Within a span of 37 days back in the 2015-16 offseason, the Cubs granted $184 million to Jason Heyward and the Orioles committed $161 million to Chris Davis. Four seasons in, these have become two of the worst free agent contracts in recent memory. MLBTR’s Jeff Todd breaks down how the players were perceived at the time and what’s gone wrong, in today’s video.
Then among the most threatening sluggers in baseball, Orioles first baseman Chris Davis re-signed with the team on a seven-year, $161MM contract prior to the 2016 campaign. Davis was coming off a 47-home run, 5.4-fWAR season at the time, but his output has tanked since he signed his contract. The lefty swinger was stunningly unproductive from 2018-19 – an 854-plate appearance run in which he hit .172/.256/.308 with 28 HRs. Davis easily ranked last in the majors in fWAR in the process, accounting for minus-4.5.
The 33-year-old Davis, cognizant of how far he has fallen with the Orioles, admitted Monday (via Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com) that he recently considered retiring. “I’d be lying if I told you that wasn’t at least talked about toward the end of the season last year and this offseason,” he said. “I know what I’m capable of. I know what I expect of myself and I don’t want to continue to just struggle and be a below-average, well below-average producer at the plate. And I don’t think that’s fair to these guys. And I don’t think, honestly, it’s fair to our fans, or to anybody that’s associated with Baltimore.”
For now, Davis is hanging around and hoping for a better showing in 2020. If that doesn’t occur, though, it’ll be interesting to see if he walks away or the Orioles cut him. The soon-to-be 34-year-old still has another $69MM left on his contract (including deferrals), so an early breakup wouldn’t be easy for either side.
- Speaking of uncertain futures, Rangers outfielder Shin-Soo Choo is going into the last season of his own lucrative the deal – the seven-year, $130MM contract he inked with the club before the 2014 campaign. It could prove to be the final season in the majors for the 37-year-old, who hasn’t decided whether to play in 2021, per Jeff Wilson of the Star-Telegram. If Choo does elect to play past this year, though, he’d like to remain a Ranger, according to Wilson. Overall, the gamble the Rangers took on Choo in free agency hasn’t necessarily worked out as planned, but he remains a solid offensive player and an on-base machine. Choo slashed .265/.371/.455 with 24 home runs and 15 stolen bases in 660 trips to the plate last season.
- Tigers left-hander Joey Wentz halted his live bullpen session Monday as a result of forearm soreness, Chris McCosky of the Detroit News writes. Wentz brushed it off as fatigue, though it could still be worth monitoring going forward. After all, Wentz is one of the most promising arms in the Tigers’ system. The 22-year-old joined the organization last July in a trade with the Braves centering on reliever Shane Greene. Wentz then finished the season in dominant fashion as a member of the Tigers’ Double-A team, with which he pitched to a 2.10 ERA and put up 13.0 K/9 against 1.4 BB/9 across 25 2/3 innings.
Seattle Times beat writer Ryan Divish cites a source close to the situation in saying that there is a “small chance but definitely a chance” that the Mariners deal Kyle Seager this offseason (link). Any time a club does anything short of unequivocally ruling out a player as “untouchable”, it means a trade is a possibility — not as if we would be inclined to believe that anyone on the Mariners roster is untouchable from the unsentimental hand of GM Jerry Dipoto, least of all a well-compensated, past-30 player like Seager. We heard this week that multiple clubs were in on the third sacker, although his $15MM club option for 2022 would convert to a player option if he’s traded. Seager could be open to amending that clause, perhaps in an effort to play for a contending team in 2020, but Seattle vet is still due $37MM over the next two seasons. Seager launched 23 home runs in Seattle’s difficult hitting environment last year while slashing .239/.321/.468 (110 wRC+), which is generally in line with career averages for the 32-year-old.
More notes from around the AL…
- Orioles GM Mike Elias said on Saturday that the club likes the collegiate pitching at the top of the 2020 first-year player draft, as reported by Roch Kubatko of MASN Sports (link). Of course, Baltimore has the second-overall pick in that draft, so the club has a realistic shot at landing their choice of arms among Emerson Hancock (Georgia), Asa Lacy (Texas A&M), Cole Wilcox (Georgia), or Reid Detmers (Louisville). Arizona State’s Spencer Torkelson is widely believed to be the top player available in next year’s draft, but the Tigers will have the first crack at his burly bat.
- Elias doesn’t sound overly stressed about the team’s remaining commitment to embattled slugger Chris Davis, saying in a fan Q&A–with Zachary Silver of MLB.com present–that the team will “work with [Davis] throughout the season“. While that doesn’t give an exact plan in regard to the team’s on-field usage of Davis moving forward, it certainly feels like a further reduction in playing time could be in the works. Davis got into just 105 games last season, logging a second consecutive season well below the Mendoza line (.179/.276/.326 overall). For what it’s worth, Elias also said that he doesn’t take Davis’ remaining three years “lightly” and that Davis remains an asset to the Orioles’ fan community.
- Sports Management Worldwide is, according to its website, a sports agency and private for-profit sports management training institution based in Portland, Oregon; it was also the recent site of instruction for new Royals manager Mike Matheny, as profiled in a piece by Joe Lemire of Sport Techie. Matheny was often criticized for his strategic management during his time as skipper for the Cardinals, so this summer saw him buff up on his analytics via an SMM course primarily catered toward individuals “trying to break into the sports industry or boost themselves beyond an entry-level job”. The courses taken this summer are said to have covered nearly all aspects of the use of data in baseball, including arbitration forecasts, defensive valuations, and in-game preparation. “How can I stay relevant? How can I see what’s next? How can I provide our players any kind of edge to what’s on the horizon?” Matheny said in reference to his motivation for taking SMM courses. “We’re in a new era in baseball. Players are understanding the data and the information more. They’re hungrier for it than ever before and more open to it than ever before.” While some will snark at Matheny’s educational endeavor, it seems laudable that the 49-year-old Matheny–a man of no small professional accomplishment–would take pains to ensure that he’s adapting to a world increasingly impacted by data and evolving technologies.
In a discussion with Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star, outgoing Royals owner David Glass reflects on his 20 years spent spearheading a Major League team, touching on a wide variety of subjects ranging from regrets, financial challenges, and the next chapter for the Royals. Glass offers some insight into the factors that led him to seek out John Sherman as the next Royals owner, including a desire to ensure the franchise remains in Kansas City. He speaks about the ups and downs of the last two decades, a time that saw the franchise emerge from some of its darkest moments to claim a World Series victory. He shares regrets and memories, as well as his philosophy for operating a small-market team. Finally, Glass gives a glimpse into his decision to forgo a bidding process, instead specifically targeting Sherman to take over the team in his wake, with the hope that the new ownership regime will keep the organization “basically intact.”
Let’s turn to other nuggets from the American League…
- Yankees outfielder Aaron Hicks, still recovering from elbow issues, has begun to throw from 90 feet, per Bryan Hoch of MLB.com. When we last heard from Hicks, a second opinion recommended several more weeks of rest after suffering a setback in early September. At this time, Hicks and the Yankees are still optimistic that he won’t require Tommy John surgery, though that’s not guarantee—he’s due for another evaluation shortly. However, the timeline has all but confirmed that Hicks won’t be ready to return at any point in the postseason.
- Though there has been some clamoring for the Chris Davis era in Baltimore to end, Orioles general manager Mike Elias expects the 33-year-old to be back with the team in spring training 2020, tweets Dan Connolly of The Athletic. While Davis’s dreadful performance has certainly not earned him a spot in the team’s future plans, the reality remains that the ex-slugger is under contract for three more years, a span in which he’ll earn another $69MM. While internal options like Trey Mancini or minor-leaguer Ryan Mountcastle might make more sense, it appears that the club is committed to reforming its highest-paid player.
- While there still isn’t a concrete timetable for the Twins’ Max Kepler to return to the lineup, he’s set to dial up his workload in the coming days, according to La Velle E. Neal III of the Star Tribune. Kepler, who hasn’t made a plate appearance for Minnesota since September 14, has been dealing with somewhat nebulous shoulder and back issues for months. One of the most productive hitters in the Minnesota lineup, it feels imperative that Kepler is available for postseason play. While the precise timetable remains unknown, it seems that ramping up his swings and hitting off a high-velocity machine is a step in the right direction.
Orioles first baseman Chris Davis has lost his role as a regular, at least for now, Joe Trezza of MLB.com writes. Manager Brandon Hyde said he’ll “continue to pick my spots” when it comes to playing Davis, who’s nearing the conclusion of a second straight horrific campaign and the end of the fourth season of a seven-year, $161MM contract. The rebuilding Orioles are aiming to give more at-bats to young players and a possibly returning Mark Trumbo than Davis, owner of a .179/.270/.312 line in 300 plate appearances this season. Notably, the 33-year-old Davis got into a dugout altercation with Hyde on Aug. 7, and has started just five games since. But Hyde complimented Davis on Thursday, saying that “he’s been a pro the entire way — 100% pro. He understands. He’s been in the dugout supporting our guys. He’s been real great in the clubhouse and he’s handled this situation really well.”
More from the AL…
- After re-signing with the Yankees on a two-year, $34MM contract last winter, left-hander J.A. Happ has trudged through a rough season. The Athletics pummeled the 36-year-old on Wednesday over four innings, scoring five runs on four hits (including two homers) and a pair of walks. Factoring in that performance, Happ has pitched to a sky-high 5.58 ERA/5.69 FIP over 129 innings this season. “I haven’t struggled like this in a while,” Happ admitted after the Oakland loss, though he and manager Aaron Boone expressed hope the hurler will be able to right the ship this season (via Ken Davidoff of the New York Post). Even though Happ has been undependable, the World Series-contending Yankees have no choice but to run him out there, as they’re lacking better alternatives, Davidoff observes. Happ’s woes are among the reasons New York appears set to enter the playoffs with an iffy-looking rotation.
- Angels righty Keynan Middleton is nearing a return to their bullpen, Maria Torres of the Los Angeles Times tweets. Middleton hasn’t pitched in the majors since May 2018, when he underwent Tommy John surgery, and has dealt with multiple setbacks during his recovery process. Just last month, mild ulnar neuritis forced Middleton to temporarily shut down his rehab. When healthy from 2017-18, Middleton looked like a potential building block for the Halos’ bullpen. The hard-throwing 24-year-old owns a 3.43 ERA/4.24 FIP with 9.36 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9 in 76 major league innings.
- Meanwhile, injured Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons could rejoin the club for its weekend series in Houston, though he’s not a lock to be activated then, Torres reports. A left ankle sprain and a bone bruise have prevented Simmons from playing since Aug. 2. He also missed a little over a month earlier this season with a sprain in that ankle, but the nature of the injury isn’t the same this time. While Simmons was durable from 2017-18 – arguably the two best offensive seasons of the defensive master’s career – his production at the plate has gone backward during this injury-plagued year. Simmons will try to improve on the .274/.315/.382 line he has put up across 305 PA when he returns.
A quick look around the American League…
- Not only did Baltimore drop an embarrassing 14-2 decision to New York on Wednesday, but there was an all-too-public dugout altercation between struggling Orioles first baseman Chris Davis and manager Brandon Hyde during the game (video via Joe Trezza of MLB.com). Orioles hitting coach Don Long and injured slugger Mark Trumbo had to restrain Davis, whom the O’s then removed for a pinch-hitter. Hyde didn’t want to go into detail about it afterward, telling Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com and other reporters that the team will “keep it in-house.” He didn’t seem overly concerned about the matter, though, chalking it up to frustrations boiling over during what has been an adverse season. Davis wasn’t available for comment.
- Second baseman Gleyber Torres was not in the lineup for the Yankees’ latest win, but the club’s not planning to put him on the injured list, per George A. King III of the New York Post. Although Torres exited the Yankees’ victories Sunday and Tuesday because of core issues, tests on the 22-year-old didn’t reveal anything serious, manager Aaron Boone said. Torres underwent an MRI for a sports hernia and other strains Wednesday, but no cause for his recent problems was discovered.
- Athletics third baseman Matt Chapman has collected two hits and 19 strikeouts in his last 47 at-bats, perhaps because he’s dealing with knee and ankle issues. Chapman has been battling soreness in those spots, manager Bob Melvin revealed Wednesday (via Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle). The superstar exited a game early with left ankle soreness on July 18, at which point he was slashing .279/.363/.522 on the season. Now, thanks to his ice-cold stretch, Chapman’s hitting .252/.340/.504.
Rookie Orioles GM Mike Elias held a long and interesting chat with Dan Connolly of The Athletic (subscription link), touching upon a host of topics of interest to the broader player market. The full interview transcript is essential reading for fans of the Baltimore organization, in particular, but we’ll cover a few key bits of hot stove relevance here.
Though the Orioles roster isn’t exactly brimming with trade chips, it does have a few of note. Elias says that trade chatter volume is “already very high.” Deadline work is “really the main thing that the front office staff and I are spending our time on now in the month of July.”
While he wasn’t willing and/or able to predict how many moves the O’s will end up swinging this summer, Elias left no doubt that he’s ready for action. He did drop a few clues on some key player assets as well. Elias suggested the Orioles put a high value on reliever Mychal Givens, saying that “he’s striking out more people than ever and is throwing really hard.” While the results haven’t been there for Givens, he figures to be a target of contenders in search of pen upgrades — as we discussed in ranking him the top O’s trade candidate.
The most valuable potential summer trade piece on the roster is surely outfielder Trey Mancini, a player examined not long back by MLBTR’s Mark Polishuk. Elias largely reiterated his previously stated stance on Mancini, calling him “a very big part of the future of this team” while reiterating that the team is “in a position in our competitive cycle where we need to be open to anything that comes our way.”
On paper, the single likeliest player to be moved is starter Andrew Cashner. Prior reporting indicates the organization is unsurprisingly quite willing to do so. The veteran righty threw his trade status into some uncertainty with some ambiguous recent comments (also in a chat with Connolly) in which he suggested he’d need to decide whether to accept a trade despite lacking no-trade protection. Elias wisely skirted the topic, saying: “I don’t read too much into it. It’s not anything that we’ve discussed.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a matter of no moment whatsoever. MLBTR’s Steve Adams has argued that Cashner ought to be shifted into a relief role; some clubs would surely consider him as such, particularly entering the postseason. They’ll want assurances that the hurler will report if they strike a deal, making some added work for Elias to avoid complications. The GM heaped praise upon Cashner, saying that he has enjoyed “a big bounceback” and “looks terrific.” No doubt the O’s will hope they can massage the situation and come away with a decent return.
If interest never develops on Cashner, it could still make sense to hang onto him. After all, the club has an interest in filling innings even in a hopeless season. Elias discussed the difficulty of keeping palatable arms on the roster. To his credit, he didn’t sugarcoat the situation or pull punches, acknowledging that the organization has had to rely on players that may not quite have been prepared for the challenge. “They’re working hard,” he said of the many members of the staff, “but it’s difficult to come up and compete in the major leagues [and] in this division against major-league hitters if you don’t have major-league command or major-league stuff or some combination of the two of those things.” The O’s hope to build out greater depth to further “stabilize” the pitching situation. “I think we’ve made some minor additions recently in the past couple weeks and we’ll continue to do that,” said Elias.
That doesn’t mean the long-term focus will change, of course. Elias cited “three broad goals” and identified progress in each area. “[E]levating the talent level across the organization” was an obvious key. The top Baltimore baseball decisionmaker says he was pleased with recent amateur efforts. He calls 1-1 draft pick Adley Rutschman “a player that, across draft years, is somebody that stands out.” Elias also praised the organization’s international efforts: “it was just important for us to get it going and I think that we even exceeded our own expectations.”
Of equal importance for long-term sustainability, Elias gave a glimpse of some of the less visible work being done:
“We also want to elevate the capabilities of our baseball operations department and we have certainly done that on the international side. But [Vice President & Assistant General Manager, Analytics] Sig Mejdal and staff are doing so much behind the scenes to equip our decision-makers and our player development people and our scouting people with tools that they need to do their jobs well and compete around the league and provide us with an edge, one day, in terms of our decision-making and our capabilities. And we’ve got a lot going on there. And we’ve also got all kinds of projects going on behind the scenes in terms of planning with infrastructure, with facilities and all that’s happening. And happening with the support and involvement of ownership. So, I really think we’re moving things in the right direction this year, in a big way. We’re doing it fast and we’re gonna keep going.”
In one other area of particular contractual interest, Elias again addressed the subject of highly paid former slugging star Chris Davis. The 33-year-old has had some moments this year, but there’s no denying that his problems are far from resolved. Elias reiterated the team’s commitment to Davis:
“He’s a big part of this team and this team’s history and we’ve got him here. So it makes sense for everyone to try to make the most of the situation and get him back to where he needs to be. We think it’s possible. And we’ve seen flashes of it and it’s a big priority for us.”
While one wonders whether the O’s will eventually have a breaking point with Davis, who’s owed $23MM annually through 2022 (a chunk of it deferred), the club obviously isn’t there yet.
The Orioles have placed first baseman Chris Davis on the 10-day injured list, according to an official team announcement. Right-handed pitcher Evan Phillips has been recalled from Triple-A to replace Davis on the active roster. Davis has been bothered by inflammation to his left hip.
Davis has not started a game since Thursday and last appeared for the Orioles on Friday, which might have been attributed to his recent struggles at the plate. However, it now appears that the lack of playing time was at least partly due to an injury.
The former slugger, who showed signs of a resurgence after his historic slump, has found that success sandwiched between bouts of poor performance; over his last ten games, Davis has struck out 22 times in 36 plate appearances, a frustrating development for a veteran who looked to have overcome some of the issues that held him hitless for the first 12 games of the season.
Evan Phillips, 24, is back with the big league team after a brief stint in the minor leagues. He has appeared in 11 games for the O’s, pitching 12 2/3 innings and striking out 16 batters against 10 walks.
Beleaguered Orioles first baseman Chris Davis entered Saturday without a hit in his previous 54 at-bats, the longest streak in major league history. But the former star’s nightmarish skid ended with a first-inning, two-run single off Boston’s Rick Porcello, giving Davis his first hit since Sept. 14, 2018. Davis later went on to collect two more hits and another pair of runs batted in during what wound up as a 9-5 victory for the Orioles. While Davis was one of Baltimore’s best players Saturday, he has delivered startlingly few valuable performances since 2016, the first season of a seven-year, $161MM contract that now looks like one of the worst investments in baseball history. Once a premier slugger, the 33-year-old Davis has slashed a hideous .198/.294/.388 (83 wRC+) with minus-0.8 fWAR since signing his current deal.
Davis appears to be a sunk cost for the rebuilding Orioles, who owe him roughly $108MM more and will pay him through 2037 because of deferrals, yet there’s no urgency on their part to get rid of him. Rookie general manager Mike Elias told Dan Connolly of The Athletic (subscription required) on Friday that the Orioles are “absolutely” planning to keeping Davis, adding that “he’s on this team and it’s no secret the fact that we have a large and long commitment to him, so our focus is going to be on getting the best performance out of him that we possibly can.” Elias went on to explain to Connolly that the Orioles, with the help of analytics guru Sig Mejdal and hitting coach Don Long, are “just going to do as much as we can incrementally to get him into a better place.”
More from the American League…
- The Indians have played this season without their top performer, shortstop Francisco Lindor, who’s on the mend from a calf sprain and a high left ankle sprain. Fortunately for the Tribe, it appears Lindor’s progressing toward a return. After running the bases the past two days, the 25-year-old will work out with the team Sunday, and he could embark on a Triple-A rehab assignment Monday, Mandy Bell of MLB.com reports. When Lindor went down in early February, the Indians surely knew finding a capable fill-in for the three-time All-Star would be a difficult task; however, they likely didn’t expect their shortstop situation to be this dire in his absence. Replacements Eric Stamets (minus-35 wRC+ in 40 plate appearances) and Max Moroff (minus-58 wRC+ in 23 PA) have stumbled to a league-worst minus-0.8 fWAR thus far.
- Twins third baseman Miguel Sano is slated to begin modified spring training in Fort Myers, Fla., during the middle of the upcoming week, Betsy Helfand of the St. Paul Pioneer Press tweets. Beyond that, the Twins are hoping Sano – who’s working back from a right Achilles injury – will begin a rehab assignment in early May, according to chief baseball officer Derek Falvey. The Sano-less Twins have primarily turned to $21MM free-agent pickup Marwin Gonzalez at the hot corner, but the former Astro’s season has gotten off to an inauspicious start.
Yankees center fielder Aaron Hicks was cleared to resume baseball activities today and, according to manager Aaron Boone, won’t need a rehab stint that mirrors Spring Training’s six-week length (Twitter link via Bryan Hoch of MLB.com). However, Hicks is still multiple weeks away from surfacing as an option for the injury-plagued Yankees, whose outfield currently consists of Aaron Judge, Brett Gardner and Clint Frazier. Hicks, Giancarlo Stanton and Jacoby Ellsbury are among the 11 players New York currently has on the injured list.
More from the AL East…
- WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford explores the manner in which Xander Bogaerts’ $120MM extension with the Red Sox came together. As agent Scott Boras explained, the Sox had made previous overtures during Bogaerts’ arbitration seasons, but the two sides had never been on the same page. Part of that, per Boras, was a belief that Bogaerts’ offense was eventually going to jump to the level it did last season. A greater driving factor, as Boras tells it, was Boston’s eventual willingness to include an opt-out clause to sweeten the deal. The opt-out not only gives Bogaerts the chance to reevaluate the Red Sox in a few years but more importantly provides him another bite at the free-agent apple. “He’s going to be a 29-year-old free agent,” Boras said. Both president of baseball ops Dave Dombrowski and Boras noted that Bogaerts had a strong desire to stay in Boston, which pushed the deal across the finish line in the end.
- Chris Davis’ season is already off to a nightmare start, Peter Schmuck of the Baltimore Sun writes. The 33-year-old is off to an 0-for-17 start with 11 strikeouts and four walks through 21 plate appearances, including three punchouts in today’s home opener. Davis spoke to reporters after the game and conceded that he wasn’t surprised to be met with a chorus of boos after his third strikeout of the game but noted that it was still “tough” to hear even if Orioles fans are rightful in expressing their displeasure. Rookie manager Brandon Hyde voiced support of the beleaguered slugger and said he plans to continue playing Davis and trying to put him in advantageous matchups to get him going. Davis’ teammates spoke positively of him as well. “He’s one of the better teammates that I’ve had in my time in the big leagues,” said Alex Cobb. “I know he cares so much. To feel that in front of your own fans, I can’t even imagine.”