The Orioles have interest in free-agent outfielder Rajai Davis as the team looks to add some speed to its outfield mix, reports Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun. The O’s have previously been linked to Angel Pagan amidst their search for a corner outfielder/leadoff man, but Encina writes that the team’s interest in Davis may have surpassed its interest in Pagan at this point.
Davis, 36, enjoyed a solid season with the Indians in 2016. While his two-run homer off Aroldis Chapman in Game 7 of the World Series might be what most fans associate with the 11-year veteran, strong glovework and exceptional baserunning are what made Davis such a valuable commodity in Cleveland last year. In 495 plate appearances, Davis batted just .249/.306/.388, and though he did slug a career-best 12 homers, his strikeout rate climbed to a career-high 21.4 percent. Davis uncharacteristically struggled against left-handed pitching last year despite boasting a very solid .288/.343/.437 slash against southpaws in his career.
Capable of playing all three outfield positions, Davis was a passable though unspectacular option in left field and center field with Cleveland in 2016 (depending on one’s preferred metric/method of evaluation). He’d be in line mostly for corner work with the Orioles, due to Adam Jones’ presence in center field, and could reasonably function in a platoon capacity with Hyun Soo Kim if Baltimore isn’t keen on giving Kim a chance against left-handed pitching in 2017. (Kim received just 22 plate appearances against southpaws last year.) Of course, Davis may well be looking for a more significant role, and his respectable defense and prowess on the bases plus a lack of proven options on the roster could allow that to materialize in Baltimore.
Davis’ 43 stolen bases in 2016 not only led the American League — they were more than twice as many as the Orioles’ entire roster mustered over the life of the regular season. Baltimore, somewhat stunningly, managed just 19 stolen bases on the year in 2016. That’s the lowest single-season total of any team since the Tigers stole just 17 bases as a team all the way back in 1972. And, Davis’ baserunning value extends beyond his raw stolen base numbers, as Fangraphs rated him as the game’s second-best baserunner last year, trailing only Billy Hamilton, due largely to his ability to take extra bases in non-stealing situations (going first to third, second to home, etc.).
Baltimore has reportedly been in talks with Mark Trumbo for quite some time about a return to play right field, although the team could conceivably add Trumbo and an outfielder, electing to use Trumbo primarily as a DH while deploying more defensively gifted options in the outfield. Pagan, too, would provide a solid defensive option with a bit of speed — albeit less than Davis — though it’s not entirely clear what the asking price for either Davis or Pagan is at this juncture. That, of course, will factor heavily into Baltimore’s thought process — especially if talks with Trumbo continue and/or intensify in the weeks to come.