'It was like it was meant to be': Davis crosses Bay to join A's

March 16th, 2024

MESA, Ariz. -- As fielded interest from several teams in the aftermath of his unexpected release from the Giants earlier this week, he lined up his list of decision-making factors in order of importance: role, location and supporting cast.

The A’s had an ongoing battle at third base this spring with no true established option on the roster. They are cross-bay neighbors with the Giants, so Davis would not have to move his family anywhere, and A’s manager Mark Kotsay is a figure whom Davis revered in college as a “legend” while playing at Kotsay's alma mater, Cal State Fullerton.

So when A’s general manager David Forst made the call, it did not take much to sell Davis on the idea of joining the club.

“It was like it was meant to be,” Davis said.

Sure enough, after four days of free agency, Davis found a new home on Saturday, finalizing a one-year deal with Oakland that a source told MLB.com is for $2.5 million and includes up to $1 million in performance-based incentives.

“There was a few things that were important to me during this process and all of those things matched up over here really well,” Davis said prior to the A’s split-squad games against the Brewers and Rockies on Saturday.

“Going from one side of the Bay to the other side of the Bay is definitely nice. But the one thing talking to David was the opportunity to play third base and get the most plate appearances. This was the best opportunity.”

While Davis and Kotsay never had a full conversation before, the two had seen each other plenty, most recently at the annual Fullerton alumni game in January.

The connection goes deeper. About a decade ago, Kotsay got a good look at Davis as an amateur while on a scouting trip for the Padres as a special assistant with San Diego in 2014. Back then, Davis starred at Fullerton alongside Matt Chapman, who Kotsay eventually coached with the A’s from 2017-21.

“Looking back, it was him and Chapman at Fullerton together,” Kotsay said. “I liked him then. It’s just ironic how things come full circle.”

Davis, who turns 31 in April, brings a track record of a quality Major League hitter, holding a career .261 batting average and .775 OPS in seven Major League seasons. Playing in a career-high 144 games with San Francisco last season, Davis hit .248/.325/.413 with 18 home runs, 23 doubles and 69 RBIs.

With the A’s, Davis figures to get the bulk of playing time at third, though Kotsay also noted that first base is an option, as the club configures its lineups based on pitching matchups.

“In terms of third base, I still think we’re going to see different guys go through that position,” Kotsay said. “We’re going to utilize J.D., and try to maximize the performance. He played a lot of games last year. He’s 30, and he’s got some wear and tear on him. He can also play first base, so there’s an opportunity over there, as well. As we always do here, we utilize matchups, and I think that’s part of the equation for where J.D. fits in.”

For Davis, there is some peace that comes in promptly finding a new team after what he described as a “roller coaster” past week that began with him fully expecting to begin the season with the Giants. Once San Francisco signed Chapman on March 4, Davis knew a decision was going to have to be made, which ended up with him being placed on unconditional release waivers a week later on March 11.

“It was a punch to the gut,” Davis said. “You’re getting the rug pulled out from under you in a way where you’re not expecting that entirely. … It’s just part of the business of baseball. But to have that happen, I definitely had some lows in there. However, this opportunity over here seems a little bit better than what it was over there, so I’m grateful for it.”

There is also an expectation for Davis to provide leadership and guidance inside a clubhouse filled with young A’s talent that is looking to make a significant leap in competitiveness after going 50-112 last season. It’s a role that the seven-year big league veteran looks forward to.

“The expectation in here is always to win and get better,” Davis said. “Continue to bridge that gap. This team is very exciting. A lot of young guys who are hungry. I don’t care what their record was last year. Guys will continue to get better. Hopefully, I can be a piece of that cog and we can win some more games.”