Oftentimes during the various trade deadlines over the years, I have gone to center fielder Adam Jones to get his take on where the Orioles are and what he thinks should be done with his club.
Jones, after all, is the longest-tenured Oriole, and one of the more thoughtful and outspoken members of the team. His opinion is always welcomed.
But this year I wanted to switch it up a little (though I’ll always hit record when Jones is willing to speak) and asked another Oriole about the state of the team, and what could — and should — be done.
To me, the other guy I wanted to talk to was first baseman Chris Davis.
While the contracts of Jones, Manny Machado, Zach Britton, Brad Brach, Jonathan Schoop, Mark Trumbo, Darren O’Day and Chris Tillman – the core of this club’s recent success – all expire after the 2019 season or earlier, Davis is signed through the 2022 season.
When he agreed to a seven-year, $161 million deal before the 2016 season, Davis and the Orioles were committing to a long-term marriage. Not only was it a huge payday, but it also provided stability for Davis, who in 2011, was one of those “prospect types” that was shipped away by the Texas Rangers in the middle of a pennant race to a rebuilding Orioles’ franchise.
Now, no Oriole veteran is tied to the future fate of this franchise more than Davis. And, with the club at an obvious crossroads, with the selling off of quality veterans for unproven prospects a legitimate possibility this month, I wanted Davis’ take on the state of the Orioles.
I’ve spoken to him plenty of times about his offensive struggles, about what he feels he needs to do personally to help this team be better. I wanted the bigger picture now.
This is what he had to say, in a Q&A form, edited only for clarity.
The Orioles look like they’ll be sellers, which could net them quality prospects but also ship away some of your long-time teammates and start a potential rebuild. What are your thoughts on that possibility?
“I am obviously for anything that puts us in the best position to win. With that being said, it is tough, as a guy that’s been around this team — pretty much the same team for a number of years — it’s still tough to think about some of your buddies being gone. But I think you understand it is part of the business. I hope guys realize how fortunate they are to get to play with this group of guys on a daily basis. The fact that we have been able to keep the same group together for such a long time I think is pretty incredible. But, ultimately, I want to win baseball games. That was one of the big reasons why I signed here. I felt like this team was on the very cusp of being a World Series caliber team. I mean, I want to win baseball games. It’s not fun losing.”
The rotation has struggled most of the year, yet this is also a very similar club to the 2016 one that made the playoffs? Do you think that can be repeated with this pitching staff?
“I think there are a lot of similarities between this team and the team last year. But it’s always going to come down to pitching. You watch the postseason every year and you don’t see 15-14 games. … You see 3-2 or 3-1. We’re in the age of the bullpen, where guys are being used in the sixth inning. There’s less required from a starter in some aspects as far as pitch counts and distance or depth in a game. But, yeah, something’s not clicking here on a consistent basis. I think that’s probably the best way to put it. I mean, for us to be as good as we have been the last three nights or four nights (before Friday), and to struggle the way we did for the last couple of months, there has to be a little more consistency on a daily basis.”
You were traded by a contender in a deadline deal in 2011, and joined a young team that ultimately flourished, so do you see the value in that philosophy?
“I think when I look back to the years that I was in Texas and being part of a winning team, even when I wasn’t playing every day, even when I was being sent down and called up, just knowing that I was going to be on a team that was competitive and had a chance to win the division and play in the postseason, it was exciting to me. Once you get a taste of that, as a player you want that every year and that becomes your expectation. And that was one of the reasons I said what I did this offseason, that we raised the bar. It’s not that we expect ‘X’ number of wins or we expect to beat teams by 10 runs. It’s the expectation that we have put on ourselves to go out and win 85 or 90 games, whatever it is that it takes to win the division or get into the postseason. Because that’s where we’ve been the last few years. As far as I’m concerned, there’s one more hurdle to get over and that’s to win the World Series. And (the question is) ‘How are we going to go about doing that?’”
Do you think this team, with its current roster, can win a World Series?
“I think it can be done with this team. I do believe that. Because I think when you look back to the end of the season last year, you see the way that Dylan (Bundy) and Gaus (Kevin Gausman) and even Ubie (Ubaldo Jimenez) were throwing the ball. It was pretty special. I remember when Ubaldo threw the complete game, I’m like, ‘This is awesome. Good for you, good for us.’ And, so, I definitely think that it’s doable. But I think the margin for error is extremely, extremely slim. Especially with what Boston has done in the offseason. The Yankees are reloading, they are young but that youth is starting to gain some experience. This is a dogfight, dude. This division is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It really is. To win this division, you have to be good and you have to be almost mistake-free.”
If management asked you which way they should go this month, what would you say?
“I’m in the mind-frame, let’s win now. Five years may seem like a long time, but it’s not if you start talking about rebuilding an entire organization. I remember the first couple years in Texas, we were trying to finish in third place. When you’ve been successful and you’ve been so close, it’s really, really hard to start over in my mind, as a player.”
It is possible by 2019, you are the only core member of this current roster still remaining here. Have you thought about that?
“Yeah. That thought crossed my mind when I started looking at the length of my contract, started looking to see who was left, how much time they all had on their contracts. Yeah that was something that crossed my mind (when he signed in 2016). But, ultimately, my goal is to win the World Series. It’s like what I went through last year (physically with an injured hand). I was grinding it out. I wasn’t having a great year by any means, but I knew it was important to my teammates. And it was better for our team if I was on the field, whether that was with two good hands or one good hand. That’s where I’m at in my career, you know.”
If the Orioles decide to stand pat, not trade, and gain a Wild Card berth, is that a success?
“Honestly, it’s really hard to go through the Wild Card. We’ve seen both sides of it, winning the one in 2012 and obviously losing last year. It’s a free-for-all in that one game. And I think it can take a lot of you. I thought in 2012 we were really playing well. I thought that we had built up some momentum and some steam rolling into the postseason, but then I felt like we ran out of gas in that series against New York. It’s an exhausting journey to go through that one game playoff because there are so many unknowns that go into it. Where is it gonna be? Who is it gonna be against? Are you gonna play at home? … Yeah you start with a clean slate in the postseason, but a lot of it, too, is how you can roll into the postseason You think about 2014, we won the division by so many games that it was like our destiny was set (early) and so you have time to recover and prepare and then go into that.”
You content being on this side of the business and not being in executive vice president Dan Duquette’s role this month?
“Absolutely. Yeah, I get to have a little fun. He gets to make all the hard decisions. This game is frustrating as a player, as a general manager, as a manager, as an owner. I can’t even begin to put myself in Mr. Angelos’ shoes. I mean, to see the organization go through what it has gone through, there’s a sense of pride. But I’ve only been here for so little of that journey. Yeah, I’m glad I’m on this side.”