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In Davis/Palmer drama, the Orioles season spirals into a soap opera

The 2018 Orioles were a comedy. They’re now turning into a soap opera.

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Baltimore Orioles Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

If you were looking for a distraction to take your attention away from the on-field product being put forth by the 16-34 Orioles, you got your wish. The best pitcher in Orioles history publicly calling out the owner of the largest contract in Orioles history may not be what you had in mind, but it’s what we’re dealing with. And you thought things couldn’t get any worse for the 2018 Orioles!

By now, most O’s fans have heard the story. To quickly recap: In Wednesday’s post-game comments following an 11-1 blowout loss to the White Sox, MASN’s Jim Palmer put Chris Davis on blast.

“You’ve got to throw that away and you’ve got to make some adjustments. I don’t see anything. I don’t see a wider stance, I don’t see a closed stance, I don’t see him dropping his hands, I don’t see anything. And we’re seeing the results. He’s just in a prolonged slump. You know, they say he works hard. Ah. He told everybody in spring training that he worked with Scott Coolbaugh. I asked Scott in spring training, I go, ‘Hey, you must have really put in a lot of work.’ He goes, ‘We didn’t work.’ So, you know, I don’t believe anything.”

These comments were addressed when the clubhouse opened to the media in advance of Thursday’s game.

Manager Buck Showalter didn’t offer much, saying he supports Davis and hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh and didn’t want to comment on whether the criticism is fair or unfair. Palmer said before Thursday’s game that he stands by his comments.

There’s a lot to unpack here. Sure, this is good old-fashioned drama. But the work ethic of the Orioles’ highest paid player being questioned by a Hall of Famer is worth discussing. I can’t help but wonder how this might affect the Orioles clubhouse going forward.

How did we get to the point where Chris Davis, once one of the game’s premier power threats who put up an MVP-caliber season in 2013, is the subject of this criticism? After signing the largest contract in club history before the 2016 season, he simply hasn’t performed. The situation appeared to hit rock bottom after 2017, when his final line was .215/.309/.432 with 26 home runs.

Much was written in the offseason about Davis needing to get back on track in 2018 and the steps he was taking to get there. Roch Kubatko wrote that before the last game of the season Davis “vowed to dedicate his offseason to working with hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh in Texas attempting to improve his average and get back to being a threat in the middle of the order.” A January 3 post from Steve Melewski quoted Showalter as saying “Scott and Chris live in the Dallas area... They’ve already been doing a lot of work.” I recall being excited about these stories.

Nearly two months into 2018, Davis might be the worst hitter in baseball. His batting average is the lowest in the league among players with enough plate appearances to qualify. His 66 strikeouts are the second-most in baseball. His OPS is a putrid .490. For context, let’s compare this with the player my mind always goes to when I think of dreadful OPS: Cesar Izturis. Izturis’ OPS during his three seasons in Baltimore was .575.

How did a guy who put up one of the finest offensive seasons in Orioles history become a worse hitter than Izturis? If Palmer is to be believed, Davis is not making the adjustments necessary to get his game back to previous levels. Coolbaugh’s quote suggests that Davis hasn’t sought out his help in trying to get back on track at the plate. Maybe he is a proud, stubborn athlete who is confident in his talents to a fault, believing that he can regain his former status by continuing what he’s always done.

I would advise him against thinking that way, but I suppose it is understandable. I’ve never hit 53 home runs in a season so what do I know?

What isn’t understandable is the discrepancy in Davis’ offseason training regimen. From the very beginning of the offseason through spring training (if we believe Palmer), Davis touted his the work he put in with Coolbaugh. But Palmer claims Coolbaugh told him “we didn’t work” when asking about Davis’ offseason.

Coolbaugh’s comments yesterday indicated that the work he and Davis put in together wasn’t as extensive as we were led to believe. He told Orioles reporters that he had worked with Davis a total of three times over the offseason. This had previously been implied to be “three times a week” and a regular occurrence.

This gets to the real meat of Palmer’s Wednesday evening comments. Being a former major leaguer, Palmer knows not to throw the “lack of work ethic” accusation around lightly. Maybe he was, like all of us, frustrated at another blowout loss. But he did not retract any comments after having the opportunity to cool off. He stood by them and that speaks loudly. So did his tweet sent after yesterday’s game that apologies for throwing Coolbaugh under the bus, but makes no apology to Davis.

As the situation currently stands, this doesn’t look good for Chris Davis from a fan’s perspective. An Orioles legend questioned his work ethic and the coach he supposedly trained all offseason with debunked said training claims and said Davis hasn’t utilized him for help. It isn’t fair to automatically bring salary into every analysis of a player’s performance, but the highest paid player on the club shouldn’t have his work ethic questioned when he’s on the way to being the worst player in MLB.

While this is certainly a soap opera for fans, I am interested in how this sequence of events will impact the dynamic inside the O’s clubhouse. Much has been said about the fantastic chemistry that has been achieved under Buck Showalter. It is easy to see how this could divide the clubhouse. On one hand, baseball players are fiercely loyal to their brothers that they grind through a 162-game season with and Davis is in the fraternity. Players have defended teammates in media spats and performance enhancing drug accusations. Some O’s will certainly have Davis’ back.

On the other hand, Palmer is a Hall of Famer and one of the franchise’s most iconic figures; an accusation like this coming from him has to carry some weight, especially when it was essentially backed up by Coolbaugh. Could this tap into a frustration that some players may feel about their highly-compensated peer who refuses to make adjustments and continues being an easy out?

The best case scenario here is that talk of this situation ceases, Davis gets back on track, and the O’s start playing competitive baseball. Davis has four more years on his contract and Palmer is entrenched as an Orioles legend. It would be great if this became water under the bridge.

But what if Davis continues struggling and doesn’t make any further adjustments? What if Palmer makes similar accusations again? Could this divide a clubhouse that is already weighed down by losing, trade rumors, and uncertainty over next year’s roster composition? Let’s hope it doesn’t add up to a summer-long soap opera in Baltimore.