SARASOTA, Florida—After two horrible seasons, Chris Davis acknowledged he considered walking away from the Orioles after last season.
Davis, who is entering the fifth year of a seven-year, $161 million contract, has struggled since signing the deal in January 2016, and the past two seasons have humbled him.
In 2018, Davis hit .168 with 16 home runs and 49 RBIs. He followed it with a .179 average, 12 home runs and 36 RBIs last season. He began 2019 hitless in 33 at-bats. Combined with the 0-for-21 ending 2018, it gave the first baseman a record- breaking 0-for-54 skid.
In 2019, Davis played 105 games, his fewest since 2011. In addition to his low production, he struck out 139 times in 307 at-bats. He thought about ending his playing career.
“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,” Davis said. “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 is owed $93 million on his contract, which includes $42 million of deferred money. He’s aware of what Orioles fans think.
“I don’t think that’s fair to these guys,” Davis said. “And I don’t think, honestly, it’s fair to our fans, or to anybody that’s associated with Baltimore. But I still think that there is something left in the tank, and I think that that’s really a conversation that we’re going to have to have at the end of this season.
“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. So that’s a conversation I’ll have to have again at the end of the season.”
Davis comes into this season 25 pounds heavier than he was in 2019, and he thinks it will make a difference.
“I was really, really thin at the end of the season,” Davis said. “I think it was a combination of just physical and mental stress, and I just got back to kind of some of the basics. I wanted to get my weight back up, get my strength back up, and not focus so much this offseason on trying to stay lean, but really trying to get as strong as I could. Feel a little bit more physical, physically strong, physically fit. And felt like I did what I wanted to do.”
The decision to add muscle came from conversations with general manager Mike Elias and manager Brandon Hyde.
“I wanted to do it the right way,” Davis said. “I wanted to put good weight on and put it on all the right places, and I felt like I was able to do that. Whether it was through nutrition or training, a combination of both.”
Davis worked on hitting with a close friend, former Orioles outfielder Craig Gentry.
“We basically sat down at the beginning of the offseason … and talked about what I wanted to accomplish,” Davis said. “I basically said I wanted to get back down to the basics, and I want to do something that it is solely me and you. I want to kind of quiet some of the voices.
“I felt like it had gotten a little out of control with whose advice I was going to take and what I was going to try and do. The blueprint for success is there. But I think it is up to me to follow that and to really take accountability for what I’m doing and for who I’m listening to. So, it was good. It was a very productive offseason, and I think he might actually be more excited for the season to start than I am, which is kind of fun.”
In June 2018, then-manager Buck Showalter, vice president for baseball operations Brady Anderson and Davis decided he should take a break, and he didn’t play for 11 days.
“That was probably, for me, the lowest point because I felt like I didn’t really know where to go,” Davis said. “I felt like last year was tough, obviously, getting off to the start I got off to but a lot of that was out of my control.
“I felt I was kind on the right track last year, but a couple years ago when I had to take the break and work with Brady, there was a lot of hopeless feeling, and I think that’s part of taking the break … was to kind of give me a chance to take a breath, regroup and do some work where I didn’t have to go out and try to compete that night.
“That’s probably the lowest moment to me, but it was also followed by a lot of positivity, after coming back from two weeks and not having seen a live pitch and having a home run in my second at-bat and seeing a lot of success the first couple weeks back.”
Davis’ presence could be holding back Ryan Mountcastle, who turns 23 on Tuesday and hit .312 with 25 home runs and 83 RBIs for Triple-A Norfolk last year. But Davis, 33, said he doesn’t think about competing for playing time.
“It did for a long time in my career,” Davis said. “I think I got to a point several years ago where I realized that you can’t really do anything about that. For me now, especially with the overall look of our club, I want to do anything I can to help guys succeed.
“I think that’s kind of a lost art in our game, having a veteran player take guys aside and show them the way. I want to do everything that I can to help those guys. Part of that is competing and bringing the best out of them, and part of that is showing them their limits, and that’s what I plan to do.”
Davis wants to be a full-time player, and wants to be productive.
“I would like to have a big spring, just for myself, but I feel like spring training numbers can be a little watered down at times,” Davis said. The goal for me is to get through camp healthy, to be productive. There are a few things that I want to accomplish, that I want to work on, but, ultimately, there has to be some substance there, so I mean, I’ve always had high expectations for myself and that hasn’t changed.”