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A’s rumors: Interest in J.D. Davis?

Mets hitter drawing trade interest around league

New York Mets v Washington Nationals Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

The Oakland A’s are expected to have a busy offseason. Half the roster already left via free agency, and more stars will probably follow in trades.

While we wait to find out who else might be heading out of town, one name has popped up as a potential target for Oakland to acquire.

New York Mets third baseman J.D. Davis is drawing interest around the league, and the A’s are one of several teams who checked on him before the lockout, reports Mike Puma of the New York Post.

The idea of Davis on the trade block makes sense. The Mets signed a few big bats before the lockout, including former A’s outfielders Mark Canha and Starling Marte as well as All-Star third baseman Eduardo Escobar, and they’re also getting back Robinson Cano from suspension. Davis has primarily played 3B and LF in New York, and even he thinks it’s more likely (“60/40”) that he’ll be traded than kept by his club, reports Puma, even with the National League adding a designated hitter this year.

The question then becomes whether Davis makes sense for the A’s, and whether there’s a trade match between the two teams.

Let’s begin with a quick look at the player. Davis spent the last three seasons as a quality right-handed hitter for the Mets, with consistently strong on-base skills. Even without monster dinger totals, he racked up an impressive 130 wRC+ during that span. Last summer he missed substantial time to injuries to his hand and wrist but still posted an above-average line in 73 games, despite a dip in power and a spike in strikeouts.

  • Davis, 2021: .285/.384/.436, 130 wRC+, 5 HR, 11.4% BB, 32.2% Ks

On the other side of the ball, he gets poor defensive marks at both 3B and LF. He makes up for it with his bat, earning positive WAR marks each year in New York, but his fielding is a negative.

Add it up and you’ve got a bat-first player who makes an impact at the plate but must be hidden in a corner/DH spot on defense. He’ll play at age 29 this season so he’s still in his prime, and he represents a potential buy-low coming off an injury-plagued off-year. As things stand he’s already productive, and there’s obvious room for upside with better health — after all, he hit 22 homers in 2019, and his career strikeout rate was only 23.4% entering last year.

In terms of contract, Davis still has three years of team control remaining. He earned $2.1 million last year in Super Two arbitration, and will be due only a modest raise this winter (MLBTR projects $2.7 million), before going on to two more arbitration years in 2023 and 2024. That’s affordable for the A’s monetarily, but the cheap long-term control will increase his trade value.

Oakland’s lineup figures to have plenty of room for a player of Davis’ profile. Their outfield is already wide open, as is their DH role, and their corner infield spots might vacate soon too, depending if third baseman Matt Chapman and/or first baseman Matt Olson get traded. Take your pick on where to position him in order to get his potent bat into the order.

So what would he cost? The Mets wouldn’t have any need for the Matts, since the whole point of this exercise is to clear out their surplus hitters. Their rotation is already packed (Scherzer, deGrom, Carrasco, Walker, Megill), but you can never have enough pitching, so let’s try there.

Baseball Trade Values has Davis’ stock decidedly lower than Oakland’s star trio of starters. He’s a notch below one year of Chris Bassitt or Sean Manaea, and nowhere near two years of Frankie Montas. On the other hand, in the bullpen, Lou Trivino wouldn’t be enough to start the conversation.

Presumably the A’s aren’t looking to spend prospects as they embark on a rebuild, nor part with long-term MLB players like James Kaprielian or Cole Irvin. They also aren’t in any kind of financial position to take on a bad contract to reduce Davis’ trade cost. Therefore, a deal would most likely need to revolve around one of Bassitt or Manaea going to New York, with the A’s receiving Davis plus a solid second piece.

For the Mets, it would be another win-now splash to make their star-studded rotation even more absurd, while also adding incredible depth to the group. They could instead opt for a prospect package from somebody, but maybe all-in is the better plan at this point?

For the A’s, this would signify more of a retool than a full rebuild, using a major trade chip to improve the current MLB roster rather than prioritizing maximum prospect value. But in that spirit, Davis represents an interesting gamble with clear upside and an easy fit on both the roster and payroll. He can help them win now but also be part of the next core if all goes well, and do so at a salary they can’t find on the open market.

Does Davis make sense as a target for the A’s, and would you do it in this type of deal for one of their star pitchers? Can either team (or both) do better? Let’s discuss in the comments, but first a couple quirky notes to consider.

We’ve seen Oakland acquire a righty bat-first player named Davis before. They bought low on Khris Davis ahead of 2016, and he turned into a star. Khris and J.D. are unrelated and are completely different hitters, almost literal opposites in skill set, but they’re similarly productive at their best. Wouldn’t it be a kick to see the club start their new core with another Davis anchoring the lineup?

Similarly, J.D. has been traded once before in his career. He was originally drafted by Houston, but in 2019 the Astros shipped him to the Mets for a few prospects, one of whom was Scott Manea. Wouldn’t it be something if his next trade was for Sean Manaea, which is the same last name but with more A’s?

Perhaps the stars or aligning. Or not. Sure is fun to talk about baseball again though!