Despite the flurry of activity during the Winter Meetings, several power bats remain unsigned as we get into the first full week of 2016. Joe Vasile recently wrote about the inexplicable lack of interest in Yoenis Cespedes, but Yo is not alone on the free agent beach. Alongside Cespedes are other strong offensive bats including Dexter Fowler, Alex Gordon, Justin Upton, and Chris Davis.
Chris Davis is entering his age-30 season and has posted two legitimately monster seasons at the plate. In 2013, Davis finished sixth in fWAR with 7.0, led the league in home runs with 53, and posted the third-best wRC+ behind only Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout. His .286/.370/.634 slash line demonstrated a rare average / power combo, but his inconsistency is his defining characteristic.
In 2014 Davis took a clear step back in terms of performance and reputation. He did not harness the same power, and his excellent seven percent home run rate in 2013 was cut to under five percent. His average took a huge step back from .286 to .196, though one saving grace was his walk rate remained steady around 11 percent. Davis was not a league average hitter in 2014, and his wRC+ crashed from tops in the big leagues to a pedestrian 94.
Additionally, Davis served a 25-game performance enhancing drug suspension for his use of Adderall, although it's difficult to condemn him now that he has a therapeutic-use exemption. The issue is less the PED connection and more so the inconsistency in on-field performance.
After serving his suspension, the 2015 version of Davis seemed more similar to the 2013 version than 2014. He increased his hard-hit rate to 41.4 percent, nearly identical to 2013 and five percentage points higher than 2014. His home run to fly ball rate returned to 29 percent as opposed to the 22.6 percent in 2014. His batting average on balls in play, which dipped from .336 to .242 in 2014, rebounded to a more normal .319 in 2015. His 47 home runs again led the league last year, and Davis found himself once more in the top ten of wRC+, 47 percent above league average hitters. Unfortunately, one of the more consistent statistics is his strikeout rate, which hovers around 30 percent.
Davis has played in 883 career games spread across the Rangers and Orioles. In those games, he has compiled a total 14.5 fWAR. Despite making appearances in eight seasons, 12.6 of those wins have come in only two non-consecutive seasons. His inconsistency makes him the most risky free agent available; if not for plus-plus power, Davis would hardly be considered a star. The current state of long-term first basemen also limits the market for Davis' services.
Of the teams with the highest payrolls and empirical willingness to spend recently, nearly all have locked-in solutions at first base or have some reason that makes Davis a poor fit.
When it comes to free spending, we usually think of the Dodgers as having the deepest pockets, but despite their reputation, they have shown an uncharacteristic austerity this offseason. They also have Adrian Gonzalez signed through 2018. Similarly, the now free-spending Cubs have Anthony Rizzo manning first and are not in the market for a bat-only first baseman. The Giants have Brandon Belt and part-time first baseman and franchise face Buster Posey. The Nationals need a first baseman but are resigned to putting Ryan Zimmerman at the corner due to his defensive woes at the other side of the infield.
In the American League, the top spenders include teams that are likely set at first base, including the Blue Jays with Edwin Encarnacion, the Angels with Albert Pujols, and the Tigers with Miguel Cabrera.
The Red Sox and Yankees seem to be the teams most in need of a slugging first baseman, though Davis does not fit the mold of either team's longer-term plans. The Yankees are still paying Mark Teixeira, though his durability is a large question mark at this point. Tex is signed through only the end of this upcoming season, but much like the Dodgers the Yankees suddenly seem allergic to spending money on big time free agents since they signed Jacoby Ellsbury (and that contract is not exactly looking fantastic at the moment). Davis could end up in the Bronx, but understanding Davis' risk profile makes him someone Brian Cashman will most likely avoid this offseason.
The Red Sox committed a great deal of money at the winter meetings, signing David Price and trading for Craig Kimbrel. They also have Hanley Ramirez under contract for what seems like an eternity and unless they move him in a trade will have him starting at first base. Even if they do move Hanley, the Pablo Sandoval disaster and the aforementioned Hanley deal make it unlikely.
This brings us back to Baltimore. The Orioles are not surprisingly the only team that has been consistently linked with Davis. They have not signed a large free agent contract since inking Adam Jones to an $85.5 million multi-year deal in 2012.
Baltimore is trying to remain competitive in an American League East that saw its fifth division champion in six years. With a lack of suitors for Davis' services, Baltimore may be biding their time until the price for Davis decreases. The O's are lucky the Nationals overcommitted to Ryan Zimmerman, because had it not been for a $100 million contract through 2019 there could be additional competition for Davis in the beltway. As it is, Davis may be calling on the Orioles after they stop calling on him.