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Latest on Davis, Mountcastle from Meetings

By Joe Trezza | @JoeTrezz

December 11, 2019

SAN DIEGO -- On the other end of another disappointing season for Chris Davis, the Orioles are trying to fix their struggling first baseman again. This latest attempt will involve house calls.

It was revealed Tuesday that the Orioles and Davis' agent, Scott Boras, are working in tandem to put together an offseason routine for Davis to follow near his home in Texas. The O's will periodically send members of the organization south to visit Davis throughout the winter, club executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said.

"We just want to make sure we are coordinated in the plan," Elias said.

That was the main takeaway from a quiet second day at the Winter Meetings for the Orioles, who continue to monitor several player markets and explore behind-the-scenes initiatives, but have thus far not made any transactions in San Diego. Here is more detail on the Davis front and two other takeaways from Day 2:

1. Fixing Davis sounds great, but what does it look like?

Since taking over the Orioles' baseball operations last November, Elias has been steadfast in expressing public support for Davis, even as his long-term future with the team appeared in doubt. It still may be, with Elias giving no public assurance about Davis, other than he'll be with the team in Sarasota, Fla., this spring. This new level of team involvement would seem to put more urgency on Davis heading into camp.

"Now that [manager] Brandon [Hyde] and I have been here a year and experienced a year with Chris, we have a lot more feel for the situation," Elias said. "I think there was more hope last year that 2018 was a little bit of an aberration and new people, new environment might have some effect. But here we are again in 2019. The message is the same. We all want to figure out ways for him to get better, but we want to try some different specific things or tweaks to aspects of his program."

Asked to get into specifics of that program, Elias declined. He also would not specify if Davis would work with a private hitting coach, something Davis did not commit to when asked at a charity event last month. Davis, 33, said then that wholesale swing changes weren't on the horizon, given his age and point in his career.

He worked with former Braves instructor Mike Brumley near his Fort Worth home last offseason, then hit .179 with 12 homers and a .601 OPS in 2019. Davis batted .168 with 16 homers and a .539 OPS in '18. He is owed around $63 million through '22, and more in deferred payments until '37.

"I'm always concerned when a player's not performing to the level of his ability," Boras said. "[We are] always trying to garner an approach and an improvement of his performance."

2. The O's are exploring the shortstop market.

On a day the shortstop market moved on both the free-agent (Didi Gregorius reportedly agreed to a one-year, $14 million deal with Phillies) and trade (the Angels sent Zack Cozart and shortstop prospect Will Wilson to the Giants for cash or a player to be named later) fronts, the Orioles explored its lower tier with an eye toward filling their vacancies up the middle. Sources indicate they've expressed interest in former Reds shortstop Jose Peraza, whom we outlined as a potential fit after he was non-tendered last month. Baltimore reportedly has competition from at least three other teams for Peraza, according to MLB.com's Mark Feinsand, and has also been previously linked to Adeiny Hechavarria and others.

What's clear is the O's appear poised to go outside the organization to find a replacement for Jonathan Villar, as Elias acknowledged earlier in the week. They've also acquired Pat Valaika (waiver claim) and Dilson Herrera (Minor League free agent) for depth in recent weeks, in case they decide Richie Martin would benefit from beginning the year at Triple-A.

Peraza and Hechavarria, though, represent more everyday options. Peraza hit .239 with a .631 OPS for the Reds, but he played six positions (including pitcher) in 2019. He appeared in 117 games at either shortstop or second base, rating as an above-average defender at both.

3. Mountcastle will be on the move again.

This spring is set to be a big one for Ryan Mountcastle, the Orioles' No. 4 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, who should reach the Majors early in 2020 -- even if he doesn't make the team out of camp. But to find him this spring, you'll need to look all around the field.

Elias said Tuesday the Orioles plan to rotate Mountcastle around four positions this spring, including right field, which would be new for the 22-year-old. Mountcastle will also play third base, first and left field; he played the latter two positions for the first time in 2019. The idea is to find a clear defensive home and also regular at-bats for Mountcastle, a bat-first corner type looking to swing his way onto a roster that already features a glut of those. Davis' presence in particular complicates Mountcastle's path to the Majors.

"He's in a weird spot right now where he can play a number of positions, but he hasn't really mastered any one of those," Elias said. "We've got to figure out which way to steer that in the early going."