At the end of the season, most fans had reached the conclusion that either Ike Davis or Lucas Duda needed to be elsewhere before the start of the 2014 campaign. Fans were not enamored with either player yet a consensus developed that Davis was the one who needed to go. Many fans expected a deal to be completed during the Winter Meetings and while Sandy Alderson was busy, no trades involving a Mets first baseman occurred.
The Mets have added a combined $87.25 million in payroll obligations and conventional wisdom is that if they shed a bit more they can add one more eight-digit contract. The prevailing thought is if the Mets shed Davis and his expected $4-5 million salary, they will be able to add a $12-15 million dollar player in his place.
Therefore the fans’ have developed a tunnel-vision view towards Davis. He struggled last year and his expected arbitration salary will prevent a Stephen Drew-type signing, so let’s trade him regardless of what we get offered in return. In the minds of many, trading Davis has become merely a case of addition by subtraction. The Mets get better with Davis gone so if all they get is a bag of broken bats and a pop-up toaster, who cares?
However, it’s never a good idea to squander assets.
Prior to the start of the 2013 season, we did projections for all of the starters for the Mets. Our official projection for Davis was a .265/.345/.500 line with 31 HR and 95 RBIs. In hindsight, this was an optimistic forecast. However, is there not room between optimism and replacement value? And if Davis is above replacement value – shouldn’t he bring something of value back in a trade?
No one was more frustrated than me with the performance of Davis in 2013. Before the end of April there was a plea from me to send Davis to the minors. Games in May and early June were brutal to watch in large part because of the lousy performance the Mets got from Davis. If someone videotaped my reaction to the news of Davis finally being demoted, no doubt it would feature a few “Hallelujahs!” and it might even have had a little jig thrown in, too.
Yet all along the idea was to send Davis elsewhere not just to get him away from the major league club but also to rehabilitate him back into being a useful piece for the Mets again in the future. In his last 54 games of the 2012 season, Davis recorded a .265/.370/.529 line – and this came with a .277 BABIP. That’s pretty valuable production.
It’s my firm belief that player still exists. It may just be that the current Mets coaching staff has no idea how to coax that performance from him again. It’s also my belief that Duda could produce numbers in this range over a full season, too. It just seems easier to unlock the secret for Duda than for Davis.
Put Duda at first base, tell him the job’s his and leave him alone. But what’s the secret for Davis? Is it just a matter of him returning to his “bear defecating in the woods” stance that was so successful down the stretch in 2012? The same one he abandoned last year? Anyone with the answer – please send it to Terry Collins ASAP, as everything Collins tried with Davis in 2013 had rotten results.
But when Davis returned from Las Vegas last year, he was a different hitter. His numbers look great in that span for two reasons. First is because he finally stopped swinging at pitches a foot out of the strike zone. Second was that he had good fortune with his BABIP.
This one time, BABIP should take a back seat for a moment. While it’s silly to pretend that it didn’t play a big role in the outcomes, it should not overshadow the role that not swinging at every breaking ball in the dirt played in Davis’ revival. This was an adjustment that the MLB coaches could not get Davis to make.
Fans understandably have concerns that this plate discipline, much like his September 2012 batting stance, won’t last over an offseason. That seems like a legitimate worry. But is it enough of a worry to suggest trading a guy who has extended stretches the past two seasons with .850+ OPS samples for … garbage – just to be rid of a $5 million salary?
It would be nice no longer to have to worry about the Davis or Duda question. Closure in this regard would be a good thing. Yet it’s not so desirable to give up an asset for no meaningful return. Alderson is right to hang onto Davis as long as the offers he gets are so underwhelming. Perhaps with his volatility, he’s not worth a starting OFer or an MLB-ready SP#5. But he has more value than your standard C-level minor league prospect and we should be disappointed if Alderson lets him go for that little.
The easiest way for the Mets to receive value for a rehabilitated Davis is by trading him for something worthwhile. Another way would be to stick with him, continue to work on his pitch recognition and reap the rewards of an .850 OPS guy. Just because the former is the preferred option does not make the latter choice inconceivable.
There’s an old baseball adage of where sometimes the best trades are the ones you don’t make. Wouldn’t it make perfect sense – in the context of the roller coaster ride of Davis’ MLB career – that after the Mets tried all winter to give him away that he came back and put up a monster year in Queens?