SARASOTA, Fla. -- Shortly after reporting to the Orioles spring complex Monday morning, Chris Davis stood in front of his clubhouse locker and hinted at a potential choice that would’ve resulted in him being elsewhere. The hypothetical series of events went like this: The Orioles’ first full-squad workout of the
SARASOTA, Fla. -- Shortly after reporting to the Orioles spring complex Monday morning, Chris Davis stood in front of his clubhouse locker and hinted at a potential choice that would’ve resulted in him being elsewhere. The hypothetical series of events went like this: The Orioles’ first full-squad workout of the spring is here, but Davis is not. He is retired, home in Texas with his wife Jill and three young daughters, having willingly forgone the final three years on his contract.
Ultimately, that is not what happened. But it is a scenario Davis considered after slogging through a second consecutive sub-.200 season in 2019.
“I’d be lying if I told you that wasn’t at least talked about at the end of last season,” Davis said. “I know what I’m capable of. I know what I expect of myself. I don’t want to continue to just struggle and be a well-below average producer at the plate. That’s not fair to these guys. That’s not fair to our fans or anyone associated with Baltimore. But I still think there is something left in the tank.”
“After two real grinding years,” Davis added, “I do still think there is some time to kind of right the ship.”
In Davis’ words, his motivation to return is twofold. One reason was the offseason training regimen Orioles management and he constructed for him near the end of 2019, which Davis called “very calculated and constructed.” The other was simply because he feels he still can perform.
“The only reason I would’ve walked away was if I physically felt like I couldn’t do it anymore,” he said. “And that was not the case.”
And so it was with that realization Davis embarked on the winter, searching for a semblance of his former self. After years of cutting weight, Davis said he added 25 intentional pounds in hopes of strengthening a frame that “hasn’t produced any results.” That Davis arrived bulkier -- especially in his shoulder/upper back region -- was noticeable to observers both inside the organization and out.
Speaking with reporters after Monday’s workout wrapped, manager Brandon Hyde used the words “great” (thrice), “outstanding” and “fantastic” to describe the shape Davis arrived in, and he also spoke complimentary of the first baseman’s first batting practice session. Though Davis and Hyde spoke frequently this winter, Davis disclosed his doubts about returning only his immediate family.
“That’s news to me,” Hyde said.
What Hyde was privy to was Davis’ planned physical transformation, which came as an alternative to any mechanical one. Though he switched up his offseason hitting partner -- it is now former teammate Craig Gentry -- Davis eschewed making any large-scale swing overhauls. That too, was intentional.
“I think that was something everybody was curious about: Am I going to do anything drastic in the box?” Davis said. “The answer is no. I’m not going to crouch down in my legs like Albert Pujols. I hit how I hit. I think the deficiencies the last few years have been due to strength.”
However valid the theory, there is no denying how drastic those deficiencies themselves had gotten. Of batters with at least 2,000 plate appearances (or 500 per season), Davis has been MLB’s third worst hitter by OPS and owns its highest strikeout rate since signing his seven-year, $161 million contract in Jan. 2016 -- the richest in franchise history. He hit .179 with 12 home runs and a .601 OPS in '19, during which he set an MLB record hitless streak and engaged in a dugout altercation with Hyde. Davis was relegated to a bench role by season’s end, and he seems to be squeezed for playing time again with upwards of five younger players in line to simultaneously need at-bats at corner positions by some point this summer.
No. 4 prospect Ryan Mountcastle could force the Orioles’ hand with a big spring, something Davis admitted would help his peace of mind. If No. 5 prospect Yusniel Diaz arrives this year, he’d be prioritized in a crowded mix along with Trey Mancini, Anthony Santander and Renato Núñez.
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Asked if he would accept being a part-time player, Davis said “it’s hard to say yes right now.”
“Right now I want to be an everyday player,” he said. “I consider myself an everyday player and I think it’s the case until it's proven otherwise.”
Then there is the issue of his contract, which at this point, roots Davis to the roster more than anything else. That roster sizes expand to 26 this season will help, as does the rebuilding Orioles’ position on the competitive spectrum. But the money is key: Davis is owed $69 million through 2023 and $24 million more in deferred money through 2037, most of which would be left on the table should he walk away.
Davis said he planned to revisit the possibility next winter -- should 2020 go sour.
“Ultimately, my family has priority over everybody else,” he said. “It was something I wanted to voice, get out there. It was the elephant in the room.”
Joe Trezza covers the Orioles for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JoeTrezz.