 Kendrys Morales Mariners 30 1.2 5.25 Justin Morneau Twins/Pirates 33 0.8 14 Mark Reynolds Indians/Yankees 30 0.4 7 Kevin Youkilis Yankees 35 -0.4 12
The riskiest most with the biggest payoff would be for the Orioles to sign Jose Dariel Abreu to play first base and then trade Chris Davis for a few prospects or 0-3 yr immediate contributors. The risk would be that such a move would be bet that Abreu is immediately ready and that at least one of the prospects coming back in return could shore up a place of need on the team. If you can feel comfortable with that baseline then it would be a cost saving move of a few million per season. The surplus value would then come in whatever extra the prospects could pull back and whether Abreu is much better than advertised. It is an intriguing idea. It would be a move that would encourage some to call Duquette brilliant if it worked or out-of-touch if it did not. Regardless, the fan base would likely question the move in large similar to how they did with a lesser form of this deal back when Jeremy Guthrie was dealt for Jason Hammel and Matt Lindstrom.
All of this said, I would lean toward resigning Davis long term. There is no such thing as a proven veteran and I do think expecting Davis to mash 50 home runs a year is fanciful. However, I do think Davis is a 30-40 home run man for the next few seasons which should be good enough to make him at least average for this ball club. I assume that the payroll is flexible enough that the team does not need to count pennies to the extent they would leverage a deal as mentioned in the previous paragraph. On the other hand, if this team is going to have issues with payroll, then saving a few million on first base might be more significant is fully constructing a team. The addition of several high profile, cost controlled prospects would also be a boon to the organization.
My conclusion though is that penciling Davis in would be best for the future of this franchise for as long as the playoff window remains open.