Schmuck: Orioles have 161 million reasons to keep Chris Davis at first base

Tampa Bay Rays' Steven Souza Jr. (20) dives back to first base ahead of the throw to Orioles first baseman Chris Davis (19) on a pickoff attempt during the first inning Wednesday, April 8, 2015, in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Tampa Bay Rays' Steven Souza Jr. (20) dives back to first base ahead of the throw to Orioles first baseman Chris Davis (19) on a pickoff attempt during the first inning Wednesday, April 8, 2015, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (Chris OMeara / Associated Press)

SARASOTA, FLA. — The pending arrival of free agent Pedro Alvarez has given rise to all manner of speculation regarding the likely makeup of the Orioles' regular-season lineup and defensive alignment.

There certainly are some interesting possibilities and permutations that are impacted by both the limited defensive capabilities of Alvarez and the uncertain status of other players on the roster.


Does the Alvarez signing mean, for instance, that Chris Davis will spend significant time in right field this season?

Or does it mean that newly acquired Mark Trumbo just became the everyday right fielder by default?


Davis and manager Buck Showalter both said Tuesday that Davis will remain the primary first baseman, but that's not really going to settle the issue. Everyone knows that Showalter is going to use any number of lineups and there's a case to be made that the best defensive alignment might feature Trumbo at first base and Davis in right.

So, it would be logical to assume that Davis will show up out there as he has on occasion in the past, because he's a terrific, versatile athlete who can play at an acceptable level just about anywhere.

The logic attached to that, however, ignores the giant woolly mammoth in the room. There are 161 million reasons why Davis should not spend much time in the outfield. The Orioles cannot afford to put the guy with the biggest contract in club history (by far) at a position that could subject him to a greater risk of injury or possibly impact his performance at the plate.

Davis got that huge deal because he's one of baseball's premier home run hitters and a potential Gold Glove first baseman, not because he's capable of being the Paul Bunyan of baseball utility players.

Don't think for a minute this hasn't already been a major topic of discussion inside the Orioles front office. Executive vice president Dan Duquette probably has nightmares in which he has to go see owner Peter Angelos and tell him that Davis is going to be out for two months because he broke his wrist crashing into the out-of-town scoreboard at Camden Yards.

Sure, a guy can get hurt at first base, too, but it is definitely a safer position than right field and Davis would be far less likely to take an unusual twist or turn at the position where he has played nearly 75 percent of his major league games.

Showalter undoubtedly will be tempted to put his best possible defensive alignment out there on occasion — and probably will give in to that temptation — but you're not going to see Davis spend any long stretches in the outfield.

Never mind that agent Scott Boras tried to increase Davis' free-agent marketability by exploiting the fact that he can be more than just a first baseman. The Orioles are going to think hard before risking the dead money that would accompany a lengthy stay by Davis on the disabled list.

There's also the fallout to consider if Davis gets bounced back and forth and goes into a tailspin at the plate. This is a clear case of something not being broke and not needing to be fixed.

"I think I'm probably going to be at first base most of the time," Davis said. "That's kind of the indication that I've gotten, but you never know. With Buck, it can be a coin flip sometimes. … Having three guys that have played first, a little bit of outfield and obviously me and Pedro playing third … it gives us a lot of options, so we'll see what Buck does with that."

For the moment, the focus will be more on Trumbo, who is working largely in right field this spring, but could also be a candidate to play left if the Hyun Soo Kim experiment does not work out. Ideally, Alvarez would be the full-time designated hitter who shows up on the field only if Showalter wants to field an exaggerated left-handed lineup.

The only thing that's beyond debate is that the Orioles have assembled one of the most power-packed lineups in franchise history.


If it performs up to its potential, the club can probably afford to sacrifice a little defense.


Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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