Khris Davis says he wants to stay with the Athletics 'at least three more years'
The slugger will be a free agent following the 2019 season
A year ago the Oakland Athletics shocked the baseball world and won 97 games en route to an AL Wild Card spot. They did it with a deep lineup, a dominant bullpen, and a patchwork rotation. Oakland gave the heavily favored Astros some headaches in the AL West race throughout the summer. That's for sure.
The centerpiece of the A's lineup is designated hitter Khris Davis, who slugged an MLB-best 48 home runs last season. It was his third straight season with 40-plus homers -- despite playing in a hitter unfriendly home ballpark, Davis has nine more home runs than any other player over the last three years -- and his fourth straight season hitting exactly .247. That's kind of fun. Davis finished eighth in the AL MVP voting.
The 2019 season will be Davis' fourth and potentially final season with the Athletics. He's due to become a free agent after the season, and the A's aren't known to spend lavishly in free agency. For what it's worth, Davis had repeatedly said he loves playing in Oakland, and on Sunday he told reporters he'd like to remain with the team "at least three more years." From the Associated Press:
"I'd like to be here. I hope something gets done," Davis said. "It's not a good thing being a free agent right now. For my security, it's going to impact a lot. That's the way the business is. I'm already 31 so I don't know if I'm too old. There's a lot of things that run through my head. Who knows. If it happens, it happens."
"Shoot, I want to stay here at least three more years, but that's a long time to be an Oakland A. But if anybody can do it, I guess it's me, hopefully," Davis said. "I don't think they'll trade me as long as we're doing good. So we better do good so I don't get traded."
Davis and the Athletics avoided arbitration with a one-year contract worth $16.5 million last month. Free agency is a tough place right now. Despite record revenues, teams are not spending as much as they once did -- eight teams are on track to open the season with a sub-$100 million payroll, which is bonkers -- and it is possible if not likely Davis will have to take a pay cut as a free agent. At least in terms of average annual salary.
Three things are working against Davis. One, he will be 32 on Opening Day 2020 and teams are steering clear of players on the wrong side of 30. Two, he's a DH and played only 11 games in the field last year. And three, he doesn't provide much other than power. He's not a high average hitter and he's posted a .323 on-base percentage the last three years. Davis is pretty close to a one-dimensional slugger. If you're going to be a one-dimensional player though, power's a good dimension to have.
More than a few similar DH types have hit free agency in recent years and they create a wide range of possible contract outcomes for Davis. Here's a comparison of their contract years:
J.D. Martinez 2017
5 years, $110M
Carlos Santana 2017
3 years, $60M
Edwin Encarnacion 2016
3 years, $60M
Mark Trumbo 2016
3 years, $37.5M
Khris Davis 2019 per ZiPS
We don't know what Davis will do in 2019 and that will obviously be a major factor in his next contract, so I've included his 2019 ZiPS projection for reference. As a reminder, projections are not predictions. They are just an attempt to estimate the player's talent level. For all intents and purposes, ZiPS believes Davis can maintain his 2016-18 production for at least another year.
Martinez is in his own little category here. His worst season from 2014-17 featured a 139 OPS+, which is better than what any of these other guys did in their contract year. Martinez had a multiyear track record of being a truly elite hitter. Someone who hit for a high average and got on base a ton in addition to hitting for top of the line power. None of the other guys listed here are as complete a hitter as Martinez.
By OPS+, that 2016 season was Encarnacion's worst since 2011, mostly because his average dipped. Also, he was 34 when he hit free agency, two years older than Davis when he becomes a free agent next winter. Santana never hit for the type of power Davis (or Martinez or Encarnacion) did, but he has been a consistently high on-base player. That's not insignificant. Not making outs will forever be the most valuable offensive skill in the game.
Trumbo might be the best comparison for Davis, though he battled injuries in the years prior to his contract year, so his track record was not as impressive. He hit .251/.303/.435 (102 OPS+) with 36 home runs in 230 games from 2014-15, the two years prior to his huge contract year. Davis has been quite a bit better than that in recent years. A typical Khris Davis year would put him in position to command more than Trumbo.
My hunch right now, in February 2019, is that Davis is looking at something like $13 million or $14 million per year across three years with his next contract. That puts him above Trumbo (three years at $12.5 million annually) but below Santana and Encarnacion (three years at $20 million annually), and it represents a pay cut from his $16.5 million salary this year. All things considered, three years and eight figures annually would be a good outcome in this market.
The A's will have to pay Matt Chapman and Matt Olson big arbitration years in the coming years -- I imagine signing Chapman to a long-term extension will be on the club's agenda at some point -- and possibly Jurickson Profar and Blake Treinen as well. For a small payroll team like Oakland, paying those four could be the priority over paying Davis, a DH on the wrong side of 30.
As far as we know, Davis has not set a deadline for contract talks, though I'm sure he'd like to get this done sooner rather than later. For now, he and the Athletics will focus on the upcoming regular season and getting back to October. Davis' stock could change dramatically between now and his free agency.
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