Mike Elias has garnered a great deal of praise from Birdland in his first week on the job. His message, cosigned by the Angelos brothers, at Monday’s press conference added a sincere tone to the changes that have been promised in Baltimore.
His proven track record of building up a farm system, coupled with his enhanced emphasis of advanced analytics, even has “dedicated pessimist” Mark Brown hopeful for the future.
But while Elias will continue to gain the trust of fans and writers, he’s already inherited something massive. I’m talking as big as they come. What could possibly be larger than the weight of an entire organization looking to you as its savior? How about the contract of Orioles first baseman Chris Davis.
Davis will enter 2019 with a base salary of $17 million, and he carries a total salary of $21,118,782 per year. The former All Star who hit 47 home runs as recently as 2015 has the Orioles on the hook for four more years and $92 million dollars. So what will Elias & Co. do with the $161-million dollar man?
Obviously, there’s no cut and dried answer to that question. But Elias did address, to a limited capacity, some early thoughts on this administration’s approach with Davis moving forward. It started by stating the obvious, the Orioles want Davis to perform.
“This lineup and this team is at it’s best with a productive Chris Davis, a dangerous Chris Davis, in the middle of the lineup,” Elias said. “So I want to see that happen.”
There’s no doubt that the best thing for this team would be for Davis to hit like the organization thought he was capable of when they signed him to a seven-year deal. Unfortunately, nobody expects that to happen.
That being said, Davis certainly does not have to perform as poorly as he did in 2018. His .168 batting average and 192 strikeouts across 128 games leaves a great amount of room for improvement. Elias said that he believes Davis is capable of bouncing back. So how can the first baseman break out from what is now a multi-year slump, and how does Elias think he can help?
“I’m going to get involved in his offseason work, his preparation,” Elias said when prompted about Davis. “Any new ideas or information that we can provide to him to help out, we will do our best to do that.”
The response, while ambiguous, signals that the front office plans to take a hands-on approach with Davis. This could include a more detailed approach with analytics, bringing in someone new to work with him, or a magnitude of other things. But it leads to two questions. One, will they work? And two, how will Davis respond?
We all remember Orioles legend and MASN color commentator Jim Palmer questioning Davis’s effort back in late May. The Hall of Famer said he did not see any adjustments being made by Davis, and disputed that Davis had put in work with hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh.
Palmer refused to take the weight of playing with a massive contract as an excuse. He threw out phrases like “he’s killing this club,” and “they say he works hard” followed by a doubtful “ehh.”
Davis will have new resources available to him this off season. It’s up to him to make the most of them.
It’s impossible to truly predict how Davis will play in 2019. Will he bunt against the shift? The Orioles’ yet-to-be-hired manager may have a say in that. No matter how Davis plays, it won’t change the fact that the Orioles will once again enter the season with three first baseman in their starting lineup.
Davis, Mark Trumbo and Trey Mancini would all ideally man the 3-position or serve as a designated hitter. The Orioles will want to showcase Trumbo, a free agent at the end of the season, as a potential trade chip in July. Trumbo is in the final season of a three-year, $37.5 million contract. He won’t be a part of the next winning team in Baltimore, but he could possibly fetch a player that would.
The Orioles will also need to evaluate Mancini, and determine if a guy who finished third in the AL Rookie of the Year vote in 2017 can be a part of a winning baseball club. Elias likely won’t need many advanced stats to tell him that Mancini is better off at first than in left field.
If Davis cannot channel a portion of the power his bat once held, he could spend a great deal of time on the bench.
Some have called for the outright release of Davis, but that still doesn’t make sense. At least not yet. The Orioles have already agreed to pay Davis, and there’s no getting that money back. They’re better off working with the slugger, and attempting to squeeze any valuable baseball production out of him. If he could hit .220 and blast 25 home runs, he’d be in contention for Comeback Player of the Year.
At this point, there’s no point in searching for a trade partner. No team will take on one of the worst deal’s in recent memory without gaining quality assets in return. The Orioles are certainly not in a position to give up one of their few valuable pieces in exchange for a salary dump.
The Birds are going to give it another shot for Davis, and it won’t take much for him to show improvement. There’s a chance that this new administration has the tools to help him. If not, he could spend a large chunk of 2019 on the bench.