Bats: Right – Throws: Right
Born: October 19, 1980 (Age 36)
Rajai Davis hits free agency this winter after he and his Cleveland Indians’ teammates made a run to Game 7 of the World Series, in which the Indians lost to the Chicago Cubs to end their 108-year World Series drought. Davis did his best to keep the Indians’ hopes alive, as he tied the game up in the bottom of the eighth against flame throwing lefty Aroldis Chapman, with a two-run homer into left. He then came to bat in the bottom of the tenth, with one on and two out, as the Indians were down 8-6. Davis singled back up the middle on the second pitch thrown by Cubs RHP Carl Edwards, making it a one-run game at 8-7.
Davis didn’t back down in these pressure situations, instead, coming through in the clutch twice in late innings of what turned out to be a thrilling Game 7 for the ages. Davis enters free agency with that lasting memory, hoping to cash in after he signed a one-year deal with the Tribe in December 2015, for $5.25 million. The Indians were in need of outfield depth, as they lost their star left fielder Michael Brantley to offseason arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder. Brantley ultimately came back too soon from the surgery, and only played in 11 games before being shut down for the remainder of the ’16 season. The Indians also lost Abraham Almonte for 80 games and Marlon Byrd for 162 for their respective PED suspensions, so Davis found himself playing in far more games than likely expected upon signing.
On the year, Davis slashed .249/.306/.388 with a career high 12 home runs, 48 RBI, and a league leading 43 stolen bases out of 49 attempts. He played in 134 games, 107 of them starts, and mainly batted leadoff, sixth, or seventh in Terry Francona‘s lineup. Davis found his best results when leading off though, posting a line of .253/.312/.434, with 11 home runs and 26 stolen bases. Although his OBP was rather low for a leadoff hitter, he had superior numbers when facing a pitcher’s first pitch, slashing .361/.349/.508 with two homers and 11 RBI in 61 at-bats. He also enjoyed success when runners were in scoring position, slashing .283/.360/.475 with three homers and 36 RBI in 99 at-bats.
On the defensive side, Davis is capable of manning all three outfield spots, as he did in ’16. The bulk of his playing time was spent in left and center field, where he posted a -3 defensive runs saved (DRS) and -5 DRS respectively. He ultimately posted league average or just below league average numbers in both outfield spots in 2016, with an overall range factor per nine innings of 2.22 when the league average was 2.15, and a range factor per game of 1.91, when the league average was 2.12.
What many teams will be intrigued by with Davis is his speed, where he’s posted seven seasons of at least 30 stolen bases, eclipsing the 40 mark five times including last season. Another area that hasn’t always been discussed is taking extra bases, which calculates the times a runner advances more than one base on a single or more than two bases on a double. The Indians finished second in all of baseball last year in extra bases taken (XBT%), at a 45% clip. The Mets were tied for last with the Detroit Tigers at 34%. Davis alone had a 58% XBT in 2016, and to put that in context, none of the Mets starting position players had a higher XBT than 48% (Travis d’Arnaud and Michael Conforto).
I could see Davis signing a one or two year deal this winter, similar to his two-year, $10 million contract he signed with the Tigers in December 2013. The Indians’ front office has expressed interest in re-signing Davis as depth, however, the Tribe has options with Tyler Naquin, Brandon Guyer, Lonnie Chisenhall, and a healthy Brantley to start the 2017 season. The Indians, Athletics, Giants, Mets, and Angels could all show interest.
I really like Davis for his speed and being proactive on the bases, something the Mets could use as they were ranked 28th overall in ’16 in team stolen bases with 42. The team’s outfield is still a bit unclear, as fans await word of whether the team will re-sign Cespedes. With Granderson, Bruce, Conforto, and Lagares also in the mix, the Mets might not have room to carry another outfielder. Lagares could be viewed as a less speedy Davis, with good splits against lefties, better defense in center, and nine years younger.
However, Davis’ speed element is very intriguing, so if the Mets in fact re-sign Cespedes and can trade Bruce, they could circle back and check in with Davis’ camp if he’s still available. I’d expect Davis and his agents are looking for more guaranteed playing time though, something the Mets won’t be able to offer with a crowded outfield.