Khris Davis and Oakland are a perfect match

April 20th, 2019

OAKLAND -- The city of Oakland adopted the motto “Love Life” a few years ago. That’s exactly what is doing after the biggest day of his Major League career.

Davis and the A’s held a press conference at the Oakland Coliseum before Friday night’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays to officially announce a two-year contract extension that will keep the slugger around through the 2021 season.

The contract is worth $33.5 million. He’s essentially now on a three-year, $50 million deal after earning $16.5 million through salary arbitration for the 2019 season, making it the second-largest contract in A’s history behind Eric Chavez’s six-year, $66 million deal signed in 2004.

But Davis isn’t loving life because of the money. His joy from the extension comes from the likelihood that he gets to remain in Oakland, a city he has adored since the moment he arrived via trade from Milwaukee in 2016, for a little while longer.

“There’s a lot about the city, like good food,” Davis said. “I just love coming to the Coliseum. The players I get to play with. I kind of see it like we’re at a baseball school. There’s so much youth in there and such a drive that I want to be a part of. We could get to the playoffs, again and again, no doubt in my mind.”

Oakland is a large metropolitan city in the San Francisco Bay Area, which makes up the eighth-largest media market in the United States, yet it’s not as flashy as say, Los Angeles or San Francisco, and often gets overlooked as a result. Similarly, Davis is not a typical household name outside of Oakland like other sluggers such as Giancarlo Stanton or Aaron Judge, yet he leads those two and every other hitter in Major League Baseball with 143 home runs since the start of the 2016 regular season.

That’s completely fine by Davis. He doesn’t want the spotlight. In fact, he actually goes out of his way to shun it at times. You’d be hard-pressed to find Davis praising himself for his impressive statistics, so his teammates make sure to give him the love they feel he deserves.

“For a guy who’s hit 40 home runs the past three years, he’s kind of under the radar,” A’s first baseman Matt Olson said. “It’s nice to see him get this recognition and have some security. We’re all ecstatic for him.”

“He deserves it,” A’s third baseman Matt Chapman said. “He works his butt off, and it’s nice to see somebody get what he deserves. He’s proven himself year after year, and I’m happy to have him on our team.”

Olson, Chapman and the rest of Davis’ teammates showed their support by attending Friday's press conference on the second level of the Coliseum inside The Treehouse. As soon as the music hit for Davis’ entrance, which fittingly was his walk-up song, “Ballad of a Dead Soulja” by 2Pac, the rest of the A’s cheered and gave high-fives to Davis as he made his way to the podium.

“There’s not a more deserving person in this clubhouse,” A’s utility infielder Chad Pinder said. “What he’s done for the A’s and our clubhouse, what he means to our team is invaluable. He’s a great teammate and well loved. Today is a special day for his family, him, the A’s, all of us.”

Davis is really the antithesis of your typical superstar athlete. He’s not out there raking in endorsement deals or appearing in commercials. He’s a low-key guy who instead spends his time amongst the people in Oakland, whether it’s hitting up Noodle Theory for some ramen or getting a workout in at Dogtown Athletic boxing gym in West Oakland.

It makes his extension with the A’s, a team that also often gets overlooked and more often than not ends up surprising with a playoff appearance, a perfect match.

“He fits us very well,” A’s general manager David Forst said. “He says he doesn’t enjoy the spotlight or attention, but the attention he gets within that group of 25 players is special. Those guys know how important he is, and I think he feeds off that.”

The value he brings to the lineup is unquestioned. Look no further than his 2018 stint on the 10-day injured list from May 21-31. The A's averaged 5.1 runs per game for the 2018 season. In the nine games Davis was out during that stint, the A's averaged 1.7 runs.

There’s a debate about whether or not lineup protection actually exists. Davis’ teammates learned first-hand that it does for them.

“It was almost just like our production stopped while he was gone,” Olson said. “That doesn’t directly affect what we’re doing at the plate, but when an opposing pitcher sees his name in the middle of the lineup every day, they have to be more aggressive with the guys in front of him. It changes the dynamic of the lineup.”

But perhaps the greater impact Davis brings is his leadership in the clubhouse.

Marcus Semien has played with Davis since his arrival from Milwaukee in 2016. At the time, Davis was a young power hitter still trying to find himself after getting traded for the first time in his career. He’s still not a huge talker, but Davis now gets the attention of everyone in the A’s clubhouse and has emerged as a true leader.

“Any time you’re a new player, as he was in 2016, you’re usually not as vocal,” Semien said. “As he got more years under his belt and became that anchor of the lineup, he took on that role.”

As the 2020 free-agent class keeps dwindling -- Nolan Arenado, Chris Sale, Xander Bogaerts, Justin Verlander and Paul Goldschmidt have all signed contract extensions in the past couple of months -- Davis had every reason to wait until season’s end to test out the market and see what kind of money he could get. But when it came down to it, Davis said his decision to forego free agency was based on the comfort he has with his teammates, something he feels would be tough to replicate anywhere else.

“Just knowing who I’m going to see at the ballpark every day,” Davis said. “Seeing those guys on a consistent basis takes a lot of pressure off me.”

Extension for Chapman next?
With Davis’ new contract out of the way, the talks for which A’s player could be up for a contract extension next immediately turn to Matt Chapman.

The 2018 Gold Glove winner is emerging as one of the top players in the game, with his bat now catching up to his glove. Chapman’s Wins Above Replacement since the 2018 All-Star break is 5.1, per Baseball Reference, which is among the elite, only trailing Christian Yelich, Mike Trout and Ronald Acuna Jr. in that span.

“Khris was a priority because of the impending free agency,” Forst said. “There are other players we have had talks with and there are ongoing conversations. It takes two to tango. You have to find common ground. We will continue to have conversations focused on keeping players here into a new ballpark and beyond.”

Chapman would not be eligible for free agency until 2024, but he certainly appears open to buying up his arbitration years sooner rather than later.

“I want to be a part of this organization,” Chapman said. “I love coming to play here. I love the A’s, and I want to be a part of this for a long time. Khris is a step in the right direction for all that, and I’m just committed to showing up every day and working hard. Whatever happens, that is out of my control.”

Olson takes a step forward
Matt Olson (right hand) advanced to hitting off a tee Friday, the first time he’s done so since undergoing surgery last month. Melvin said the first baseman remains on the initial 6-to-8 week recovery timetable. The six-week mark would be May 3.