From the beginning of the offseason, it seemed likely that the Oakland A's would target a new outfielder. They had Josh Reddick locked into RF and Billy Burns in CF, but LF was an assortment of declining vets, intriguing flyers, and potential breakout candidate Mark Canha. They waited until the last minute, but the addition finally came in mid-February in the form of a trade for slugger Khris Davis from the Brewers.
Unfortunately, the deal happened on Friday afternoon before a three-day double-holiday weekend (Valentine's Day, Presidents' Day) that happened to also include my birthday. That means I'm a little bit behind the news here, because I didn't really start seriously looking at it until Tuesday. The good news is that Athletics Nation still covered every angle of the move, and you can check out the full StoryStream here.
However, for anyone else who missed last weekend, or those who haven't fully turned their attention back to baseball as we wait a couple more days for pitchers and catchers to report, here is the full rundown on everything you missed.
Khris Davis: Scouting Report
Davis is 28 years old, and he bats and throws right-handed. Let's split this up into offense and defense.
Offense: Good bet to lead A's in both HR and Ks
If there is one thing the A's acquired Davis for, it's his power. His nickname is Khrush, a parody of Orioles slugger Chris "Crush" Davis, and he's earned it by knocking 60 homers in his first 321 career games with a .494 slugging percentage (.244 isolated slugging). He hit a career-high 27 last year in only 440 plate appearances, and 21 of them came in the second half in only 259 PAs, so he can rack up the dingers with the best of them. It's not crazy to hope he could break 30 this season and not difficult to imagine him leading the A's in that category, after they finished 12th in the AL in homers in 2015 and had no one who exceeded 20.
There's more to Davis' power than just his homer total, though. For starters, he hits the ball as hard as just about anybody in the game, in terms of the exit velocity of the ball off his bat (a stat that has become increasingly popular in recent years). Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs, using data from Baseball Savant, notes that Davis ranks among the top handful of hitters in the speed of his flies and liners, and also gives us this nugget: "Davis is one of just three players with a hard-hit rate north of 35% to all three fields [over the last three years]. The others are Paul Goldschmidt and Miguel Cabrera." This isn't just a guy who can pull mistake pitches with authority. Davis simply hits rockets whenever he makes contact.
In addition to hitting well to all fields, Davis also doesn't carry any significant platoon split. For his career, his OPS marks are .813 vs. RHP, and .797 vs. LHP, with more of the same in the minors. Meanwhile, his strikeout and walk rates don't change against either hand, and the dingers flow against all types of hurlers. A's fans are used to mixing and matching players to maximize the matchups, but Davis is a guy who can be in the lineup every day and do his thing regardless of the pitcher's handedness.
Finally, the downsides. Davis has struck out in about one-quarter of his at-bats for his career, and that number increased last season along with his power totals -- last year's 27.7% K-rate would have led the A's, and the highest mark of any returning player was Marcus Semien at 22.0%. Davis swung and missed on 15.2% of the pitches he saw, which was top-10 among MLB hitters (min. 400 PAs) and would have easily led the A's (Josh Phegley and Danny Valencia were the only returners to break double-digits in that metric, both at 11%). But of course, strikeouts tend to be a consequence of power, and as long as he's clearing fences regularly his current rate of whiffs will be an acceptable side effect.
The other downside is his move from Milwaukee's hitter-friendly Miller Park to the spacious Oakland Coliseum. Jeremy F. Koo touched on this point over the weekend, so I'll just add in Davis' career home/road splits:
Davis, Miller Park: .269/.343/.534
Davis, elsewhere: .230/.285/.451
Something to keep an eye on? Certainly. Cause for panic? No way. Davis is strong enough to hit it out of any park, and in fact his homer output has been nearly identical at home and on the road. Jeremy illustrates this well with an overlay that shows how all of Davis' 2015 homers would have gone out in the Coliseum as well. The main differences in the splits you see above are an increase in BABIP, doubles, and walks when he was at home in Milwaukee.
Summary: Davis will likely lead the A's in homers, but he won't hit for a high average. He'll strike out as much as anyone on the team, but when he makes contact it will be hard and he also learned how to take a walk last year. The takeaway from all this is that the dude can rake.
Defense: Solid range, noodle arm
Davis has received lukewarm defensive metrics at best in left field, and last year he was rated as a firm negative by both DRS and UZR. However, a deeper look reveals that his throwing arm is the main weakness in his outfield game, and that his range is actually perfectly fine. Here's a note from Derek Harvey, editor of Brew Crew Ball, in his analysis of the trade to Oakland:
I believe he gains back a lot of defensive value lost by his arm, with his average or better range in LF, the good routes he takes, and the fact that he plays hard every day.
Kyle Lesniewski elaborates with some numbers:
According to Inside Edge Fielding he's converted an above average amount of remote (14.3%), unlikely (50%), even (85.7%), and likely (92%) amount of chances into outs, and has also converted 99.3% of routine plays into outs during his career. Defensive Runs Saved pegs him at -3 runs in nearly 2,300 innings in left field over his career while Fielding Runs Above Average rates him at -4.1 runs over that time. Those are hardly numbers that one can argue have hurt the team significantly over such an extended sample.
Those are the words of Brewers fans who watched Davis play every day, and they were written after Davis was no longer on their team (as in, no reason to pull any punches if they thought he sucked). If you want to go crazy-deep into this, here is Nicholas Zettel from SweetSpot blog Disciples of Uecker with a play-by-play breakdown.
For a laugh, here's Jeff Sullivan again with a breakdown of Davis' four (hilariously unintentional) outfield assists. And Sullivan one more time, pointing out that as weak as that arm is, it's still better than Coco's, which is arguably the worst in the league. Nico wonders how such a strong hitter can have such a noodle arm.
Summary: Davis' defense is decent enough, with at least average range but an arm that will allow an extra base here and there. If he's a negative in left field, it probably won't be by much.
When you acquire a new guy you aren't familiar with, the first obvious question is to ask what other players he's similar to. We're looking for a .250 hitter with 30-homer power who is susceptible to strikeouts and plays decent-at-best defense.
For A's fans, our first thoughts will turn to Mark Canha. Davis, to me, is the best-case scenario of what Canha could become if he breaks out in 2016 like I hope/think he will. If you were counting on a Canha breakout in LF, well, now you've got it, with the chance to also play the actual Canha at another position.
Jeff Sullivan throws out Nelson Cruz as a best-case comp for Davis "in terms of approach and strength," which is most encouraging. I think Mark Trumbo's peak years (2011-13) could be the middle-of-the-road comp, at least in terms of hitting (they're quite different on defense). And if Davis were to completely bust in Oakland, then I think it would look something like Chris Young's failed season here.
How does Davis fit into the lineup?
We know the A's like to try different things with their lineup and keep the starting nine fluid, but Davis' role sounds pretty straightforward:
Forst says definitively that Khris Davis is everyday LF. #Athletics— Joe Stiglich (@JoeStiglichCSN) February 13, 2016
That makes sense, for reasons we've already covered. He might be the best hitter in the lineup, and he's certainly the most powerful. He can hit lefties and righties, so there's no reason to platoon him. His defense isn't a liability that needs to be hidden. And he's not particularly injury-prone, although he did miss time last year with a torn meniscus in his knee (as knees go, that's a fairly minor issue and not one that tends to linger). He should be in the lineup every day, and given that there are other players who need to be hidden in the DH spot, I don't expect to see Davis there often. Here's a sample lineup:
C Vogt (Phegley vs. LHP)
1B Alonso (Canha vs. LHP)
That's not a bad lineup at all, and there's quite a bit of depth (on the bench and in Triple-A) in case of the inevitable injuries. The only thin spots are catcher and CF, where injuries could lead to too much Carson Blair or Sam Fuld, respectively.
The one thing that worries me is that Canha seems to be forced out of an everyday job. Davis is certainly a better bet, but how much better will he be than what Canha could have been as a regular in LF? This all would make a lot more sense if Butler could be removed from the picture, which would once more give Canha a clear path to playing time; right now it feels like Davis is replacing Canha, whereas it would be preferable if he were replacing Butler instead. But of course, things will change over time, usually faster than we think they will, and Jeremy reminds us that if anyone can make sure that Canha gets his at-bats then it's lineup wizard Bob Melvin.
Here's one possible order:
1. Burns, CF
2. Semien, SS
3. Reddick, RF
4. Davis, LF
5. Vogt, C
6. Valencia, 3B
7. Butler/Canha, DH
8. Alonso, 1B
9. Lowrie, 2B
Salary and contract status
This section is all good news. One of the most attractive things about Davis is that he hasn't even reached arbitration yet, meaning that he'll play on more or less the minimum salary in 2016. In total, he has four years of team control, through the 2019 campaign. Of course, he won't be six-digit cheap forever, but for the next few years his salary won't be prohibitive.
I'm going to use Trumbo as a comp once again, because if Davis has another season in line with his career norms then their basic baseball card stats entering their first arbitration year will be quite similar (the arbiters are not sabermetricians). In his three arby years, Trumbo collected around $5M, $7M, and $9M, so perhaps that's a baseline for what Davis can hope for (adjust slightly upward if you want to account for the league's rapid inflation). If he were to play things out year-to-year, a reasonable guess might be that he'll earn $21-30M over the next four years before hitting free agency. That would be a bargain for a quality power hitter.
The biggest question is how this will affect a potential extension for Josh Reddick. On one hand, adding a long-term power-hitting option in one corner of the outfield would seem to make it easier to let Reddick go. On the other hand, the fact that the new guy is cost-controlled could make it easier to pay Reddick long-term, since there won't be a need to go sign an expensive free agent to round out the outfield corps. It's difficult to predict what the payroll will look like in 2017 -- there are veterans who could be traded to make room for graduating prospects, and there are several arbitration-eligible players (Valencia, Alonso, Alvarez, etc.) who could prove themselves in 2016 just as easily as they could bust and be non-tendered next winter (which would open up more money on the books).
Jeremy has the full rundown on what the payroll looks like at this moment.
What the A's gave up to get him
What about the trade itself? The A's gave up two prospects whom I really liked:
Jacob Nottingham is a power-hitting catcher. There are questions about whether he will stay at that position, both because of his raw defensive skills and the possibility that a team might want to focus on getting his bat to the Majors quickly without having to wait for him to learn the most complex position on the diamond. Athletics Nation was pretty excited about him overall, but the fact is that he's at least a couple years away from the bigs even if all goes well. He also hasn't tried his hand in the upper minors yet, topping out at High-A last year, so there are still plenty of obstacles in his path to the bigs.
There's also a good argument to be made that, if you don't believe Nottingham will stick behind the plate, then his best-case scenario is to become what Davis already is. But still, he's an exciting prospect with a lot to offer, and it's a bummer to see him go just months after he was acquired in the Scott Kazmir deadline deal. This is a case of "you have to give up something good if you want to get something good," and at least he fetched a long-term player in return rather than a short-term rental. We ranked him as the No. 5 prospect in the A's system in our Community Prospect List this winter. Goodbye, sweet Sheriff, we hardly knew ye.
Bubba Derby is a pitcher whom the A's drafted in the sixth round last summer. It was easy to love this guy due to his awesome name, and also the 0.78 ERA and the 34.8% K-rate he posted in his debut at Low-A Vermont. But again, we're talking about a pitcher who has proven next to nothing in the pros, and while I think we were all dying to see what he did to follow-up his huge debut, there are plenty of stronger pitching prospects in the system. Derby hadn't yet cracked our CPL, but he was about to make the ballot and was on pace to clock in around No. 23.
Also, Sean Nolin wasn't part of the trade but was DFA'd to make room for Davis on the 40-man roster. We don't yet know his fate, as he could still be traded away, or lost on waivers, or simply sent down to Triple-A Nashville if no other team wants him. Each of those outcomes seems equally likely at the moment, and we may not know the answer for a few more days.
His loss would be more symbolic than anything else, as he would be the second domino to officially fall from the ill-fated Josh Donaldson trade, leaving only Kendall Graveman and top-30 prospect Franklin Barreto to show for the departure of the eventual 2015 MVP. But Nolin still has a chance to contribute if his old velocity returns, and losing him for nothing would feel like a waste of a resource, albeit a marginal one. The counterargument: Nolin is out of options and may have been squeezed out during spring training anyway, so better to push him through waivers now when everyone's rosters are full rather than waiting until holes open up in other teams' pitching staffs due to spring injuries.
Here's one way to look at this trade, courtesy of Jeremy:
So the A’s have turned 2.5 months of Scott Kazmir and a 6th round draft pick into 4 years of Khris Davis and Daniel Mengden.— Jeremy F. Koo (@jfkooAN) February 12, 2016
Honestly, I don't have a final answer yet. If adding Davis means that Canha sits on the bench, then I worry that the team gave up two fascinating prospects just to make what might only be a marginal upgrade in LF. But if Canha still gets regular at-bats, or especially if there is a follow-up move to remove Butler sometime in the next couple months, then I'd be much happier about adding a powerful new right-handed bat.
Just in terms of the trade, it seems like a fair swap to me -- the A's got the cheap win-now player, and the Brewers got one high-upside prospect and another fun lotto ticket. Talent-wise the A's did fine in this exchange, and in terms of fit they definitely added the thing they needed most (home run power) without taking on extra 2016 salary. This was probably a good move.
Here's Christina Kahrl of ESPN with a big finish:
It's a win-win trade, but one with more risk -- both upside and downside -- for the A's. Oakland has placed an expensive bet that Davis' second-half improvement was real, giving them a power source they can afford now and for the next several seasons. But will it help them get back in the American League West mix by the time their conglomeration of young pitching pans out? That's TBD. ... [B]ut even knowing about Davis' home-road splits going in, I like it more for the A's than I expected on further review.
- Davis' reaction to being traded, while sitting in L.A. traffic, via Todd Rosiak of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
- Other effects of the Khris Davis trade, by our own Tim Eckert-Fong
- The updated 40-man roster transit map, showing how each player arrived in Oakland, courtesy of Jeremy
- Davis will wear jersey No. 2, which is the same number Nottingham was planning to wear in spring training, via Jeremy
More Davis on Oakland: "I’m just excited to just go there and start and see the West Coast and be a basher, and just crush it."— Todd Rosiak (@Todd_Rosiak) February 17, 2016
Welcome to Oakland, Khris!