8:52pm: ESPN’s Buster Olney provides further detail on Davis’ incentives (Twitter link). He’ll earn $100K for reaching 500 plate appearances, $150K for reaching 550 plate appearances and $200K for reaching 600 plate appearances.
8:40pm: After spending much of the offseason looking for a center fielder, the A’s announced on Tuesday that they’ve signed free-agent outfielder Rajai Davis to a one-year deal that will reportedly guarantee him $6MM. The 36-year-old Legacy Agency client is also said to be able to earn up to $450K worth of performance bonuses in the new contract, which will bring him back to Oakland for a second stint with the A’s. Davis previously played in Oakland from 2008-10.
Davis will give president of baseball operations Billy Beane and manager Bob Melvin a much-needed option in center field, although he could also shift over to left field in the event that Oakland adds an additional center-field-capable outfielder. He’ll join an outfield mix that currently includes Khris Davis, Matt Joyce, Brett Eibner and Jake Smolinski. Presumably, Davis will be in line for regular work in the outfield, with Khris Davis and Joyce regularly finding their names penciled into the lineup (though Khris may see frequent time at designated hitter, depending on how the rest of Oakland’s offseason shakes out).
With this new deal, Davis will receive a slight raise from last year’s $5.25MM salary with the Indians, and he’s a good bet to make good on that modest investment based on his glovework and baserunning alone. Davis posted a fairly lackluster .249/.306/.388 batting line in 2016, though he did tally the second-most plate appearances of his career and belt a career-best 12 homers (not including his dramatic home run against Aroldis Chapman in Game 7 of the World Series, which cemented Davis in Cleveland sports lore and will forever live on as an iconic Indians moment).
Davis’ batting line was still decidedly worse than the league average, but he managed to add value in the outfield (depending on your preferred defensive metric) and was among baseball’s best baserunners. Per Fangraphs, the only player in baseball who provided more value on the bases than Davis was Cincinnati’s Billy Hamilton. Indeed, Davis swiped an AL-best 43 bases and also proved adept at taking extra bases in first-to-third situations, second-to-home situations and other baserunning scenarios.
Strong baserunning has been a hallmark of Davis’ career, as he’s averaged 39 steals per season and 52 per 162 games played since cementing himself as a semi-regular player with the 2009 A’s. While he isn’t a force at the plate, Davis does have a very strong track record against opposite-handed pitching, as he’s hit lefties at a .288/.343/.437 clip over parts of 11 Major League seasons.
MLBTR’s Jeff Todd recently ran down the Athletics’ top three remaining needs of the offseason, and adding a center fielder was tops among those yet-unresolved priorities. From a payroll vantage point, Davis will send Oakland’s projected total to about $70.3MM, as MLBTR’s Jason Martinez outlines in the above-linked Roster Resource payroll projection. Oakland was reportedly willing to offer a two-year, $50MM pact to Edwin Encarnacion and is still about $16MM shy of their payroll from Opening Day 2016 even after adding Davis to the fold, so the team should have the spending capacity to add help at first base and/or in the rotation — both of which were also on Jeff’s list of remaining needs for Beane and GM David Forst.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.