Every December, baseball’s winter meetings typically feature opportunities for the Orioles’ baseball operations chief and agent Scott Boras to share what they see is the best path forward for Chris Davis, the one-time slugger who has endured a calamitous five years since signing his massive $161 million contract in 2016.
Without those meetings this year, it was Davis himself providing that update. And such are the nature of his struggles that it’s not so much what the path forward is that’s noteworthy as much as his insistence that he won’t be walking away.
And he did so rather defiantly.
“I don’t really want my career to end on the note that it’s on right now,” Davis said, adding that he’s “100%, fully committed” to being at spring training with the Orioles and didn’t consider retirement this offseason.
“I don’t want it to end the way that things have gone the last few years for me. I think there’s more of a story to be told but as far as my contract is concerned, it is what it is. I’m not going anywhere. I’m not giving up. I’m not throwing in the towel. I understand the club is in a position right now to where they’re trying to cut payroll, and I’m the one big lump that they’re kind of stuck with. But they knew what they were signing up for when they took the job.”
Davis had another disappointing season in 2020, one that began with him showing up muscle-bound and confident in spring training and ended with him on the injured list with a knee injury. He hit .164 with a .337 OPS and no home runs while he was active.
In the five seasons since that seven-year free agent contract — which was the largest in Orioles history — took effect, Davis is batting .196 with a .670 OPS and 92 home runs. According to FanGraphs, he’s been worth -2.4 wins above replacement (WAR) over the life of the contract.
Now, he’s spending every winter trying to figure out a way to be productive again, and doing so in a rebuild that he’s found himself questioning.
“It’s tough to really know what to make of it right now,” Davis said. “I think there’s no doubt that we’re in a rebuilding phase and I just personally, I kind of wonder where that rebuild is headed. Are we talking a complete rebuild? Are we talking we’re going to try to start things over from scratch and only have younger players, players that this new regime has drafted, that they’ve brought in? I think that they’re trying to get the most out of the guys that we have now, and I think that means you’ve got to lose some of the guys that have been productive for you.”
Whenever he’s asked, executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias says that Davis’ contract is binding and the club has to honor it, taking away the possibility that the club might eat the last two years of his salary to clear Davis’ roster spot.
Davis still feels like he can be productive, and said he stepped away from the game this offseason in order to reset while having physical therapy on not only his left knee but his ankle and hip. He said he knew when the season resumed after the coronavirus shutdown that he wasn’t healthy, but noted that the work he put in as the team’s representative to the players union in trying to put the season together made him feel like he had to participate.
He had entertained the thought of retiring after the 2019 season, but given how he felt this spring and the fact that the shortened 2020 season wasn’t a representative one in his mind, he said there wasn’t much thought of the same this offseason.
“I don’t feel like it was a legitimate shot at a full season for me,” he said. “I mean, it was obviously not a full season as far as a number of games was concerned, but in some ways it was almost like more than a full season with everything I had to do to keep up physically and mentally over the break. And then, going through all those multiple hour long calls trying to get things together with the league so that we could have the season, I mean, it was just I didn’t feel like I really got a fair shake as far as this year is concerned. That really wasn’t on the table going into this offseason.”