Chris Davis reported to Orioles camp Friday, nearly a week after he and his family got to Sarasota, a delay he said was caused by a case of the flu and then bronchitis that hit shortly after they arrived, slightly derailing his plans for an earlier arrival to Ed Smith Stadium.
Position players are required to report to spring training by Sunday, ahead of the first full-squad workout Monday, so Davis isn't reporting late. But the way questions grew throughout the week in Baltimore as to why Davis wasn't an earlier participant in workouts illustrated the reality the highest-paid player in Orioles history will have to deal with in 2019 and beyond.
In an era of what is expected to bring rapid change as the club tries to catch up to the rest of baseball in scouting, development and analytics, Davis will remain the one long-standing relic of a generation of winning Orioles baseball that fans soured on as the team declined the past two seasons.
That will make him an easy target for frustration from fans eager for more glory days. Upon his arrival at camp Friday, Davis addressed his role in that and how he hopes to contribute to whatever success comes to these Orioles.
“As far as me being down here early enough or not getting here the day-of report, I had a plan going into the offseason,” Davis said. “There were a lot of things I needed to address personally, professionally. There were just a lot of things that I needed to correct, and really need to change.
“A lot of the analytics and a lot of the sabermetrics and a lot of the numbers that I was so reluctant to read into or even give any credit to over the years, I think have really proven to show me a lot of — I don't know if you want to say holes — a lot of things in my swing that, they just weren't productive over the years. I think I got to the point last year when it was obvious that I needed to make a change and trying to do something like that midseason is so hard, but it was something that I really wanted to take full advantage of this offseason.”
Davis' pivot in offseason work comes on the heels of a disastrous season in which he hit .168 with -3.1 wins above replacement, according to FanGraphs, which represented one of the worst years in baseball history. The coaching staff is gone — including former manager Buck Showalter and his longtime hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh — as are many of the teammates he shared successes with, such as Adam Jones and Darren O'Day.
On the management front, Davis said it was “time for a change.” But the 32-year-old Davis says the team’s sudden decline in fortunes, to go along with his own struggles and the fact that so many recognizable faces were dealt in-season last year, made him a natural target for displeasure. Learning to manage that was one of several things he said he worked on this offseason.
“Obviously, with the way that my season personally went last year, there's going to be criticism, and rightfully so,” Davis said. “There's always going to be scrutiny, and I think going through it last year and really having to face it on a daily basis kind of showed me how to go about dealing with that, and how to let the people around me kind of lean in with me and go through that with me and not try to shoulder it by myself.”
In new manager Brandon Hyde's mind, that's where he and his staff come in. He has said he doesn't feel like Davis is under any pressure to prove himself to them, and is focusing on creating a comfortable environment for Davis to continue his offseason work and get back to some form of productivity at the plate.
While Davis said the midseason spat — over broadcaster Jim Palmer saying on a postgame show that Davis didn't do the work he'd claimed to with Coolbaugh during the offseason — didn’t motivate anything he did this offseason, he said it “really showed how disconnected and just how far apart we were in the clubhouse.”
“That was frustrating to me, because I didn't want any of the guys in the clubhouse to feel like I wasn't pulling my weight, and I didn't think that they had until that kind of came up,” Davis said. “I think we weathered that storm as best as we could've. I’ve moved on. I think that there are always going to be people that are going to criticize and question whether you did something or didn't do something, but hopefully this year that's not going to be an issue.”
Earlier in his comments Friday, however, Davis said he didn't feel like he has to prove it to his teammates that he'd worked hard to improve.
“I think for me, it would be more geared toward our fan base,” Davis said. “The guys who see me day in and day out have a lot better feel for what's going on than our fans do, when they only get a little glimpse of us between 7 and 10 o'clock at night, whatever time the game is that day. But I don't think there's a whole lot to prove to the guys in the clubhouse. There are a lot of things that I want to prove personally to everyone, and maybe even a little bit to myself, but I don't feel like the talent level, or the respect level, or even the past success is anything that comes into question in the clubhouse.”