A’s slugger Khris Davis might just be the most interesting player in baseball this season. Let’s count the reasons:
Davis’ at-bats are stop-and-watch television because you do not want to miss one of his moon balls. At a time when home runs are being hit more often than at any time in history, they remain compelling theater.
To see the combination of strength, quickness and smarts launch a 97-mph pitch into the night air never gets old. Davis does this more frequently than anyone. He leads the Majors with 10 this season and is on a pace -- if you believe in such things -- to hit 85.
Yes, 85. Sure, pace calculations don’t hold up very often, but in this case, it’s a reflection of how good he is. No Oakland player has surpassed the 50-home run threshold since Mark McGwire had 52 in 1996.
Davis led the Majors with 48 last season, and since the A’s acquired him for the 2016 season, his 143 home runs are 19 more than any other player (next is Giancarlo Stanton).
Those homers come in spurts, and Davis has lots of spurts. He slammed three in the A’s first four games, and then hit five in a three-game stretch against the Orioles and Rangers last week. He’s hitting the ball consistently harder -- 14.3 percent barrels per plate appearance, tied for 11th-highest in MLB.
2. Impending free agency
As a long list of other potential free agents sign extensions, Davis remains unsigned. Other than perhaps Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon, Davis could end up being baseball’s most attractive option next offseason.
Davis has maintained consistently that he would prefer to stay with the A’s, and the two sides have had conversations. But this season’s fast start will not lower his asking price.
Davis will be 32 on Opening Day next season and understands that teams have been cautious about signing these players to mega-deals. He’s making $16.5 million in a pre-arbitration hearing settlement and has said he’d like an extension of at least three years.
“That’s a long time to be an Oakland A,” Davis told reporters during the offseason. “But if anybody can do it, I guess it’s me, hopefully.”
Jim Thome was the last player to hit 50 home runs in his free-agent season -- that was 2002 -- and he landed a six-year, $85 million deal with the Phillies. Thome, like Davis, was 32 on Opening Day with his new team.
“He’s always implied to me he wants to be here,” A’s manager Bob Melvin told reporters during the offseason, “but you also have to do what is best for yourself and your family as well. If push came to shove and everything was equal, I think we’d have a leg up on the potential other landing spots for him.”
Davis is the type of person fans, teammates and managers all love. His humility is real and appreciated by A’s fans. His lack of ego is a reflection of the culture Melvin has attempted to build, and Davis’ work ethic impacts young players in ways large and small. It’s also how the city of Oakland sees itself in the wider world.
“I think he’s been as good a fit here as some of the great players we’ve had in the past,” Melvin said. “He seems like the perfect fit for our city and for our team. The attitude he has, he’s a superstar that has an everyday workman-like mentality. He doesn’t want the spotlight.”