BALTIMORE — The AL-favorite Houston Astros walked right past the media scrum outside the Orioles clubhouse that included a $161 million first baseman hitting .182 for a last-place team who was trying to explain why he went after his manager in the dugout Wednesday.
It was quite a moment in time within the baseball world as opposite ends of the spectrum were on display. You could only imagine what was going through the minds of Astros players, who have visions of winning their second World Series in three years this October. Meanwhile, the Orioles can only try to avoid setting the franchise record for losses for the second straight year.
Chris Davis, Brandon Hyde, and general manager Mike Elias did their best Friday to defuse an incident that was a terrible look for a rebuilding club already facing more than its share of embarrassment on the way to a second straight season of 100-plus losses. The 33-year-old Davis explained he’d reached a “breaking point” Wednesday after a difficult inning in the field without revealing what exactly triggered him needing to be restrained by hitting coach Don Long and teammate Mark Trumbo. Davis said he left the clubhouse before the conclusion of Wednesday’s game to avoid being a distraction to his teammates, a decision that apparently won’t trigger discipline despite how that type of act is traditionally received.
Hyde admitted to getting “a little frustrated” with how Davis was handling his own anger in the dugout before reiterating how highly he thinks of the veteran as a person, suggesting he’s had more individual conversations with Davis than any other player on the club and saying this was the first time anything remotely like this had happened. You hope the experience will only help the first-year manager in how he relates to his players, an area in which he’d received rave reviews — including from Davis — prior to Wednesday’s confrontation.
Yes, all parties appear ready to move on from an incident that really shouldn’t define Davis’ character as his charitable efforts are no secret. It’s not about trying to divide the blame between Davis and Hyde either. Understand these are two very competitive adults and not some Little League player with his dad as the coach, but Davis knows losing his mind to the point of trying to fight his boss is completely unacceptable while Hyde realizes he probably could have used a little more tact in what he said to a frustrated player while in plain sight of TV cameras.
On Friday, Davis again fought the perception that he doesn’t care about his poor performance, which has always been the low hanging fruit of the many talking points related to his multiyear collapse as a major league hitter. He’s been far from perfect handling himself, but no athlete would ever reach such a level of success in the first place if he was content with such abject failure, regardless of the money he’s making.
This isn’t a question about effort or whether Davis cares. As humiliating as Wednesday’s incident was, many wouldn’t be reacting with the same venom if he were hitting .250 with 30 home runs at this point in the season. This is still all about performance with the unflattering scene of Davis being held back in the Orioles dugout only highlighting the obvious that can no longer be swept under the rug by the stray good week at the plate or a flimsy compliment about his defense that’s been average at best for a few years now.
This terribly disappointing marriage between Davis and the Orioles needs to end.
We know all about the extraordinary money Davis is still owed on a contract running through the 2022 season and the deferred payments to be made long after that, but the numbers show the Orioles continue to be a worse team with him on it, no matter how much anyone wishes it could be different. A new regime with new ideas and methods has tried its best to “fix” the former two-time home run champion to salvage some value, but that’s resulted in minimal improvement that’s taken him from a historically poor 2018 campaign to still being one of the worst players in baseball this year.
Over his last 1,075 plate appearances dating back to the 2017 All-Star break, Davis has batted .181 with 37 homers and a .589 on-base plus slugging percentage. He’s been worth minus-4.1 wins above replacement over the last three seasons, according to FanGraphs. He owns a brutal .589 OPS this season, and that’s with Hyde not even playing him against most lefties. He’s gone 5-for-52 against southpaws in 2019.
It’s not my money, but there’s just no logical argument to be made to continue on this path beyond this season, especially with Triple-A prospect Ryan Mountcastle waiting in the wings and ready to be tested in the majors by next season at the latest. The Orioles are already playing natural first baseman Trey Mancini — who certainly tries his best — in the outfield to the detriment of their defense, and Mountcastle will only create a greater logjam of first base-designated hitter types if Davis remains in 2020.
Asked where Davis’ future with the Orioles stood Friday, Elias dismissed any notion of the dugout incident factoring into a potential decision down the road and offered a similar refrain to what we’ve heard since he was hired last November.
“I hope he starts playing better. We’ll continue to revisit our plan there, but I’ve said before he’s on the team,” Elias said. “We don’t have any plans or expectations to alter that fact. He’s under contract, and that’s not something that I take lightly. He’s got a lot of talent, and we’re not going to walk away from the fact that he’s talented and he’s here for a while.
“We’ll continue to talk to him; we’ll continue to work with him during the season as best we can. We’ll see what the plans are over the offseason. I’ve been keeping in touch with him this year about his program. This will continue.”
Of course, we know he’s going to make such statements about Davis being on the club until he isn’t anymore. That’s where John Angelos and Louis Angelos come into the picture as any team in any professional sport wanting to move on from a player still owed lucrative money is going to need ownership’s approval. Elias said he did speak to them about what happened Wednesday, but it appears the organization will continue with their high-priced first baseman, who was sitting the bench to start the opener of a three-game set with Houston. It’s not a disciplinary move; that’s just where Davis finds himself more frequently these days.
No, Davis’ spat with Hyde may not prove to be the final straw in his ultimate exit — and wouldn’t be in a vacuum — but it did draw more attention to what’s so painfully obvious. The Orioles can’t ignore reality much longer if they expect anyone to fully buy into a new direction and a new era.
It’s not about effort, character, whether Davis used to be a really good major league player, or even those few embarrassing moments in the dugout Wednesday. As difficult as it might be for the organization to accept, the decision isn’t even about money since he’ll be paid regardless.
Do the Orioles want to continue making their team worse by refusing to let go of some fading idea of what Davis used to be a long time ago, or do they want to truly turn the page?
It’s that simple and obvious, no matter how embarrassing the scene in the dugout might have been.