If Khris Davis becomes more designated hitter than left fielder, and clearly that’s the A’s plan, Davis stresses that he’ll accept the role.
That doesn’t mean he’ll be satisfied with it.
“I’m gonna do my job the best I can,” Davis told NBC Sports California by phone Monday. “Whatever they ask me to do, whatever they feel is good for the ball club, I’ll do what it takes. (But) I don’t want to label myself as a DH. … I won’t settle for it. It’s not my goal to be a designated hitter.” Davis spent his first two seasons with Oakland serving as the regular left fielder, and in the process became just the second player in franchise history to post back-to-back 40-homer seasons. But when the A’s traded Ryon Healy to the Seattle Mariners on Nov. 15, it signaled a switch for their most dangerous hitter.
The plan is to shift Davis to DH, Healy’s old spot, with the A’s on the hunt for another right-handed hitting corner outfielder who presumably can soak up the majority of innings in left. They could also shift Matt Joyce to left if they added someone who’s more suited for right field.
Does this plan make baseball sense? Absolutely.
It’s no secret that Davis’ subpar throwing arm can make him a liability defensively. He opened up about the mental challenges he’s encountered with his throwing in a candid story for The Players Tribune back in August.
But Davis also puts in lots of extra time working on his throwing, during spring training and before games during the regular season. It’s important to him to be a well-rounded, complete player. He calls it “a trap” to be pigeon-holed as a designated hitter.
“I’m gonna go out there and play for my team,” Davis said. “At the same time I want to play defense too and be the best player I can.”
Some of Davis’ career numbers actually are better when he’s DH’ing, though it’s a small sample size. He’s batting .271 in 92 games as a DH compared to .243 in 482 games in left field. His on-base percentage is better (.326 to .317) as is his slugging percentage (.554 to .502) when he’s a DH.
But there’s a benefit for him playing left.
“I can kind of forget about my at-bats when I can go play defense,” he said. “Playing defense, it’s good for my mind. It offers a release.”
That’s the balancing act for the A’s — weighing the benefits of adding better outfield defense with making sure their top run producer maintains his comfort zone at the plate.
General manager David Forst, addressing reporters after the Healy trade, said he anticipates a smooth transition to DH for Davis.
“We were pretty clear that part of trading Ryon was to allow Khris to be in the DH spot more often, and he’s been great about it,” Forst said. “He and (manager) Bob (Melvin) talked a lot during the season when he did DH. It wasn’t something he had any issues with.
“We’ve had guys in the past that didn’t like DH’ing. They had a hard time finding their rhythm. But Khris, I think, is so locked into his offensive game and his offensive routine, it’s not something he’s ever had problems with.”
As things stand with the outfield mix now, Joyce and Chad Pinder could form a platoon in right. Boog Powell and Dustin Fowler (who’s rehabbing from knee surgery) will battle for center field, with Pinder also an option there. Mark Canha remains in the fold, along with the potential right-handed hitting left fielder the A’s seek. Jake Smolinski also will return after avoiding arbitration Monday and agreeing to a one-year $775,000 deal, mlbtraderumors.com reported.
Oakland typically keeps a maximum of five outfielders.