Rajai Davis is not the missing piece of the puzzle. He’s not going to teach Khris Davis how to throw, Matt Joyce how to catch, or Jed Lowrie how to do anything. He himself is flawed, as is the A’s team he’s poised to join in 2017. But I love the Rajai Davis signing, as much as one can love a single year, $6 million signing of an aging, OBP challenged speedster, and I think you should too. Here's why.
The cost is minimal
None of the following would hold true if Davis wasn’t a bargain. Beyond being a bargain, Davis is essentially no risk. The A’s financial standing has been and probably always will be a bit of a black box. We do know, based on what they’ve repeatedly said and done, that unused salary doesn’t role over from year to year. I personally don’t know the merits of that, but it’s a reality that means one year and sometimes two year deals make a whole lot of sense. Overpaying for a stud would be awesome, and Davis (1 year, $6 million) doesn’t preclude that. It’s a pretty amazing deal when you consider that Mike Dunn who I assure you is a real person, got 3 years, $19 million in this market. Davis could easily be a steal, and even if he's terrible, the contract duration and cost isn't a hinderance on the future.
Of course, it's not a totally no risk contract. There’s the opportunity cost of using that $6 million on Davis rather than say, Mitch Moreland, or Jesse Chavez, or whoever the free agent bargain of the offseason may end up being. This could also be the year where father time finally catches up with Davis, turning him from somewhere around an average player into an old Billy Burns. But it’s not the difference between the A’s signing Jose Bautista or extending whoever their best asset may be, so the worst case scenario is "hey, they tried".
I’d argue that being a fan of a bad baseball team is the worst fate of a major sports fan. In basketball, you can sign a young speedster to run up and down the floor, or jack up three point shots like the inside of the arc is made of lava. In football, you can throw the ball deep or run trick plays, blitz to your heart’s desire, or generally be weird.
In baseball, it’s hard to be exciting when you’re bad. The exciting part of the sport is getting hits, scoring runs, something bad teams can’t just will themselves to do. There’s a barrier to entry to be exciting, and that’s getting on base.
Davis won’t help the A’s do that, but if there is one way of faking exciting (aside from having emerging prospects, which is something you can’t really buy) it’s via speed. The A’s were 26th in baseball last season with a boring 50 steals. That’s fine if you’re good, and the A’s are not good.
On the basepaths, Rajai led the AL with 43 steals last season, getting caught just six times. The stolen base is one of the most exciting plays in the game, and the A’s are likely to increase that number by a huge margin in 2017.
Defensively, Davis is a little bit like Billy Burns. His elite legs only make for an OK defender, likely due to circuitous routes. But defense is more volatile than most give it credit for, and Davis could conceivably speed his way into a solid defensive season. He's got upside on that end, and at the very least, should make watching the A’s pick it a little more bearable than it was in 2016.
He doesn’t preclude another signing
Go sign Jose Bautista now, please.
He became a big leaguer in Oakland, is a positive veteran influence, and an overall great story
Who doesn't love a great comeback (to the A's) story?
Rajai started his career in Pittsburgh but really solidified himself in Oakland. He was worth over 4 wins in his two seasons here, and his career kept on going from there.
Rajai Davis says familiarity big for him and family in choosing #Athletics "This is the place where I established myself as a big leaguer."— Joe Stiglich (@JoeStiglichCSN) January 4, 2017
Did you know Rajai was drafted in the 38th round? 38th! The odds of making the big leagues are bad, the odds of making it as a 38th round draft pick are approximately one in a lot of numbers. Rajai overcame those long odds to become a productive big leaguer with a now 11 year career.
One thing that makes baseball so special is the underdog stories. It happens in football, it happens in basketball, but due to the sheer volume of draft picks in baseball, it's rare for a guy to truly surprise. Talent evaluation is at its peak, and it's so rare for a player late in the draft to make such an impact at the big league level. Davis did just that.
By all accounts he's an awesome guy, a wonderful teammate, and as Melissa Lockard notes, a potentially great veteran presence. That can be important on a team trying to come together around a group of youngsters, and Davis is one of the few true veterans in Oakland.
Also, Davis hit a game tying home run off noted dummy Aroldis Chapman, thereby making him look like the dummy he is. Thank you, Rajai Davis.
Two Davis's, one outfield
Folks, having two guys named Davis in the outfield will have Ray Fosse’s head spinning so fast, it’s like a dibs truck is doing donuts around him. Also, with the Khris version having a noodle arm, there’s a chance Rajai could be his cutoff man, thereby becoming the weirdest Davis-Davis combo of all time.
He could be a perfect platoon player, especially if Brugman’s development continues
On a more serious baseball note, Rajai fits nicely on this roster. He’s a stopgap centerfielder, and he should be able to play full time with no problem. He’s not an All-Star, but he fits that role well on a team with no other options. And you know what role he’d fit better? That of platoon center fielder, if for some reason the A’s had a promising left handed swinging centerfielder in their among their prospect ranks.
Oh hello, Jaycob Brugman! It’s not exactly likely those two will make an above average combo, but they could make an above average combo, and Davis being on the team means the A’s won’t have to rush any of their potential centerfield options. Should a centerfielder force his way to the bigs? Davis is movable.
In his career, Davis has a 112 wRC+ against LHP, which is baseball nerd talk for pretty dang good. Against righties that number falls to 78 which isn't great, though passable when factoring in position, numbers for LHP, speed, and more. But those numbers should tell you: he's best as a platoon, and that could become a thing.
It’s a move that won’t make the A’s contenders, but shouldn’t hurt in any way
Picture your mom, or dad, or anyone coming home from the grocery store. She’s got three large paper grocery bags in hand, its brown color obscuring its contents. She puts the bags down, and you rifle through the goods, hoping for something tasty. There’s a carton of eggs with the expiration date smudged out, a useful food with the chance of being disastrous. That’s Jose Bautista. There’s a large protein shake, it’s contents certain to give you gains. You open it, only to realize some dipspit drank it in the store, stealing its contents and reminding you of the cruelty of life. That’s Edwin Encarnacion. On the bottom of the bag, there’s a weird, brown wet spot that came from some unexplained chemical on the shopping cart. That’s Billy Butler.
And then in the bag, you find a candy bar. It’s not enough to fill you up, but it might be the difference between being hangry and being happy, being bored or being content, or a good baseball season or a bad one. Rajai Davis signing for a single year and just $6 million will tell you what kind of player Rajai Davis is likely to be - but he can still make 2017 a better season.