ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.—So many big Oriole stars have been traded, and Chris Davis remains.
Even if the 2018 season hadn’t been the horror show it’s been for Davis, he’d still remain with the Orioles because his contract effectively prevents him from being traded and the team owes him so much money that he won’t be released.
Davis, who signed a seven-year, $161 million contract in January 2016, is owed $23 million in each of the four years remaining on his contract. He deferred $6 million on each year of the deal. That $42 million is to be paid from 2023-2037. Davis is still owed $110 million.
Another team isn’t going to assume that kind of money for a player who’s hitting .157 after going hitless in four at-bats in the Orioles’ 5-4 win on Wednesday.
Next season, Davis will earn full no-trade status because he’ll have 10 years in the majors and five with Orioles.
It’s been a nightmare season in many ways for Davis, who was the subject of criticism by Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer during Orioles telecasts in May and again in this series.
Palmer has said that Davis hadn’t made necessary adjustments and, in May, criticized him for not working enough with hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh last winter. At the end of the 2017 season, Davis promised to re-invent his hitting approach in the offseason.
Manager Buck Showalter began the season with Davis as his leadoff hitter, an experiment that was quickly abandoned when he was just 1-for-20 (.050) in the season’s first five games.
Showalter sat Davis for two games at the end of April, and benched him for eight games in June.
Before his imposed absence, Davis was hitting .150. Since then, he’s been hitting between .147 and .161, not getting any worse, but no better.
“There’s a couple of games where you think he’s getting ready to have a real streak or spurt where he really is making big contributions,” Showalter said.
“We know the potential is there. He’s just had a lot of trouble sustaining things during a long period of time, and that’s been frustrating for him and us.”
Davis showed a bit more power last month, hitting six of his 13 home runs, and having his first multi extra-base hit game (July 26) and two home run game (July 29), both against Tampa Bay.
Davis has 136 strikeouts in 94 games, putting him on a pace to strike out more than 200 times for the third time in his last five seasons.
Davis has rebounded from bad seasons before. In 2014, when he was both on the disabled list with an oblique injury and serving a 25-game suspension for using Adderall without a therapeutic use exemption from Major League Baseball. Davis hit .196. Even then, he had an on-base percentage of .300. Now, his OBP is .242
Since signing the contract, Davis has been in a steady decline. In 2015, when he led the major leagues in home runs for the second time in three years to earn the contract, Davis hit .262 with 47 home runs and 117 RBIs.
Davis fell to .221 in 2016 and .215 last season with his home runs and RBIs dropping to 38 and 84 in 2016 and 26 and 61 in 2017.
His fielding has dropped off as well in the last two years. In the eighth inning of Tuesday’s game, threw a potential double play ball hit by Tampa Bay’s Matt Duffy into left field, leading to two unearned runs, which tied the game.
Showalter seemed to excuse the error, which was Davis’ fifth of the season.
“It’s a play that he’s made a long time and in practice, something he does real well, so it was very surprising, but we have something to gauge it against, how good he’s been at that play,” Showalter said.
Fans who were surprised by the depth of the Orioles’ radical transformation last month may now imagine the team taking it a step further by jettisoning Davis in the offseason.
With four years left on a massive contract, that step still seems exceedingly unlikely.