SARASOTA, FLA. — If the Orioles were on the cusp of greatness — or, at least a playoff season — you could make a case for giving up on Chris Davis.
If the Orioles were a team so wealthy that a poorly spent $92 million here or there wouldn’t affect their ability to compete for years to come, you could make a case for paying all that money to Davis and sending him home.
If anyone could be absolutely certain that the guy who won two major league home run titles simply forgot how to hit and will never be able to recover, it would be pretty easy to justify bidding the big fella a not-so-fond farewell.
And if I were Rudyard Kipling, I could probably come up with a few more ifs, but you get the idea.
Davis, who turns 33 on March 17, has started this spring pretty much the way he ended one of the worst offensive seasons by a former All-Star player and MVP finalist in the history of baseball. He’s swinging at a lot of air, watching a lot of called strikes and he just got an MRI on his sore hip. So, nobody can blame frustrated Orioles fans from trying to tweet him off the team.
He’s both exceedingly frustrated and exceedingly frustrating to watch, especially when everyone knows his salary represents more than a quarter of the team’s projected 2019 payroll.
We’ve reached the point where nobody knows why his great talent has abandoned him, but everybody thinks they know it’s never coming back and just want the nightmare to be over.
No doubt, there are people inside the organization who feel the same way. The new front office is responsible for an albatross contract that it was not responsible for allowing, which might inhibit the overall progress of the budding rebuilding effort. In a perfect world, general manager Mike Elias and manager Brandon Hyde would be trying to figure out whether outfielder-by-default Trey Mancini or top hitting prospect Ryan Mountcastle should open the season at first base.
Instead, they have to pray something clicks between Davis and the new coaching staff, and he rediscovers some semblance of his former self. That, believe it or not, is not entirely out of the question.
To all appearances, it doesn’t look likely, but a reasonably productive Davis would add entertainment value to a team that’s going to need all it can create during a season that doesn’t figure to include much competitive intrigue.
I realize there are a lot of fans out there who will bristle at what might sound like a rationalized defense of Davis, but this really is more an impassioned defense of common sense. They’ll say that defending Davis at this point lets ownership off the hook for not conceding the team blew it by giving him a club-record, seven-year $161 million contract and are blowing it again by not releasing him.
Think about where we are right now. There was a time when the most cynical fans thought the Orioles were too cheap to sign Davis. Now, some of those same perpetually angry fans are complaining the Orioles are too cheap to get rid of him.
The time has come for everyone to stop obsessing about Davis and just wait to see how things play out. He might just surprise us all. If he does, he would provide an example of perseverance to the young players and take some pressure off them.
There is a romance growing up around this rebuild and it has been enhanced by the exciting spring performance of several young players. The Orioles are winning more exhibition games than they lose and are playing hard under their new manager, but there’s a big difference between the Grapefruit League and the real thing.
This would be a great time to remember the training camp mantra of former Ravens head coach Brian Billick: Never fall in love with a guy in shorts.
Orioles fans want to fall in love with this young team and it might seem like keeping veterans such as Davis, Mark Trumbo and starting pitchers Alex Cobb and Andrew Cashner might detract from the enjoyment of watching the young prospects develop.
That could be a problem in some cases, but the influence of established players — especially in the way they handle both success and failure — can play a valuable role in the development of young talent and long-term team chemistry.
Davis is big enough, strong enough, talented enough and young enough to turn his flagging career around.
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The odds against that happening might seem prohibitive, but the Orioles need to play this long shot — at least for the next couple of months — and pray it comes in.