Coming off the latest in a string of consecutive career-worst seasons, Chris Davis seriously considered retirement last winter, before ultimately deciding against it. This offseason, he is not entertaining the thought, despite what was largely a lost 2020 season.
The former home run champion is “100 percent fully committed” to playing in 2021, Davis said Wednesday, with an eye toward turning his multiyear struggles around. His comments came as part of a wide-ranging Zoom call with reporters on which Davis addressed his lack of production, his albatross contract and the economic landscape of baseball writ large.
“As far as I’m concerned, I’m still ready to play 162 games and ready to be the everyday first baseman,” Davis said. “I know that’s changed in some people’s minds, but in my mind, I don’t think it’s doing me any favors to go into it thinking I’m anything but that.”
Opening Day 2021 may arrive with Davis functioning as exactly that, despite his hitting .185 with a .615 OPS since the start of '17. It won’t be because of his production in '20, when Davis was a non-factor after missing time due to COVID-19 protocols and left knee issues, ultimately hitting .115 without one homer in 16 games.
The Orioles have repeatedly remained committed to Davis rather than severing the seven-year, $161 million contract he signed prior to the 2016 season. And Davis is again deciding not to walk away.
“The reason why is because everything that went on this past year -- I don’t feel like it was a legitimate shot at a full season for me,” Davis said. “In some ways, it was more than a full season with everything I had to do to keep up physically and mentally over the break, then going through all those multiple-hour-long calls trying to get things together with the league so we could have a season. I didn’t feel I really got a fair shake, as far as this season was concerned.
“[Retirement] wasn’t on the table this offseason. It was something [my family] needed to address last offseason. We sat down and really considered it. But I think there are too many doors left open for me to walk away.”
At this point, Davis makes up more than one-third of the 2021 financial commitments for the rebuilding Orioles, who played with MLB’s lowest payroll in '20 and who recently cut ties with productive regulars Núñez and Hanser Alberto for money-related reasons. Davis earned an adjusted $7.8 million of the original $21 million he was owed in '20, and he is owed $46 million through '22. If you disregard Alex Cobb, the O’s second-highest earner, Davis makes roughly the same as the next 24 Baltimore players combined.
Asked about the state of the Orioles’ rebuild and their recent player moves, Davis, the club’s longtime player representative, said:
“It’s tough to know what to make of it right now. There is no doubt we’re in a rebuilding phase. Personally, I wonder where that rebuild is headed. Are we talking a complete rebuild? Are we trying to start things over from scratch and only have younger players, players this new regime has drafted and brought up? I think they’re trying to get the most out of the guys they have now, and sometimes that means you have to lose some of the guys that have been productive for you.
“The tough thing about being an older player is, sometimes the moves that are made are going to affect the team in a more positive way when you’re not on the team. I know [executive vice president and general manager] Mike [Elias] and [vice president and assistant general manager of analytics] Sig [Mejdal] and [manager Brandon Hyde] Hyder have a good idea of what they are trying to accomplish, but sometimes it doesn’t look like you think it would.”
Davis said his desire to play “has nothing to do with the amount of money I’m owed or the amount of money I’m going to make.”
“I want to play the game because I feel I can still compete,” Davis said. “I enjoy playing the game. I want to play for myself, for my teammates, for our fan base [and] for the people of Baltimore. I still feel like there is still something I have left to give. And to be honest with you, I don’t want my career to end on the note that it’s on right now. I don’t want it to end the way things have gone the last few years for me. I think there is more of a story to be told.
“As far as my contract is concerned, it is what it is. I’m not going anywhere. I’m not giving up. I’m not throwing in the towel. I understand the club is trying to cut payroll and I’m the one big lump they’re kind of stuck with. But they knew what they were signing up for when they took the job.”