Ironically, Davis' success has made him a polarizing figure on AN in recent weeks, as seemingly each community member has picked sides: ride this feel-good, improbable center field success story ...or sell high while we can?
This post won't answer that question....yet. We have to find a few hypothetical trade partners and packages first. You'll find that discussion after the jump.
Before we get any further, let's remember that the concept of "The Rajai Davis Trade Market" would've sounded ridiculous one season ago, when Rajai was claimed off waivers from the Giants and posted .288 OBP in about 200 plate appearances for the A's. That's part of why I doubt he'll be moved this offseason. He was ignored league-wide for a long time, earning a mention at the bottom of this article; teams won't suddenly forget that when it comes time to talk trade.
Despite being unheralded, however, Davis has been immensely valuable this season. Fangraphs places the value of his 2009 performance at $16.7M , ahead of Torii Hunter, Carlos Beltran, and Curtis Granderson. Davis has been worth a staggering $12.2M on offense alone in less than 400 at-bats, on the strength of a .374 BABIP. (For some perspective, Ichiro's career BABIP is .359).
He also fills a premium position with outstanding defense, which we'd expect to be a dire need for many teams. Strangely, however, it doesn't appear to be. Almost every team is pretty happy with its center field situation right now.
I prefaced my analysis with that for a reason: I don't want you get your hopes up.
Think about how hard it would be for the A's to reach a decent agreement for both sides on a Rajai Davis trade. Is Billy Beane going to trade a cost-controlled, outstanding defensive center fielder who is (apparently?!) capable of hitting .300 in the AL for a minor league reliever? I don't think so. Especially not one who is a great locker room presence, has great work ethic and will be a good role model for Chris Carter and a host of young position players who will join the big-league roster in the next few seasons.
So, the A's probably would desire a good starting pitching prospect, or a hitter who profiles as, "very likely to be at least an average major league regular." But how many teams would really be willing to give up that for a player who they completely ignored less than two years ago when he was available for free through the waiver wire? Especially when we consider that most of the league is pretty well-set in CF.
So, here goes: a humble list of hypothetical teams. I don't expect these guys to actively call Billy Beane.
Milwaukee Brewers: Mike Cameron is a free agent, and the team probably can't afford to fill that void expensively, given their immediate needs in the rotation and at catcher. The Brewers at a dangerous spot in the win curve; they won't be able to afford Prince Fielder in free agency and the next two seasons might be their best shot at returning to the playoffs for a while. If they make a decision to go all in during those two years, it doesn't make much sense to keep 19-year-old Brett Lawrie, who has established himself (along with Casey Kelly of the Red Sox) as the very best of the high school draft class of '08. Lawrie won't help the Brewers win anything during the next two seasons, but his maturation would line up very well with the A's projected run at contention. Lawrie has been moved off catcher and is now playing second base; with the A's, who will be cost-controlled throughout their infield in two years, all Lowrie would really need to do is hit, even if in an outfield corner if necessary.
Chicago White Sox: Count the "ifs": IF the White Sox decline Jermaine Dye's option and elect to cheaply improve their outfield defense, and IF they'd prefer Alex Rios to play in right field, and IF they are content to exercise Freddy Garcia's $1M option for '10 and make him his fifth starter, and IF Kenny Williams falls in love with Davis' gritty, Scott-Podsednickitty-style of grindiness, perhaps we have a match here. But the only player I like left in this trade-stripped farm system is rocket--moving SP prospect Dan Hudson, who passed through four levels this season en route to the big league cup of coffee he's currently sipping on. Hudson's a 22-year-old righty who's fastball tops out at 90 mph, which is the only reason that Williams - who seems to lean more toward "stuff" and scouting than sabermetrics - would perhaps consider him. Doesn't it only seem proper that all right-handed SP prospects with unheralded stuff named "Hudson" get their big break in Oakland? :)
The A's obviously have the relief depth to even up those deals if necessary; I merely included the principals (Davis for prospect X).
I'll leave you with this whopper, even less likely than the two above (It would make me sad, because it would cost the A's my two favorite players, both of whom seem to maximize every ounce of talent they have):
Kurt Suzuki and Rajai Davis for B.J. Upton and Dioner Navarro
(Again, those are just the principal names; you could make that infinitely more complex by adding quality major league relievers from the A's end to fuel the Rays' need to win now, and/or the A's taking on Burrell's salary to bring him back to the Bay Area and split OF/DH with Cust, the A's receiving a prospect not named Jennings in return, etc.)
What do you all think?