In 2014, the Oakland A's got absolutely no production from first base. They combined Brandon Moss, an injured injured Stephen Vogt, a dash of Callaspo, an eye of Barton, and a pinch of Blanks and Freiman to concoct an underwhelming .684 OPS, 26th in MLB. Their total line:
A's 1B, 2014: .230/.303/.381, .684 OPS (26th) 22 HR
Every single one of those players from last year is gone except for Vogt, and he's back to catching now that his foot has healed. In the offseason, the A's addressed the position by adding bounce-back candidate Ike Davis, professional hitter Billy Butler, and unknown slugger Mark Canha, with Ike slated to get the bulk of the time as the heavy-side platoon starter. And that is how the A's vastly improved their production at first base for the 2015 season. Let's check in on them and marvel at how much better they've been:
A's 1B, 2015: .235/.308/.372, .679 OPS (24th) 10 HR
Aw, hamburgers. Their OPS has actually gone slightly down, and at best they've treaded water from last year's abysmal performance. Ike has gotten about half the playing time, and his personal numbers are representative of the overall problem:
Ike: .234/.305/.359, 85 OPS+, 3 HR
He's not the only first baseman who is failing to hit. Canha has an OPS+ of 85 as well, Butler is at 87, and rookie Max Muncy posted a mark of 80 while filling in short-term. However, Butler (who mostly plays DH anyway) is signed to a three-year deal so there's not much you can do with him -- bench him, or keep running him out there in optimal situations and hope he recovers. Canha and Muncy both still have a lot of team control left, and they also both hold some positional versatility -- Canha in LF, Muncy at 3B. So, Butler is stuck here, and Canha and Muncy are pieces the team needs to keep.
What about Ike?
That leaves Ike. When the A's picked him up for a song last winter, I was excited. He's just their kind of undervalued commodity, a corner player who has enough skill to be above-average at a position where you would otherwise be destitute. He had never OPSed less than .727 against right-handers, with a career split of .813, and he would be protected in a strict platoon in Oakland. He'd get on base a bit and play slick defense, and as a bonus there was always a chance of tapping into the power that had led to 32 homers in 2012. He had been slightly above-average at the plate in 2014, and at age 28 there was every reason to hope he was past the worst of his offensive troubles from the year before and ready to be a productive hitter once more.
But it just hasn't worked out. He was doing fine in mid-May, with a .775 OPS, but then he pulled a quad while legging out a double and went on the DL for 33 games. Since his return on June 9, he's batting .189/.263/.292 -- he's not hitting for average, he's not walking or getting on base, and he's hitting for doubles power at best. He's making a lot of contact, but over half of it is on the ground and the ones he does hit in the air don't go far. It visibly appears that he's aiming to spray the ball rather than swing for power, but the results aren't justifying the approach. Rather than building on his 2014 campaign and bouncing back to become Oakland's next Seth Smith or John Jaso, he's battling James Loney and Logan Morrison for the worst OPS among all MLB first basemen. And, while I personally think he plays good defense, the metrics seem to think he's average at best in the field. He just hasn't really helped the team much on either side of the ball.
The thing that makes Ike different than the other first basemen is that he only has one year of team control left. He's eligible for arbitration one last time next winter, and then he can be a free agent after 2016. That means two things: The A's don't have long-term control over him, and they aren't even contractually committed to keeping him next year. He's making $3.8 million this season, and in the arbitration process you still usually get a raise even after a bad year because you're being rewarded just as much for your increase in service time. If the A's keep him, he'll almost certainly make at least $4 million, and possibly even $5 million.
Given that Ike entered with a career history featuring a couple big red flags and then posted what is currently on pace to be his career-worst season at age 28, how likely are the A's to tender him a $4+ million contract for 2016? He seems like an obvious nontender candidate to me -- last winter, he was a discount replacement for Moss, but next year he'll be on the other end of that relative spectrum with cheaper guys like Canha and Muncy and even Rangel Ravelo available. The A's are always looking to get cheaper without getting worse, and replacing Ike with a group of young lotto tickets is one easy way to do that. And given that he was acquired for virtually nothing last winter and is having a bad year, he also won't have any trade value in the upcoming offseason.
So, if Ike is not a good bet to be in the picture next year, and he's not helping on the field anymore this year, then why is he still here? The A's have a bunch of games left, and that could be a chance for Canha to finally play every day, or for Muncy to continue cutting his teeth in the bigs. And it's not just that -- some contending team might have use for Ike as a hitter off the bench, or as an emergency replacement at first base down the stretch. Maybe Houston could use him, if they aren't thrilled with Chris Carter or Luis Valbuena and want to cut some of the strikeouts out of their lineup. Maybe the Cardinals aren't satisfied with Mark Reynolds and a struggling Moss. The Nationals aren't getting much from the husk of Ryan Zimmerman. Ike isn't a bad player -- he can help someone out there, but he's not a good fit at all anymore for the rebuilding A's. So why not set him free now while he might still be able to catch on elsewhere and play in meaningful games this season? Perhaps if the Oakland waives him in August, another team will claim him and take on the rest of the money in his current contract too.
I genuinely like Ike. I know he's having a bad year, but I like his game because I have a special appreciation for plate discipline and underrated defense. He was also one of the players present for our BlogFest interviews at FanFest in February, and he struck me as a nice, humble man, who is aware of what he's good at and what he's not and is fully confident that he has the skills to help a team. I really liked him in person. But not everything works out, and in this case he's just not the right man for this particular roster anymore.
It's time to let Ike Davis go, both for his own good and the good of the team. But man, I'll miss him.
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