Baltimore Orioles

Orioles have interest in free-agent outfielder Rajai Davis

The Orioles remain on the hunt to upgrade their corner outfield spots, specifically in right field, and free-agent Rajai Davis is among the players the club has interest in to fill that hole.

Davis, 36, would add a speed component that the Orioles haven't had – or prioritized – in recent years. Davis led the American League with 43 stolen bases playing for the Cleveland Indians last season. His stolen-base percentage of 87.76 was second-best in the American League.


Davis' season was best known for his two-run homer in the eighth inning of Game 7 of the World Series off Chicago Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman, a blast that shifted momentum of the decisive game before the Cubs eventually won in extra innings following a rain delay.

He could also fill the Orioles' need for a leadoff hitter. Davis batted first in 66 of his 107 starts last season for Cleveland and hit .253/.312/.434 atop the batting order. He has a career .258/.309/.383 hitting in the leadoff spot.


The Orioles have expressed varying levels of interest in Davis in the past -- he's been a free agent three times since the end of the 2013 season -- but there might not be more of a need for Davis' skill set than now. In fact, it is believed that the Orioles' interest in Davis has now surpassed their interest in free-agent outfielder Angel Pagan.

Davis' numbers at the plate took a subtle drop, his .249/.306/.388 hitting line including a batting average that was 18 points lower than his career average, but he also hit a career-high 12 homers, which marked his first season of double-digit homers.

Davis' defense has been a mixed bag. In previous years, his route running in center field has led to decreased playing time, though he seemed to improve his defense last season in Cleveland while splitting time between center field and left field.

He compiled nine total zone runs, a plus-minus statistic that measures the number of runs a player is worth over the average based on the plays he makes at his position. His seven total zone runs in center field ranked fourth among all AL center fielders.

Davis obviously wouldn't play center field in Baltimore because of Adam Jones, and his corner outfield experience is mostly in left field, but he can play all three outfield spots. He can also give the Orioles a more experienced backup option in center field other than Joey Rickard. Having a more experienced left fielder could also allow the Orioles to experiment with Hyun Soo Kim in right field.

Davis hit right-handed pitching better (.258) than left-handed pitching (.235) last season, but over his career, he has been much more successful against lefties (.288) than righties (.255).

Davis also made just $5.25 million on a one-year flier with the Indians last year, and after turning 36 in October, he could be looking for security more than a higher salary.

The biggest question is whether Davis' strengths fit the Orioles' weaknesses. After ranking in the top three in steals four times over the past six seasons going into last year, he led the league in steals for the first time in his career at the age of 35. That in part can be attributed to the fact that the Indians were an aggressive base-stealing team, leading the AL with 134 steals.


The Orioles are anything but that, ranking last in the major leagues with just 19 stolen bases. They would rather round the bases with the home run ball instead of steal them. But among the club's top offseason priorities is improving defensively and adding a speed component on the bases.

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Having said that, speed can regress quickly in a player, and Davis won his first stolen-base title while in his mid-30s, which you don't see very often.

But if the Orioles are looking to improve one of their biggest weaknesses, Davis can do that. He is one of just two major league players whose baserunning accounted for at least 10 runs last year.

According to the Fangraphs' baserunning stat BsR -- which takes into account not only steals and caught stealing attempts but also taking extra bases and being thrown out on the bases and makes it into a plus-minus comparison to the average baserunner – Davis' 10.0 BsR trailed only Reds outfielder Billy Hamilton.

Davis isn't just fast, but he's a also good baserunner, and in the past, the Orioles have struggled combining the two facets.

He also set a new career high with 12 homers and while his on-base percentage is low for a leadoff man, he would give the profile of providing rare pop atop the batting order. And his ability to play all three outfield positions offers defensive flexibility the Orioles need more of in 2017.


There hasn't been much buzz around Davis this offseason, which means his market likely won't play out as the calendar switches. He will draw interest because of his speed, but the timing could also play into the Orioles hands since they are so savvy at waiting out the market, even though the club would like to have added outfield clarity sooner than later.