Maybe you’ve given up on Chris Davis. Maybe the Baltimore Orioles have given up on Chris Davis — all but given up, anyway.
But Chris Davis hasn’t given up on Chris Davis.
Not given the way he showed up to camp and the the comments he brought with him. Davis showed up to Sarasota ready to crush again, having put on 25 pounds of muscle, looking to more physically resemble the hulking figure in the batter’s box in recent years.
The weight gain, he said, was a byproduct of his trying to prove he’s not finished. That he was getting serious about becoming something other than the butt of baseball fans’ jokes.
“I still think that there is something left in the tank,” he said, according to MASN’s Roch Kubatko. “...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.”
Davis, however, mixed in some desperation with the determination. He was asked if he thought about retiring, which would mean walking away from the contract. And Crush got candid.
“I’d be lying if I told you that wasn’t at least talked about towards the end of the season last year and this offseason,” he said.
That’s new. That puts a new wrinkle into the Chris Davis story. Davis had often said how embarrassed he was by his performance, that he was determined to improve, that he felt he was right around the corner from finding the answer, etc., etc.
But he hadn’t suggested an “or else.” Orioles fans wondered if that was on the table, whether Davis would consider just leaving if his performance continued to be so far below the expectations that came with his contract, but figured that was just a fantasy. Davis was going to be here for the length of his contract, and he either was going to hit or he wasn’t. He probably wasn’t.
For the first time, though, Davis admitted that it was an option. That he had had discussions with his wife during which the word “retirement” had come up.
Which makes this season a junction for Davis. According to the slugger, one of two things is ending this year: either his historic ineptitude, or the Chris Davis saga altogether.
In other words, three more years of the Orioles doing nothing but watching Davis swing and miss and Davis looking lost and frustrated should be off the table.
This could be a ploy from Davis to get fans off his back going into the season, since considering retirement implies how seriously he takes his performance, but Davis hasn’t seemed like one to play those kinds of games since arriving in Baltimore. He comes across as a straight shooter, so when he says he talked with his wife about no longer costing the team if he can’t figure things out, it seems real.
And boy, does he have a lot of figuring out to do. He’s batted .172 with 28 home runs in 777 at-bats over the past two years, with strikeouts ending 331 of those at-bats. He’s become the signature shift victim as well as the easiest punchout in baseball, and he’s seen each of his last two seasons, with the ordered rest in 2018 and the argument with Brandon Hyde last year, marked by humiliations that seemed to push Davis to a new rock bottom.
Davis, though, seems to be doing the right things to salvage what he can. The weight and muscle gain is a sign that he’s putting in the work, and he’s working with a trusted advisor in former teammate Craig Gentry to find a more confident, direct approach at the plate. Who knows if it’ll work, but at least Davis is trying something besides doing the same thing and expecting different results.
Muscle can’t make you better at making contact, but it can turn some fly balls into doubles and wall balls into homers. Davis suggested he had been unlucky in that department, and whether or not he’s right — he had a .270 BABIP last year, and a .237 mark the year before that — a better headspace for someone who by all indications has done nothing but fret himself into a series of knots is a good place to start.
Of course, the real progress will come when — or, rather, if — the results start to improve. It’s hard to expect any turnaround at this point from Davis, but Orioles fans should continue to hope it’s possible.
At least now, if it’s not, it looks like the Chris Davis era will come to a sudden end, rather than the drawn-out misery we seemed to be headed for earlier. A bad 2019 almost pushed Davis over the edge. It’s hard to imagine a similar 2020 not being enough to dash his hopes altogether.
“I have three years left after really two just grinding years, but I still think that there’s some time to kind of right the ship,” he said. “So that’s a conversation I’ll have to have again at the end of the season.”
For the first time, if things don’t get better soon, Davis indicated how that conversation will go.