Khris Davis key to A’s offseason outfield agenda

Khris Davis not only led the Athletics in home runs (43) and RBIs (110), he was tops in runs (91) and total bases (299).

The 29-year-old outfielder’s modest total of four stolen bases was also good enough to match Matt Joyce for third-best on the club, and his 2.5 wins above replacement (WAR) were fourth-best. Off the field, Davis was nearly as vital to the team as he was on it, becoming one of the young team’s veteran voices and leaders by example, according to manager Bob Melvin.

Having logged just over four years of MLB service time, Davis is arbitration eligible this offseason meaning if he and the A’s cannot reach agreeable terms by mid-January, his contract for the 2018 season will be decided by an arbitration panel. So, it is possible that Oakland will be made to pay Davis somewhere in the vicinity of the $18.7 million Edwin Encarnacion is owed by Cleveland.

Though they have not said so publicly, the A’s will likely pursue a long-term deal with their slugger, the second in franchise history to record back-to-back 40-homer seasons and only player with 40-plus bombs and 100-plus RBIs in the past two seasons.

If the two sides cannot reach such a deal, the arbitration hearing could get messy. But general manager David Forst said, in his end-of-the-season press conference, he is not worried about that:

“If it is, it is. Khris is valuable. I don’t think you can overstate the impact he has on the rest of the lineup and those guys being able to rely on him to take the heat off of them.”

Among “those guys” hitting around Davis will be Joyce, who bounced back from a .191/.287/.348 slash through the season’s first two months with a .265/.355/.527 the rest of way leading to the team’s sixth-best WAR (1.7). The 33-year-old 10-year veteran posted career-highs in home runs (25), doubles (33) and runs scored (78).

Melvin, Forst and the A’s will expect something closer to Joyce’s .355 post-May on-base percentage (OBP), supplanting a middle of the order that, including Davis, slugged 92 home runs in 371 combined games played. They will also look for more of the stellar defense he provided in his first year with the club.

Center field is a much more fluid position heading into the offseason.

Early expectations have rookie Dustin Fowler, acquired from the Yankees in exchange for Sonny Gray, falling into the Opening Day starting spot. Melvin said he is excited to see Fowler’s collection of tools upon his return from knee surgery:

“We really like Dustin Fowler. We’ll see where his health is at the beginning of camp because when you make a trade like that — you trade a Sonny Gray — you need to get some guys back and this is a guy we’re targeting to be our center fielder.”

When healthy, Fowler has been an explosive offensive talent, boasting a .282/.315/.450 in 421 career minor league games, including a .293/.329/.542 in 70 games at the Triple-A level in 2017. He has also homered 39 times, driving in 251 runs, scoring 221 and stealing 74 bags as a minor leaguer — 15, 97, 85 and 28 per 162 games played.

The 22-year-old also grades out as an above-average defender, boasting excellent range to go with his base-stealing speed and above-average arm.

As far as bench depth is concerned, the A’s find themselves in a better position than they did a year ago. Jake Smolinski returned to action from shoulder surgery a bit early last season, and has proven to be a more-than-capable fourth outfielder at all three positions — he could find himself in a platoon role with Joyce in right field.

Boog Powell, who made his Oakland debut in 2017 after being drafted by the A’s in 2012 and spending the past three years bouncing from the Tampa Bay Rays to the Seattle Mariners and back to the Bay.

Powell, who has garnered comparisons, more defensively than offensively, to Yankee center fielder Brett Gardner, slashed .321/.380/.494 in 29 games with the A’s. Because of those productive numbers, Melvin would have no problem penciling the 24-year-old into any outfield position, even for extended stretches.

Super-utility man Chad Pinder will also see some time in the outfield, primarily in right — anything to get his nearly-30 home runs per 162 games played into the lineup.

All things considered, the A’s outfield will see little change this offseason. Much of the changes needed were handled with in-season trades of Gray and lone All-Star Yonder Alonso (for Powell). In fact, with Powell, Pinder, Mark Canha and Jaycob Brugman each making cases for playing time in the Oakland outfield, this is a portion of the roster from which the A’s could trade to bolster other weak spots — most notably the bullpen.

But, don’t expect to see Davis traded. After all, as the skipper put it, the left fielder is not only integral to the leadership of this young team, he is a generational talent that belongs in the heart of the Oakland order:

“You’re talking about Jimmie Foxx and Khris Davis in organizational history. That’s with guys like (Mark) McGwire and Reggie Jackson and Jose Canseco, it’s pretty impressive numbers that he put up, and to be able to do it again the next year shows you that he’s in a pretty good place.”


Kalama Hines is SFBay’s sports director and Oakland Athletics beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @HineSight_2020 on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of A’s baseball.