The Mets were one of the most active teams in the pre-lockout frenzy, adding Max Scherzer, Starling Marte, Eduardo Escobar and Mark Canha. Those signings, along with Robinson Cano’s return from serving a season-long PED suspension, have given them a crowded position player mix. This has led to some speculation that the club could end up moving a player like Jeff McNeil, Dominic Smith or J.D. Davis, with all three of those players appearing on MLBTR’s list of the likeliest post-lockout trade candidates. It seems that Davis was garnering his fair share of attention before the lockout, as Mike Puma of the New York Post reports that the Cubs, Red Sox, Twins and Athletics all had interest in his services before the transactions freeze took hold in December.
The fact that various teams are interested in Davis is hardly surprising, given his excellent offensive skills. Since being acquired by the Mets from the Astros prior to the 2019 season, Davis has made 893 plate appearances in 269 games and has a line of .288/.373/.472. That’s good enough for a wRC+ of 130, fifth-best among third basemen with at least 850 plate appearances in that time, ahead of big names like Rafael Devers and Josh Donaldson.
Unfortunately, Davis hasn’t been as good on the other side of the ball, as advanced defensive metrics don’t look kindly upon his work at either third base or left field. For instance, Statcast’s Outs Above Average gave him -8 in 2019, followed by -6 in the shortened 2020 season and -3 in the 2021 campaign, despite playing just 73 games due to injury.
Despite those flaws, Davis should still hold plenty of appeal. The 28-year-old (29 in April) qualified for arbitration in 2021 due to reaching Super Two status and earned a salary of $2.1MM. Due to injuries holding him back last year, he is projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz for a modest raise to $2.7MM in 2022 and can be controlled for two seasons beyond that. Those factors, combined with his bat, could make him a fit on plenty of rosters, especially now that the universal designated hitter is official.
The Cubs have spent most of the past year-plus subtracting from their roster, trading away Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez and others. Since then, however, they have shown that they don’t have designs on totally tanking, as evidenced by their pre-lockout pickups of Wade Miley, Yan Gomes and Marcus Stroman. They currently have Patrick Wisdom pencilled in at the hot corner after a nice breakout campaign last year. However, he struck out in a whopping 40.8% of his plate appearances, making it questionable if he can be a long-term solution at the position.
There has been some speculation that Rafael Devers is destined to be moved off of third base in the long run, due to his defensive limitations, though Davis isn’t really an upgrade in that department. However, putting Davis in left field could be an option, if the club feels he would fit in front of the Green Monster. Jarren Duran struggled in his debut last season and could perhaps be sent to Triple-A for more reps there. Or perhaps the lefty Durran and righty Davis could complement each other in a platoon capacity.
The Twins have Josh Donaldson at third but he’s also seen significant time at DH, only taking the field in 92 of his 135 games last year. Given his age, 36, and injury history, it would make sense to acquire another option for the hot corner to help keep him healthy. Luis Arraez could fill that role at the moment, but he hasn’t produced the same level of offense as Davis thus far in his career. There also could be a path to playing time on the grass, as youngsters Alex Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach both had tepid debuts last year, putting up a wRC+ of 93 and 89, respectively.
The Athletics already have an excellent third baseman, technically, in Matt Chapman. However, it’s widely expected that the club is about to embark upon a major selloff, with Chapman being one of those most often mentioned as a trade candidate due to his increasing salary and two remaining years of control. Acquiring Davis could be a relatively affordable way of filling Chapman’s absence after a trade. The club also has big question marks in its outfield right now, after Marte and Canha both went to the Mets. Ramon Laureano will be in center field eventually, but first has to serve 27 more games of his PED suspension. Seth Brown had a decent campaign, but none of Stephen Piscotty, Chad Pinder, Skye Bolt or Luis Barrera did much to inspire confidence last year. Tony Kemp could play the outfield but may be needed at second base.
Though his ultimate destination is unknown, the sense of an impending trade seems to be growing with Davis himself. “It’s kind of 50/50, kind of a flip of the coin,” he said back in October. When asked the same question by Puma today, he said, “Now it could be say 60-40 out of here, but you never know.” Davis then elaborated, referencing the fact that Cano, McNeil, Smith and Luis Guillorme are all lefties. “Baseball is in a situation of bench players, and something like that, three or four lefties and I’m maybe the only righty, so strategically I could see myself back there, but I don’t know. Anything can happen.”