11 August 2015

Chris Davis Might Well Be Gone

After a disappointing 2014, I was one of the few proponents of extending Chris Davis.  His peripherals did not look atrocious, so I questioned whether 2014 actually communicated that he was now a fringe 1B.  Added to this, I looked forward to 2016 and saw that the organization did not have a readily apparent successor (Christian Walker, a favorite of mine, has a great deal to prove) and the free agent market was void of an alternative that was significantly better than taking a chance on Walker (slating Pearce at first simply creates another hole in the outfield).  I assumed that a deal could be made with Davis in the neighborhood of 5 years at 60 MM.  Perhaps that was an unreasonable assumption.  Davis, through the arbitration construct, would earn 12 MM in 2015.  A bounce back would earn him something along the lines of another 5 years and maybe 90 MM.  A collapse might have him sit on the edges of the Majors and pulling in another 20 MM over that same span.  In other words, does a range of 20-90 MM in earnings outweigh a certain 48 MM?  Probably, so maybe I was optimistic.  That said, no way would you want to go much higher than what I suggested after that 2014 season.

Of course, now we know that Davis has not collapsed and he may well be out of the Orioles' price range.

Chris Davis' MLB Career
2008 317 17 .331 .549 128 1.0
2009 419 21 .284 .442 85 -0.9
2010 136 1 .279 .292 51 -0.5
2011 210 5 .305 .402 89 -0.1
2011 129 2 .310 .398 92 0.0
2012 562 33 .326 .501 121 1.6
2013 ★ 673 53 .370 .634 168 6.5
2014 525 26 .300 .404 96 1.8
2015 446 29 .334 .522 133 2.7
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/10/2015.

What would it take to extend Davis?
Using an updated version of Dave Cameron's simple contract estimator, we can get a rough idea of what kind of contract Chris Davis might expect this offseason.  Let's say his projected WAR for next season is 2.5 and that we are now living in a 7 MM per win era.  That would suggest that Davis should be imagining a contract length of five years and total earnings of 87.5 MM (17.5 MM annual earnings).  If the Orioles chose to match those figures, then Davis would become the most expensive contract in Orioles history by besting Adam Jones by 2 MM.  I expect this will not happen.

Should Davis accept a Qualifying Offer?
I set up the framework of a decision making process to determine whether or not it makes sense to accept a Qualifying Offer over a year ago.  With the Qualifying Offer this year expected to be 16.4 MM and a slightly underperforming season (2 WAR) for him in 2016, we could expect an overall package of five years and 76.4 MM (1/16.4+4/60).  That value is almost 11 MM less than what he could expect to receive in Free Agency and represents likely base earnings.  As the only arguable first division first baseman in Free Agency this offseason, a team in need and perceives themselves as a playoff contender will easily hand over a draft pick, so I do not think QO restriction will hurt Davis.  In other words, I think the likely course of events includes the team QOing Davis and wishing him well in his future endeavors.  It likely is obvious to the front office that an elite deal for a 30-year-old first baseman rarely ever works out.

If not Walker, then who?
We can look around baseball to gauge some onerous contracts that parent clubs might be quite agreeable to let go of and may very well be available now.  Six names immediately came to mind and are shown in the table below (all contracts assume first opt out date will be taken).

Through $ Left WAR Left Net
Pablo Sandoval 2019 75 3.7 -49
Justin Morneau 2016 9 0.2 -7.4
Ryan Howard 2016 35 -0.7 -40
Pedro Alvarez 2016 7.5 -0.2 -9
Ike Davis 2016 5 7 2
Jon Singleton 2018 6.5 7.2 43.2
On second thought, some of the players above are likely not being looked to move.  The Astros' Jon Singleton may have been a disappointment so far, but still looks to be an amazing deal moving forward.  If the Astros have soured on him, he would be the gem of the bunch.  At worst, he costs the club 6.5 MM which is also known as a Delmon Young, Wesley Wright, Everth Cabrera special.  So again, the reasons he looks like a great piece for the Orioles probably are the same reasons why the Astros would keep him.  I think you would be looking at a cost of maybe Jomar Reyes and Mychal Givens to acquire him.  At most, we are talking about Dylan Bundy.

Justin Morneau, Ike Davis, and Pedro Alvarez are tweeners.  The Rockies have dealt several players to not only increase payroll flexibility, but also to keep themselves in gear for 2016.  Dealing Morneau would mean a change of plans for 2016, a season in which they still seem to think has them in contention.  Morneau is the kind of cheap, big reward first base option they would likely love to have and for which the free agent market appears slight.  Oakland is likely very willing to discuss Ike Davis.  At a likely arbitration value of 5 MM, he appears to be the kind of lottery ticket the Athletics would work with.  However, he would also be a player where the upside is slim enough that the team would be open to converting Davis into something else.  Two potential plays would be either Christian Walker or Steve Clevenger.

Pedro Alvarez has had another season that further rubs away the shine he had when drafted.  He is no longer a suitable third baseman and simply gets along with the glove at first.  His bat continues to flash promise, but more often show failure.  Alvarez is a non-tender candidate at 7.5 MM and would probably get himself a deal around 5 MM or so in free agency.  That might be a close enough difference that another club might be willing to pay in hopes that maybe, just maybe, Alvarez is a late bloomer.  I imagine a power arm like Lazaro Leyva would easily get the Pirates' attention after the season.  If Alvarez would make his way through waivers, then the Orioles would have to supply something useful for the Pirates bench.  The club does not seem to have an abundance of that.

Pablo Sandoval might be a provocative option here.  Only one year into his deal, Sandoval has been a massive (forgive the unintentional pun) disappointment.  His hitting has been poor and he does not look capable of defending the hot corner.  The Red Sox other big free agent play, Hanley Ramirez, has shown a slightly more competent bat, but looks a bit lost in left field as well.  As they have done in the past, the Red Sox may be willing to eat some of Sandoval's contract and move Ramirez back to third.  Sandoval's current projection has him being worth 26 MM over the rest of his contract.  If you ignore his 2015 season, then he appears to be worth 53 MM (while costing 75 MM).  The Red Sox can afford to wait and see if Sandoval's value will rise, so they might be willing to cover up to 30 MM in exchange for a couple interesting, but not important, prospects.  I could see a power arm and a position prospect, perhaps Leyva and Jonah Heim.

Ryan Howard, through no fault of his own, is an obscene 2016 contract.  He has a 25 MM base and an almost assured 10 MM buyout to prevent a 25 MM 2017 season.  As such, he is worth no prospect of any value no matter what the Phillies assume.  Would the Phillies eat 30 MM in order to save 5 MM?  I imagine they could do a similar deal mid-season if he bounces back and at worst lose that 5 MM.  If I was the Phillies, I would be more likely to listen to a deal where the Phillies covered 20 to 25 MM.  At that level, it probably makes no sense for the Orioles to try for that.

I would be open to four options: Jon Singleton, Ike Davis, Pablo Sandoval, or Walker/Pearce.  Thoughts?


Anonymous said...

Any chance Mancini is a factor?

Jon Shepherd said...

Mancini has emerged to being considered a fringe prospect this year. Performance is solid, but the swing is a bit long. The question is whether he can both cut down on the swing while maintaining his power as he moves up and faces considerably more advanced pitching. Optimistic perspective is that he begins knocking very politely on the door in 2017. Realistically, he sits in Norfolk for a couple years getting a few cups of coffee. I think given the reports on him, he would need to excel in Norfolk and excel almost immediately in Baltimore for the team to provide him with any meaningful opportunity.

In other words, he appears to be a very minimal factor and is more likely the kind of guy Duquette would deal in an August trade for a struggling bat or arm.

Phil said...

I don't like the idea of going back to being non-competitive for any period of time given the window with Machado and Jones ends after 2018 as well.

Assuming we want to contend next year, let's say the O's have in the range of $25MM to $30MM (could be a little high) post-arb money to spend in free agency this offseason, you could theoretically make a couple good signings. If Davis is going to eat up most of that on his own, probably not worth it. The O's will have to obtain at least one viable, everyday corner OF in order to have Pearce/Reimold/Lough patrol the other side. Only Pearce could potentially be an everyday player, but I think that has to be option B (again, assuming you want to contend at least for a WC spot). In that situation, they really would need a starting 1B as well. And with Chen also like out the door, do you trust some combo of Bundy/Wilson/Wright to fill out a 5th rotation spot?

I'm just not sure how to work it. You need an everyday corner OF, a bat to replace Davis and a 5th starter. How you get that for $25-30MM I don't know.

Jon Shepherd said...

If Davis is considered a must and 17.5 is too rich (it likely is), you could always hand out something like:
2016 - 10 MM
2017 - 12 MM
2018 - 14 MM
2019 - 20 MM
2020 - 20 MM
2021 - 24 MM (8 MM buyout)

Of course, that is throwing away 2019 and 2020 most likely as well as assuming that Davis would accept a low front end pay.

Matt Perez said...

Alvarez may not have much talent but his left-handed power would be an excellent fit for Camden Yards. The problem is that Snider had a very similar profile and just flopped at Camden Yards so the Os may be wary. Would be surprised but not shocked if he wasn't non-tendered.

He has a UZR of -9.5 and 16 errors (13 fielding). Since 2000, he has the sixth most errors at first base total despite only 650 innings there so far. UZR has this season ranked as the eighteenth worse so far. I imagine that teams are using one of these two stats and won't be impressed with his results. He's solely a DH or PH at this point. NL teams probably would be interested in him as a PH but the Orioles could offer regular playing time as a DH.

I can see a few AL teams having interest, primarily ones like the Rays looking for cheap solutions.

Jon Shepherd said...

Sixth most errors at first base with 16 since 2000? I have a hard time believing that is accurate. Amongst active players, it is about 30 something most. Were you referring to a different stat?

Anyway, yeah, he would be a bit of a mess at first.

Matt Perez said...

I suppose it's possible that Fangraphs is lying to me but I don't think so. And Fangraphs does measure errors by position and not just errors by player (i.e some players play multiple positions and have different error totals at each one) First basemen have fewer errors than third basemen and shortstops but more than outfielders.


Lou said...

Should the O's consider trading off Davis, Wieters, Chen, etc, if they clear waivers? I know they aren't far out of the wild card but they also don't seem to be able to get over 4 games over .500. Should they try and get in this year and hope for a Royals-like run in the playoffs, and be prepared to slide into mediocrity? Or sell off and hope to get enough prospects that Jones and Machado won't immediately leave when they become free agents? Just thinking about this, since it seems like they won't be able to re-sign Davis...

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Why would any of those three clear waivers?

Jon Shepherd said...

@MP - Oh, single season.

@Lou - Maybe at the end of the month, but those guys are paid rather cheaply. I would be surprised if they passed through.

@Matt - Sandoval and Howard would pass through. The others? Unlikely. You would have to hope that teams worse than the Orioles would not claim.

Jeremy said...

Just playing devil's advocate here from an outside perspective re: Mancini, but don't you think a 179 wRC+ is a little better than "solid" performance? His .970 OPS is 65 points better than the top qualified hitter in the league. If he was 23 putting up those numbers in the SAL or something, I would not give it a second thought, but he's actually improved as he's moved up. There is a very interesting parallel to his statistical progression in Victor Martinez, who similarly was just okay in the NYPL at age 20, struggled a bit in his first taste of A+ ball in the Carolina League, and then proceeded to demolish AA pitching at 23. The numbers are strikingly similar with the notable exception of Martinez drawing more walks. In Martinez' case, he was in the majors to stay by the second half of the following season.

In any case, statistically the biggest minor league jump is from A+ to AA, and it's usually a good sign when someone makes the adjustment as smoothly as he has. I read about a month ago that he had made substantial adjustments to his swing this year. I guess my bottom line is that maybe your "optimistic perspective" is not optimistic enough. If nothing else, I fail to see how Walker is any more likely to be our 1B of the future.

Jon Shepherd said...

Statistically...a lot of things are ignored. You certainly want to see performance, but you also want that to be supported by scouting. I certainly have no idea what the consensus is, but according to three scouts opinion ranges from third to second tier. One gave a career comp of John Jaso. The other agreed with me when I said Mancini looks like someone in the Russ Canzler group of players. Today, I was messing around with a lightly considered but proprietary statistical comp system and it mentioned both of those guys as statistical comps.

In other words, scouts see him as fringe and a more rigorous statistical outlook is also seeing him as fringe. I have a hard time formulating a stronger argument against those pieces of evidence. And, yes, the swing is better, but it is still long. Each scout noted that.

Jon Shepherd said...

Just to elaborate on the whole "AA is a big jump" thought for those who might not be aware. The major issue for players in AA is that this level is where plans are made. Before this, you can get by on talent because you face a great number of players who have difficulty implementing a hitting or pitching approach. In Bowie, you will often see a young player breakout for a half season and then come back to earth once a book on him is more firmly established. Players like Joe Mahoney, Brandon Waring, Christian Walker, and Ryan Hubele may run wild on the league due to unfamiliarity with them and a little bit of BABIP luck.

From AA, projections get a tad better, but discerning the difference between guys who plan for fastballs at a certain level and guys who adapt to changing approaches taken against him may not show up in the box score. However, a guy who waits on high fastballs in the minors may simply not see much of anything hittable there at the MLB level.

Beyond AA, the jump to AAA sees retention of about 10% of offense. Prospects that are developing well should see themselves retain their numbers when moving up to AAA. From AAA to MLB, retention of value is about 80%. Again, an improving player should cut down that loss a little. And again, these are community projections. You will find several players not adhere to these generalities.

Jeremy said...

Fair enough...like the vast majority of prospects Mancini faces a very steep uphill climb to be a successful MLer. Especially given his defensive limitations. I'm not sure what the consensus would be either.

I understand the need to matrix stats and scouting reports for a player's true prospects, but the Jaso comparison is a puzzling one given that he is a guy who has made a career out of being patient and getting on base, which does not seem to be Mancini's strength or MO.

Jon Shepherd said...

He probably was referring to that aspect of Jaso. Comps are not supposed to be all encompassing. He was discussing the hit tool. Obviously, Jaso without the walks is a tough sell.

Jon Shepherd said...

I mean *not* referring to that aspect of Jaso.

Jeremy said...

Got it. Thanks for the context on the moves from AA-->AAA-->MLB...I've heard some of those explanations before but not so concisely presented.

Philip said...

The list of guys in this article is rather depressing.
It seems that the O's can't buy top-grade steak, but these options really seem past the date.
With the caveat that any minor leaguer is a gamble, is there any point to scouring other AA-AAA rosters for possibilities?
I guess that is happening anyway, but I can't see any of the fellows listed in your article as solid assets except just possibly for Singleton, who reminds one of Mark Reynolds with less contact.

Jon Shepherd said...

There are probably a few Snider type guys who are in danger of being waived or nontendered.

Anonymous said...

O's get competitive balance picks for each guy that they give qualifying offers to who turn them down:

-Davis + Chen, worth adding in the value calculations of not signing them. A competitive balance pick has to have some kind of player value to the team... what is it.. like 3.5 WAR SPREAD OVER FIRST 6 YEARS OF PLAY?

Do O's get a competitive balance pick with Parra?

Jon Shepherd said...

Competitive balance picks are decided by lottery while compensation round picks are decided by rejected qualifying offers with signings by other teams before the draft.

A compensation round pick is worth about 5-10 MM if in the first round and 2-4 MM if in the second round. I do make mention of how these picks impact the signing club, but those picks are outside of the scope of this argument. This argument is simply about what Davis is worth and what other 1B options are out there.

No pick with Parra. A player has to be under control for the entire season.

Michael Wallace said...
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