Athletics

A's slugger Khris Davis: 'I don’t want to label myself a DH'

davis-usatsi.jpg
USATSI

A's slugger Khris Davis: 'I don’t want to label myself a DH'

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.

 

A's trade former 2B prospect Joey Wendle, who never got a chance to blossom

A's trade former 2B prospect Joey Wendle, who never got a chance to blossom

The A’s swung a trade on the first day of the Winter Meetings, but it wasn’t the type of swap that’s been anticipated.

Oakland dealt second baseman Joey Wendle to the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday for a player to be named later or cash considerations. The storyline for the rest of the week is whether the A’s complete a deal for their biggest target— a right-handed hitting corner outfielder.

They weren’t involved in heavy dialogue Monday as the four-day Winter Meetings opened at the Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Orlando, Fla. But they’re on the lookout for an outfielder that will allow them to shift Khris Davis from left field to designated hitter.

Billy Beane, the A’s head of baseball operations, reiterated to reporters that the team ideally wants to acquire an outfielder who’s under team control for multiple years. The Cardinals’ Stephen Piscotty fits that bill and is known to be a primary target, but the A’s have been linked to others too, including Miami’s Marcell Ozuna.

If a trade doesn’t pan out, Beane didn’t rule out the possibility of signing a free agent outfielder, but the focus is trading for one who’s signed to an affordable contract. Beyond that, the A’s seek a left-handed reliever to continue fortifying a bullpen they’ve already added to this offseason.

“We were pretty specific with who and what we want, whether it be a free agent or a trade,” Beane said of the team’s approach to the meetings. “There’s a few free agents we have interest in, a trade here and there. And if we don’t get them, we’ll just wait for the offseason” to continue.

Wendle, who saw slices of big league time in 2016 and 2017, was originally acquired from Cleveland for Brandon Moss during the 2014 Winter Meetings. He drew some comparisons to Mark Ellis for both his style of play and work ethic but found himself blocked at second base despite an impressive big league debut in September 2016.

He hit .260 that month in 28 games, and though that average doesn’t stand out, he impressed defensively and proved to be a spark plug hitting leadoff, drawing praise from manager Bob Melvin. But a shoulder injury cost the 27-year-old Wendle valuable time in spring training last season and extended into the regular season. It didn’t help his cause that Chad Pinder emerged as a second base option and valuable utility man, and that Franklin Barreto — the A’s top-rated prospect — also arrived on the big league scene for stretches.

In addition, the A’s think highly of another up-and-coming second base prospect, Max Schrock. Acquired from Washington for reliever Marc Rzepczynski in August 2016, the 23-year-old Schrock opened the eyes of Melvin’s staff last spring and hit .321 for Double-A Midland in 2017.

Jed Lowrie, of course, is the A’s veteran incumbent at second base but is a logical trade candidate at any point given Barreto’s inevitable full-time arrival in the majors.

Despite stadium uncertainty, Beane stands by long-term plan for A's youngsters

chapman-olson-athletics-usatsi.jpg
USATSI

Despite stadium uncertainty, Beane stands by long-term plan for A's youngsters

The deterioration of ballpark talks at the Peralta site won’t affect the A’s grand plan on the baseball side of things.

At least that’s what vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane told reporters Monday as the Winter Meetings opened in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

The A’s promoted a number of highly regarded minor leaguers last season who showed promise that they could be future foundation pieces. Along those lines, Beane and his staff planned to target some of those youngsters for long-term contract extensions, with an eye toward generating momentum as a new ballpark was built near downtown Oakland.

The A’s will still look to lock up some of those players, Beane said, even after last week’s news that the Peralta Community College District board halted negotiations for the team to build a new ballpark on land that sits near Laney College.

“I think it’s still a strategy we try to embark on,” Beane said of signing young players.

Consider third baseman Matt Chapman and first baseman Matt Olson, who both entrenched themselves last season as rookies, as two obvious candidates for long-term deals at some point. But they aren’t the only two.

When could the first deals come?

“Realistically, the sooner the better,” Beane said. “Certainly we’ve got between now and spring training to introduce the idea. But probably more sooner than later.”

It’s an uncertain time for this franchise. Will the A’s look elsewhere to build in Oakland? They don’t seem thrilled with the idea of revisiting the current Coliseum site or Howard Terminal as possible locations. Could majority owner John Fisher consider selling? And if so, does that open the door to the franchise leaving the Bay Area? It doesn’t seem any scenario should be counted out right now.

No one representing the club, including team president Dave Kaval, has spoken publicly about ballpark plans since the Peralta talks abruptly ended Wednesday.

As far as baseball operations go, it only makes sense to continue down the path that they recently committed to. The only bad course of action for the A’s is not to take any action at all.

Beane and general manager David Forst need to stay the course and continue their commitment to young players, crossing their fingers that the business side of the operation can pivot and find a new direction for building a ballpark.