Oriole fans had two distinct lines of thinking about Chris Davis in 2019. One group was convinced that his presence on the Orioles was holding the team and its best prospects back. The other thought that the Orioles were so bad that Davis’ performance didn’t matter very much.
Anecdotally, at least, the second group was correct.
Davis appeared in 105 games in 2019, and the Orioles’ record was 35-70 for a winning percentage of .333. In the 57 games he didn’t play, the Orioles were 19-38 for a winning percentage of .333. Overall, the team was 54-108.
While Davis’ performance didn’t help the Orioles in 2019, it was a tertiary issue. The pitching staff’s 5.59 ERA and the 981 runs and 305 home runs allowed was far more crucial.
The first group of fans are resentful of Davis, whose seven-year, $161 million contract still has three years to run.
Please don’t forget that many of these fans implored the Orioles to re-sign Davis after his 2015 season when he led baseball in home runs for the second time in three years.
Some fans said that they’d never go to another Orioles game if the club didn’t extend him.
Now, they’re mad at him, and they want him gone. Some may actually believe that having Davis gone from the Orioles would make them a much better club.
A common thread was that Davis remaining on the Orioles prevented them from promoting Ryan Mountcastle. Clearly that wasn’t the case because Mountcastle, who was named the team’s top minor league player and the International League’s Most Valuable Player, wasn’t added when the rosters expanded in September.
General manager Mike Elias said that Mountcastle will begin next season in the minor leagues to work on his plate discipline and mastering the outfield and first base.
Elias also said that Davis, whom the Orioles have given detailed instructions on how they want him to spend the offseason, will go to spring training with the team.
Next March, Davis will turn 34, and after four years of declining numbers is still owed $93 million. His annual salary of $23 million includes $6 million of deferred money. That $42 million will be paid from 2023, the year after Davis’ contract expires through 2037.
If the Orioles choose to cut ties with Davis, it will be an organizational decision, and not one taken lightly.
With the impending departure of Mark Trumbo, the Orioles have just two guaranteed contracts on their books, Davis’ and Alex Cobb’s.
According to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, Cobb, who signed a four-year, $57 million contract in March 2018, is owed $20 million in deferred salary to be paid through 2032.
If Cobb, coming off hip and knee surgery, doesn’t pitch 130 innings in 2020 for the Orioles, $10 million of his $15 million salary for 2021 is deferred, and that money would continue to be paid through 2035.
In 2020, teams will be able to carry 26 players, and they’re mandated to have at least 13 position players. For most of last season, the Orioles carried 13 pitches and just 12 position players.
With three extra players, one of them a backup catcher, it wasn’t easy to avoid playing Davis. A fourth position player seemingly makes it easier for the Orioles to keep Davis around.
If he remakes his swing this offseason and is productive during Grapefruit League games, then the Orioles will be happier and the restive fan base, who cheered him during his record-setting 0-for-33 stretch to begin the 2019 season, will applaud his comeback.
If Davis continues to struggle in March 2020, then the organization must think again.
Some thought that it would be impossible to carry Trumbo and Davis on the team in 2019. But Trumbo’s recovery after right knee surgery prevented him from playing until September, making that point moot.
The Orioles are eager to see what Mountcastle can do at the major league level. It was fun to see how Austin Hays and Anthony Santander did after they were given opportunities, and Mountcastle has taken his turn at every minor league level.
Mountcastle, who was promoted from High-A Frederick to Double-A Bowie in July 2017, had to return to Bowie for 2018 because the Orioles weren’t satisfied with his performance.
Now, Mountcastle is poised to return to the Triple-A Norfolk Tides to begin 2020 while Davis continues with the Orioles.
Is it possible to have Davis, Mountcastle and Trey Mancini on the same team in 2020? Sure, manager Brandon Hyde would find a way to make it work.
Last year’s team won just seven more games than they did in 2019. It’s possible that 2020’s team may show slight improvement, but if there’s a markedly better record, it won’t be because the Orioles moved on from Davis, it will be because the pitching improved.