Khris Davis

A's, Khris Davis avoid arbitration, but is this a long-term union?

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USATSI

A's, Khris Davis avoid arbitration, but is this a long-term union?

The A’s took care of a big piece of business with their top run producer, signing slugger Khris Davis to a one-year contract Wednesday and avoiding arbitration.

FanRag’s Jon Heyman reported the sides settled on a $10.5 million salary. That’s more than double the $5 million Davis made last season in his first trip through the arbitration process, but a huge raise was expected after Davis put up more monster numbers in his second year with Oakland.

His 43 home runs in 2017 ranked second in the American League and he was third in RBI with 110. Consider that Davis is the only major leaguer to crack the 40-homer mark in each of the past two seasons, and only Giancarlo Stanton has more total homers during that span (86 to Davis’ 85).

That obviously makes the 30-year-old Davis a valuable commodity.

“Back to back 40-homer years in this ballpark. You guys don’t talk about it enough,” A’s executive VP of baseball operations Billy Beane said in October. “When we acquired him (in a trade from Milwaukee) we knew we got a guy with a lot of power. I think we were thinking a 30-homer guy. The fact he’s gone 40 back-to-back is pretty amazing. He fits in perfectly here. I think having that big bat that Khris brings helps guys like (Matt) Olson and (Matt) Chapman.”

So it’s clear the A’s value Davis, and that’s why he hasn’t been traded thus far, as many around the game speculated he might be this winter. But where do things go moving forward?

He’ll be eligible for arbitration one more time next winter before he’s able to test free agency heading into the 2020 season. If you’re an A’s fan, you know where this is going. If July hits and the A’s are floundering in the standings, Davis no doubt will be a trade candidate. He’d have appeal as a proven slugger who would remain under team control for 2019.

But Davis is a rare breed. He loves playing in Oakland and doesn’t hide that fact. The pitcher-friendly Coliseum has done nothing to suppress his power. In fact, he’s thrived. His 26 home runs at the Coliseum in 2017 fell one short of Jason Giambi’s Oakland record for homers by a home player.

It would seem he’d be open to a long-term extension, and the sides reportedly have held past discussions about one. The A’s have designs on signing some of their younger core players to extensions. But you’d have to rank it as a surprise were they to actually complete an extension with Davis, given the money he would command.

More than likely, Beane and his staff will evaluate the team through the first half of the upcoming season, weigh the pros and cons of dealing him, and if he stays, enter through this arbitration process again next winter, knowing that he’ll command even more bucks on another one-year deal.

An ‘X’ factor is how Davis adjusts to his shift from left field to designated hitter. He told NBC Sports California in November that he prefers the outfield but will fill whatever role is best for the team.

The feeling here is that he’ll put up the same numbers that fans have grown accustomed to, and the ball will be in the A’s court as to how long he remains in green and gold.

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

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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.

 

Ryon Healy trade has domino effect

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AP

Ryon Healy trade has domino effect

The A’s wasted no time making their first major move of the offseason, and it has a domino effect on how their 2018 lineup will take shape.

The trade of young slugger Ryon Healy to the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday paves the way for left fielder Khris Davis to start getting heavy at-bats as the designated hitter, the spot left vacant by Healy.

It also points to another move the A’s want to pull off — acquiring a right-handed hitting corner outfielder who presumably can eat up those defensive innings that Davis spends as the DH.

It’s a series of moves that isn’t all that surprising given the A’s roster makeup right now. Healy, who hit .282 with 38 homers in 221 games over his first two big league seasons, is capable of playing either first or third base. But Matt Olson and Matt Chapman secured those spots, respectively, with their solid showings as rookies last season.

“We’ve obviously talked a lot since the end of the season about adding to the bullpen,” A’s general manager David Forst said on a conference call Wednesday night. “At the same time, with the emergence of Matt and Matt, on the corners, maybe Ryon needed to be somebody we might have to move ...”

It makes sense for Oakland to find a way to shift Davis from being the everyday left fielder while still keeping his 40-homer bat in the lineup. Opponents have routinely taken extra bases the past two seasons on Davis’ throwing arm, and whether they add a newcomer to play left or shift Joyce or someone else there, chances are they can benefit from better defense in left.

The A’s also feel they got an important chip back from Seattle to help bolster a bullpen that ranked 13th in the American League last season with a 4.57 ERA. They received right-hander Emilio Pagan (along with minor league shortstop Alexander Campos), and figure that the 26-year-old Pagan is someone the A’s have pegged to be an immediate contributor in their ‘pen.

A 10th round draft pick in 2013, Pagan made his big league debut in 2017 and posted a 3.22 ERA over 34 games spread over four stints with Seattle. He endured a rocky first couple of outings but, after being called up for good in the second half, eventually worked his way into a late-inning setup role. Pagan struck out 56 and walked just eight in 50 1/3 innings, numbers that surely popped out to Oakland’s front office.

He’ll likely be called upon in middle relief to help set the table for Chris Hatcher and closer Blake Treinen, as the bullpen currently looks.

Campos, just 17, spent this past season in the Dominican Summer League, and Forst said the A’s were eyeing Campos last summer when they eventually traded Yonder Alonso to the Mariners. Oakland wound up getting center fielder Boog Powell back in that deal.

Did the A’s rake in enough for Healy? As with all trades, it will take time to judge. But it’s fair to say that Healy’s departure will be felt in a clubhouse that is characterized by the emergence of many young position players, and he was a part of that group. In fact, when Healy was called up in July 2016 — knocking Danny Valencia out as the regular third baseman — he became the first of several promising position-player prospects to establish himself in Oakland’s lineup.

He rented a house in the East Bay and eventually took in Chapman, Olson and Chad Pinder as roommates. There’s a fiery side to Healy’s on-field personality that was a positive for the A’s, and watching him play Oakland as a member of an AL West rival will make for entertaining theatre.

Another storyline is how Davis takes to being a regular DH. Forst praised Davis’ approach to his game and doesn’t anticipate any problems, adding that the A’s still want to get Davis some time in the outfield.