Saturday, June 22, 2013
How the Chris Davis deal got done
By Buster Olney
Chris Davis’ major league salary was a little more than $400,000 when the Baltimore Orioles acquired him in their deal with the Texas Rangers in the summer of 2011, but really, it came down to money -- but not his money, which now looks crazy, considering how Davis is arguably the most productive player in the big leagues in 2013.
The Orioles and Rangers had haggled over terms of the deal, and the last question was not whether Texas could part with Davis but whether Baltimore would kick in $2 million to offset the salary of Koji Uehara. The Rangers had agreed to trade Tommy Hunter and Davis, but wanted and needed Andy MacPhail -- who was the team’s GM at the time -- to add cash, something he had rarely done through the years.
But this was a case when the Orioles were both lucky and good. They benefited from the fact that Baltimore manager Buck Showalter had previously worked with the Rangers and knew trusted evaluators who knew Davis, so he lobbied for the acquisition. If Penn State is known as Linebacker University, Showalter once said, the Rangers would be known as a first baseman factory because, through the years, they have developed Mark Teixeira, Adrian Gonzalez, Justin Smoak, Mitch Moreland and Davis.
The Orioles were attracted by Davis’ athleticism and thought he could be a good defender, no matter where he was needed, and although Davis had not hit enough to establish himself in the big leagues, MacPhail and Showalter thought that Davis just had too much success in the minor leagues -- too much success -- to simply be a lost cause. “You just don’t find players with the kind of résumé that Chris had,” Showalter said, referring to the yearly slash lines Davis would post, of .300/.400/Damage.
The Rangers realized that, too, which is why they had given Davis repeated opportunities to lock down a spot in the big leagues, and it just didn’t work out. Davis was universally liked within the organization, and the Rangers all saw the power potential, but it just wasn’t happening -- in fact, year to year, his performance had suffered. As the Rangers assessed Davis’ market value, there were a handful of clubs interested because he was a classic buy-low, high-ceiling player.
Orioles owner Peter Angelos agreed to kick in the cash for the proposed deal with the Rangers, and, in less than two years, Davis has become one of the most prolific hitters in the majors, on pace to hit 59 homers this year. Rangers GM Jon Daniels wrote in an email that he is genuinely happy for Davis. “Great dude,” he wrote. “Wish it had happened here. I feel comfortable with the decision-making process that led us there. The result is obviously not in our favor, but the process wasn't bad.”
Davis hit his 27th HR of the season Friday, giving him 50 extra-base hits in his 73rd game played this season -- tying him for the fifth-fastest player to reach that mark in the expansion era (since 1961), according to The Elias Sports Bureau.
The Orioles lost Friday, in spite of Davis’s 27th homer, and Showalter was ejected. You don’t see him get this upset very often.
• I remember going to spring training thinking that I would pick the Toronto Blue Jays to win the American League East, but then, after talking with rival evaluators and seeing them for a few days, I instead picked them to finish fourth -- mostly based on bullpen concerns. In a division that appeared to be loaded with good bullpens, such as those of Baltimore, Boston, New York and Tampa Bay, the Toronto relief corps looked as if it might have serious issues.
The bottom line: I’m definitely wrong about the Blue Jays’ bullpen, and if Toronto keeps winning, I’ll be wrong there, too. The Blue Jays have won nine straight, after beating the Orioles on Friday on a walk-off, and their relievers have racked up 27 consecutive scoreless innings -- one inning short of the club record set in 1989.
Brett Cecil has played an enormous role in that, after being shifted from starting pitcher to relief, something not unfamiliar to him. “I love it,” he said. “I did it in college, which makes this a lot easier.”
When Cecil was at the University of Maryland, he recalled, he was asked to close games, and, after his first three or four outings, he reported to his coach that he felt some fatigue. “They asked me how many pitches I was throwing to warm up, and I said, ’35 to 40 pitches,’” he remembered. It was explained to him that he needed to learn to warm up to pitch one inning, not for an entire game, and that he would have to find other ways to get his body prepared -- by jumping rope, etc.
So, as the left-hander has transitioned from the role of a starting pitcher into relief with the Blue Jays, he said he has been familiar with developing his routine, preparing mentally to face the left-handed hitters he might see or the right-handed hitters who might be called on to pinch-hit against him. He uses a weighted ball to get loose -- a la Mariano Rivera -- and warms up quickly.
Most of all, Cecil said, he likes the intensity that comes with being a reliever, the instant adrenaline when you get the ball -- usually in a close game, often with a runner or more on base. He has responded to it well: According to Elias, Cecil has faced 43 straight batters without allowing a hit. That's the longest such streak in Blue Jays history and the longest by any reliever since Ernesto Frieri went 53 straight batters without allowing a hit last year.
The Toronto bullpen has a 0.61 ERA in June. That would be the lowest bullpen ERA in a calendar month in franchise history and the lowest (minimum 10 games) by any team since the Yankees' pen posted a 0.24 ERA in June 1981 (Elias).
• The Padres beat L.A. on Friday night but lost Clayton Richard. I wrote here Friday about how the Cubs are ready to deal, and have two starting pitchers available, in Matt Garza -- who threw well again Friday -- and Scott Feldman. Keep in mind that the Chicago front office has firsthand knowledge of the San Diego farm system, given that GM Jed Hoyer and assistant Jason McLeod used to work for the Padres, who have a lot of depth in prospects.
• The Cubs have started exchanging names with other teams, including Baltimore, about Feldman, Garza and others.
• The Dodgers lost again, and are on a trajectory that would take them to a season of 67-95, so we have unofficially reached the stage in which any change should not be considered a surprise.
Clayton Kershaw allowed a home run in the first inning versus the Padres on Friday, to Chris Denorfia. He has allowed six home runs this season, five of which have been to Padres. His 4 ER allowed Friday tied a season high (allowed 4 ER in May 26 home loss to Cardinals).
The Dodgers have some tough decisions to make when their injured outfielders return, writes Dylan Hernandez.
• I watched some of Gerrit Cole’s start against the Angels on Friday and he was ridiculous, in dominating them with his fastball.
From ESPN Stats & Information, how Pirates rookie Gerrit Cole beat the Angels:
A) He threw heat: Cole threw a 101.0 mph fastball to Alberto Callaspo in the second inning. It was the fastest pitch thrown by a starter not named Justin Verlander in the past five seasons. He threw eight pitches at 100-plus mph ; all other starters in baseball this year have combined for one (Matt Harvey).
B) Cole threw 73 fastballs among his 88 pitches (83 percent). Through three career starts, he's throwing 81 percent fastballs, the fourth-highest percentage in baseball among starters this season behind Ross Detwiler, Bartolo Colon and Tony Cingrani.
C) Cole registered five strikeouts, more than in his first two starts combined (three). Four of his five strikeouts came on fastballs, and three of those four were out of the zone.
From Elias: Cole has won all three career starts. Ben McDonald (five) in 1990 is the only No. 1 pick to win more consecutive starts to begin his career.
• The Nationals have been so bad at the plate, writes Thomas Boswell, that they can’t possibly keep this up.
Dings and dents
1. Jon Niese has a torn rotator cuff.
2. The Giants lost another outfielder.
3. Chris Perez is going through the minor league route.
4. Dan Uggla is trying out some new contact lenses.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. It’s Uehara who is replacing Andrew Bailey, for now.
2. The Tigers moved to cut Jose Valverde, with the intent of sending him to Triple-A. Don’t worry, the GM has a plan, writes Drew Sharp.
3. The Yankees are trying something different in their infield.
4. The Phillies’ ownership has low standards, writes David Murphy.
5. The Pirates called up Tony Sanchez.
6. Total speculation: Nate Schierholtz, who is likely to be traded by the Cubs in the next 40 days, would be a great fit for the Royals.
7. Chris Narveson was sent back to Triple-A.
8. The Yankees acquired Brent Lillibridge.
9. Randall Delgado is being called up to be part of a four-man rotation.
1. The Red Sox won, but Jon Lester is a mess, writes Scott Lauber.
2. Nelson Cruz got a little payback in St. Louis.
3. Wily Peralta was "the man" for the Brewers.
4. When the Marlins are around, bad things always happen for the Giants, as Clark Spencer writes.
5. Paul Goldschmidt is rolling again.
• David Price felt strong after his rehab start.
• The Royals are not concerned about Alex Gordon’s slump, writes Sam McDowell.
• Justin Morneau had some thoughts about tying Kirby Puckett.
• A scoring change went against Chris Sale.
• From Elias: Bartolo Colon, who defeated the Mariners on Friday night, is 6-0 in six starts since turning 40 last month. Colon is the only pitcher in major league history to win each of the first six starts he made in his 40s.
• Chris Carter has earned the confidence of his manager.
• A top Mariners prospect was promoted.
• Yoenis Cespedes headed a homer parade, as Susan Slusser writes.
• Stephen Strasburg threw well, again.
From ESPN Stats & Info, how Strasburg dominated the Rockies:
A) He put hitters away: Strasburg took 14 hitters to a two-strike count and retired all 14, including nine via strikeout. It’s just the fifth time in his career he didn’t allow a baserunner with two strikes.
B) Strasburg had five strikeouts on his curveball, his most with the pitch since last June. Rockies hitters swung at four of his curveballs with two strikes and missed on all four.
C) Strasburg kept hitters off balance with two strikes. All three of his fastball strikeouts came after he threw a curveball on the previous pitch, and four of his five curveball strikeouts came after he threw a fastball on the previous pitch.
Cole Hamels has 11 losses already.
The first-place Braves were shut out, again.
• The Pirates are building an impressive farm system, writes Travis Sawchik.
• Johnny Cueto got roughed up.
• The Rockies keep losing on the road.
On Sunday, Joe Saunders and his wife, Shanel, through their charitable foundation Team Saundo, will host a group of children and their families from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center at the ballgame, something they are doing several weekends this season. Joe and Shanel started Team Saundo in 2007 to make a positive impact on the lives of children by supporting initiatives focused on children’s health and well-being, education and involvement in sports.
• Ricky Romero is improving in Triple-A.
• The commissioner in Japan is under a lot of fire.
And today will be better than yesterday.