The short-term future in Baltimore appears bleak as the Orioles enter a long rebuild. They have overturned their entire organization, but the one bird that will not fly away is first baseman Chris Davis. The question at hand is how the team will proceed with their Chris Davis situation.
En route to 115 losses last season, they traded away the vast majority of the core that led them to three postseason appearances, including the likes of Manny Machado and Zack Britton. Davis is the only one remaining.
To say Davis has been nothing short of awful is an understatement. In 2018, Davis finished with a .168 batting average, the lowest among qualifying players (minimum 502 plate appearances) in baseball history. If that is not enough to emphasize how bad his offensive production has been, also consider that a local bar centered a free drinks promotion solely around Davis getting a hit last year.
Now in his 12th season, Davis has a career .236/.319/.469 slash line with 283 home runs and 745 RBI. He had a stretch from, 2012-2015 where he averaged 40 home runs a year, including league highs of 53 in 2013 and 47 in 2015.
Sandwiched between those seasons is a 2014 season with a sub .200 batting average and only 26 home runs. In spite of that and Davis’ boom-or-bust history, the Orioles re-signed him to a massive contract after the 2015 season.
Davis has always been the kind of player that you ignore the flaws of as long as he is close to the league lead in home runs with a respectable batting average. Well, since signing that contract, he has seen his home run totals regress every season to just 16 last year, despite playing in 128 games. His batting average has followed the same trend, going from .262 in 2015 to the infamous .168 record of last season.
Davis is on the verge of making more history this year. From last September through Davis’ first eight games of 2019, he is hitless in his last 44 at-bats. The record for the most consecutive hitless at bats is 46 by Eugenio Velez in 2010-2011
Parting ways with Davis would be the ideal scenario for Baltimore, although that will be hard to accomplish. A trade may be just what Davis needs to revitalize his career, although that will be extremely difficult to pull off. After 2019, he still has three years left on his contract, ultimately paying $161 million over seven seasons. Regardless of the contract, his recent production proves to be a red flag for any organization.
With a trade realistically out of consideration, the Orioles could always result to cutting Davis. This action has been taken by teams for player with bad contracts in the past. The most recent examples include Troy Tulowitzki with the Toronto Blue Jays during this past offseason and Jose Reyes by the Colorado Rockies in 2016.
The issue with cutting Davis right now is that the Orioles will have to continue to pay him through the remainder of his contract unless another team picks him up. That agreement pays him a base salary of $17 million through 2022, with $42 million deferred from 2023 to 2037. As a result, they will have to pay him the base salary regardless of whether he is on the team.
Stick With Him
Given the guaranteed money owed to Davis, the Orioles should opt to stick with him and pray that he raises his average back over .200 and rediscovers some of his power. Davis does not necessarily need to return to averaging 40 home runs a year. At this point, the Orioles would be fine with his 2017 numbers (.215 AVG, 26 home runs).
The Orioles currently have the worst farm system in baseball, and have no first basemen in their top 30 prospect rankings. That shows that as bad as Davis has played, he appears to be the organization’s best option at first base for the moment.
As he embarks through his age-33 season, an approximate replication of his 2017 numbers make him worth keeping around for now because that kind of first base production is not currently present in their farm system.
While sticking with Davis is the best option right now, eventually, some form of the aforementioned cutting of ties would be more realistic and more likely to come to fruition as he inches closer and closer to the end of this abysmal contract.
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