SARASOTA, Fla. — Amid one of the greatest offensive seasons in team history, Orioles manager Buck Showalter was already trying to temper expectations swirling around Chris Davis.
At least three times last September, Showalter told reporters that they shouldn't expect Davis to duplicate his banner 2013 season in which he hit a franchise-record 53 homers, drove in 138 runs and finished third in the American League Most Valuable Player voting. That bar was set just incredibly high, the manager would say.
Showalter was trying to protect his 28-year-old first baseman, trying to make sure that he doesn't put too much pressure on himself or be affected by the other's expectations.
Now it is 2014, Davis is days away from playing games that count. So, with apologies to Showalter, the question has to be asked again: How many home runs and RBIs does Davis think he can compile this year?
"106 homers, 276 RBIs," Davis deadpanned.
Yeah, he's not exactly a ball of stress heading into a new season.
"It was a great year," said Davis, who last season broke Brady Anderson's franchise record of 50 home runs after hitting 33 in 2012. "You can't expect to go out and duplicate it. Once you have shown the ability to do it, obviously, there is the ability to do it again. But my goal is not to go out and hit 50 home runs again. My goal is to do whatever I have to do to get us to the postseason and be productive."
It's the right thing to say. Furthermore, his teammates believe every word of it.
"His expectations are high. You can't hit 53 home runs and not have high expectations. But I think the expectations of winning rank higher, and he knows that. Whatever he does, it's all about the team," center fielder Adam Jones said. "That's the way this clubhouse is though. No one is big-headed in here."
That's not to say the fun-loving Davis isn't mockingly playing the part of self-absorbed superstar.
"Chris Davis won't let success go to Chris Davis' head," Davis said before breaking out into a huge smile.
Davis said this offseason wasn't much different for him. A few more work obligations, perhaps, but nothing he couldn't handle.
"I don't go out a lot. I value the time I get to spend with my family and friends. I am pretty much a homebody," Davis said. "Yeah, there were a few more requests this offseason, but it didn't change who I am or how I live my life."
Davis' baseball profile increased dramatically in the first half of 2013, when he batted .315 with 37 homers, 93 RBIs and an other-worldly 1.109 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. He was the leading vote-getter for the All-Star Game and was selected for the Home Run Derby contest.
"What he did last year, you'll probably never see that again," Orioles hitting coach Jim Presley said. "That's about as good of a two- to three-month stretch that I've ever seen from a hitter."
Things slowed down considerably in the second half, however, when Davis batted just .245 while hitting 16 more homers. Teams pitched to him more carefully. He became a little too aggressive when he finally had pitches to hit. And he should expect more challenges this year.
"They are going to pitch him different," Presley said. "He's not going to get those fastballs out over the plate in hitters' counts, and they'll try to throw some breaking balls to him and keep him off balance. And he's going to have to adjust to them."
Davis said he believes that he slowed down, in part, because he was exhausted.
"Looking back on it now, just mentally and physically, I wasn't as sharp as I was in the first half, and guys were making be a lot more patient," he said. "I think that was something I had kind of seen in the first half, but I wasn't missing the pitches I was getting in the first half."
When the season ended, Davis said he just decompressed for weeks. Now, he's ready to focus again, eliminating as many distractions as possible. That includes trying not to worry about whether he will sign a long-term extension before becoming eligible for free agency after the 2015 season. His agent, Scott Boras, and Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette have not any serious contract discussions. In January, the Orioles and Davis avoided arbitration by agreeing on a $10.35 million deal for 2014.
"I think about it a little bit, but most of the time, it's when I'm just sitting around here [in the clubhouse]," Davis said. "I really like being here, I love the group of guys we have here. I think we have a chance to be really successful in the next few years, but I also understand that it is business …That's between Scott and Dan. Dan and I are not going to sit down and talk about where I am going to be in the next few years."
Davis' job is to crush baseballs. And he's doing it again. In 37 Grapefruit League at-bats he batted .405 with team highs in home runs (four) and RBIs (13).
"If anything, I think he is in a little too good of a spot offensively right now," Showalter said. "He's been pretty locked in all spring."
Showalter had absolutely no interest in quantifying — numbers-wise — what would be a successful season for Davis in 2014. At least not seriously.
"If he doesn't hit 70 this year, he is out. Shoot, what have you done for me lately?" Showalter quipped. "How would you like to end a year with 30 home runs and have everybody say, 'Well that was a disappointment.' We're not. I hope everybody else doesn't. He had an historical year in a lot of ways, OK?"
Orioles catcher Matt Wieters calls Davis' 2013 season, "probably the most impressive thing I have seen for a whole year."
And Jones said Davis' first half was, "probably the craziest half I've ever seen, and one of the top first halves in baseball history. But that was last year, and now he has to do it again. And the crazy part is, I think he can."
Davis refuses to make predictions. Like last year, he's not publicizing his personal goals. He said he just wants to continue to improve on defense, get to the postseason and play as close to 162 games as possible.
He likely will miss a couple games in 2014, though. Because what he is most excited about will happen in late May or early June, when Davis' wife, Jill, gives birth to their first child, a daughter.
"It's one of those rare life moments you get to step back and kind of be in awe of God and what he is doing in our lives," Davis said. "For me, I love baseball, I love our fans, I love the city of Baltimore. But nothing means more to me than my family."
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