PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Early in the offseason, it was Nolan Arenado. Then the rumors turned to Kris Bryant, then Matt Chapman, and that’s not to discount any other names that went unpublished. The Mets were at least curious about the idea of upgrading at third base, even if they never grew serious about it.
Back in Arizona, incumbent third baseman J.D. Davis heard the whispers, because how could he not? Davis says he is “not a guy really much on social media.” But when every week brings a new rumor, they can become hard to ignore.
Davis did his best, never seeking assurances about his own status. The closest the Mets came to providing any was general manager Zack Scott’s recent public statement that he’d be “comfortable” with Davis at third, which is good, because that’s where Davis is slated to spend most of this season.
“I think it’s actually pretty cool to be in a package deal with Nolan Arenado and Matt Chapman and Kris Bryant,” Davis said on Wednesday, shrugging off the rumors. “It says a lot where I’ve come from as a player, so it is what it is. I have full confidence in my capability. I’m a Major Leaguer, and I’m a big leaguer, and I know that, and I’m going to stand behind that. And I love these guys. I love this organization. … Am I happy to be a Met? Absolutely.”
The case for Davis at third is not complicated. Just two years ago, he broke out with a .307/.369/.527 slash line and 22 homers over 453 plate appearances. Although he struggled defensively in left field, it’s somewhat easy to see why. The Mets had Davis work exclusively at third base that spring, only to move him to the outfield shortly after the regular season began. Statcast’s Outs Above Average metric rated him as a positive defender at third, but his negative defensive reputation grew due to his issues in left.
Last year the opposite happened; the Mets asked Davis to focus mostly on left field, only to shift him back to third once the season began. He once again struggled with the glove, despite showcasing an elite throwing arm that had served him well as a pitcher at Cal State Fullerton. Davis fell to -3 OAA at third, which he doesn’t believe is indicative of what he can do this year.
“It’s huge when you go into a Spring Training where you know what position you’re going to play, or the majority of where you’re going to play,” he said.
In some ways, offense -- never a problem throughout Davis’ early career -- is of more concern than defense, considering his slump to a .247/.371/.389 slash line with only six home runs in 229 plate appearances last season. He admits to becoming too “rotational” early in the summer, relying less on his hands for bat speed and more on his torso.
“A lot of times, he was just late,” hitting coach Chili Davis said, resulting in too many ground balls to the left side of the infield and, more generally, a slump that lasted the final month and a half of the season.
Still, Davis finished in the 71st percentile in exit velocity among Major League players, and the 80th in hard-hit rate, hinting that not all was lost. This winter he worked on his mechanical issues with Chili, who lives near him in Arizona.
“Watching him work right now, everything is freer,” coach Davis said. “He’s back to that J.D. that I remember in 2019.”
If that’s the case, the rest should fall into place. The Mets don’t need Davis to be the best hitter on their team -- not with Michael Conforto, Francisco Lindor and so many others handling that load. Nor do they need him to be a Gold Glove defender; Lindor, with his excellent range, will help Davis merely by virtue of his presence.
The Mets never, in other words, needed to mortgage their future for Arenado, Bryant or Chapman -- not when steady production from Davis will do.
“It’s kind of something that’s unofficially, officially not said,” Davis said of his status. “I’m assuming that third base is the spot that I’m going to get the majority of my work and my reps, and where I can grow, and where I can succeed and where I can fail, and continue to become a better player.”