Signing Jason Heyward should be offseason priority number one for the St. Louis Cardinals. Here at Viva El Birdos, we have made that abundantly clear. While Bill DeWitt, Jr. anticipates a payroll increase for the 2016 season (as a frame of reference, it was ~121 million in 2015), just how high will he be willing to go? At 26 years of age and 27.8 fWAR already on his résumé, Heyward is a unique free agent, and we all know his agent at Excel Sports Management will be seeking an atmospheric contract for his client. Thus, some have already turned to position player option number two, former Baltimore Orioles first baseman Chris Davis.
Before we even begin to discuss Chris Davis the baseball player, we already face a pretty big problem. Davis is represented by the mystical Scott Boras. Boras has already begun his magic by seemingly spoonfeeding outrageous contract ideas to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, who in turn predicted the slugging first baseman to eventually sign for seven years, $182 million. I have concluded that Heyman had to be simply regurgitating something similar to what Boras told him because in no way could someone reasonably believe Davis, at this stage in his career, is truly worth $26 million average annual value (AAV) over seven years, even given the state of the market.
Davis has been in the big leagues for parts of eight seasons (with the Rangers and the Orioles), and he has been an above average hitter (greater than 100 wRC+) on three occasions (all with the Orioles). Fortunately for Davis and his future contract, those seasons have been the recent ones, and he isn't entering the market promoting himself as a potential bounce-back candidate. The numbers Davis put up at the plate in 2013 and 2015 are impressive, but at the same time, one must also acknowledge a potential repeat of his 2014 season, especially considering he hits the age-30 plateau next spring.
Of course, some blame Davis' abysmal 2014 performance on the issues he had acquiring/renewing a Therapeutic Use Exemption for Adderall (something that would not have happened if teams had pharmacists on staff), which eventually led to a 25-game suspension late in the year. I bring this up because Fox Sports published an article stating that Davis was "good to go" for 2015 after receiving a new TUE, this time for Vyvanse (another stimulant) instead of Adderall. And sure enough, Davis returned to near-2013 form last season.
As you can see, Davis strikes out a lot (once in roughly three plate appearances), walks a lot, and hits for a lot of power. Given the amount of doubles he hits, he is not quite a three true outcomes player, but he is pretty close. In reference to Davis' 2013 slugging percentage, the last Cardinal to eclipse a .600 slugging percentage was Albert Pujols way back in 2009 (.658). Regarding a .500 slugging percentage, Matt Carpenter reached that mark just last season at .505, but the Cardinals went without a .500 slugger in 2013 and 2014. Thus, the addition of Davis' power would undoubtedly be beneficial to the lineup.
But, but...it is difficult to hit home runs in Busch Stadium, how do Davis' stack up? Admittedly, before being referred to the chart below, this was an argument I brought up when I was a guest on the Ticket 930 AM radio show (Quincy, IL) Monday night (my segment starts at the ~33:00 mark).
2015 Home Runs with a Busch Stadium Overlay
Boy, was I wrong. While it is indeed easier to hit home runs at Camden Yards, only two of Davis' 47 from last season wouldn't have made it out of Busch. A 45 home run hitter in the lineup of the St. Louis Cardinals? That hasn't happened since, you guessed it, 2009, when Pujols hit 47. At this point in the article, it probably seems like the only real negative against the signing of Davis is the fact that his agent is Scott Boras. I've written about how the power Davis possesses hasn't been seen in a St. Louis lineup in six years. I've provided a graphic to show that he isn't simply taking advantage of his home ballpark.
But, it is an undeniable fact that Davis turns 30 in four months. One of the first skills a non-PED-aided ballplayer begins to lose is his power. And where does Davis provide nearly all of his value? Power. He already swings and misses a whole lot, and this will likely only increase as he begins to experience a physical decline (also known as aging). Sure, he is a good defender, but first base is the hardest position on the diamond in which to provide defensive value. On the bases, he is average, but again, this is something that will only decline with age. Thus, two to three years into a potential seven year contract, the Cardinals will be left with an aging slugger. It may not fair to Davis, but I see him aging in a similar fashion to Ryan Howard, and frankly, I do not want a player like that on the payroll for an extended period of time.
Now, it would not hurt to inquire about his services, but it would not be very Cardinals-like to risk $25+ million per year on a player like Davis. Rather, the Cardinals' money would be much better spent on a cornerstone outfielder (you might know his name by now) and a pitcher to fill in during Lance Lynn's absence.