Chris Davis could be biggest bat in a bountiful year for free-agent hitters

BOCA RATON, Fla. -- When general managers searching for an offensive upgrade look at Chris Davis, they see an imposing left-handed power hitter with a penchant for home runs and strikeouts -- not necessarily in that order.

Not surprisingly, agent Scott Boras focuses more on Davis' selling points than his shortcomings. Boras sees a model of versatility and the premier position player on the market.

"Chris Davis grades out as the top free agent because he's the top outfielder, the top first baseman and the top DH," Boras said. "He's all of those. He's three in one.

"For a guy like this to hit the market, it's just an opportunity teams don't get: a 29-year-old player who has 40-plus home run power, and he's already hit 50 home runs. You have to go back to Prince Fielder and [Albert] Pujols and Alex Rodriguez -- all these guys with 40-plus home run power. How often are they on the market? And when they are on the market, look at the impact they have."

Boras, who is rarely shy about trumpeting the impact of his top clients, makes the claim in a bountiful year for free-agent bats. Justin Upton, already a three-time All Star, is on the open market as he's theoretically hitting his prime at age 28. Jason Heyward, a mere pup at 26, brings a gold-plated glove to the mix and made significant strides at the plate this past season in St. Louis. And Yoenis Cespedes ranks high in the mash-ability factor even though the 2015 season didn't finish quite the way he had anticipated with a .150 batting average (3-for-20) in the World Series.

Boras' glowing reviews of Davis' appeal are trumped by the brashness of his sales pitch: It's common knowledge that Davis is the prime free-agent first baseman available this winter. But the best outfielder?

"Chris Davis grades out as the top free agent because he's the top outfielder, the top first baseman and the top DH. He's all of those. He's 3 in 1."
Scott Boras, Davis' agent

Davis' profile on Baseball-Reference shows he has barely a passing acquaintance with the outfield. He has made 597 career starts at first base, 93 at DH, 85 at third, 57 in right field and 11 in left. Davis logged a minus-3 defensive runs saved in 29 starts in right field this season, according to Baseball Info Solutions research.

Still, one Baltimore Orioles insider said Davis has shown a comfort level in right field in his relatively brief exposure to the position. A National League scout who follows the Orioles extensively said a team could do worse than to park Davis in a corner outfield spot for a year or two until a first-base opening arises.

"I'm not a big Scott Boras guy, but I don't disagree with that opinion," the scout said. "I don't think he's selling you a bag of beans on this one.

"Let me put it this way: Chris Davis is not Alfonso Soriano in the outfield. If an average grade is a 50, he's a 45. And what I say about 45s is, they don't hurt you. They're going to get everything they should get. Occasionally there's going to be a misplay, but it's not like you're looking up every three weeks and saying, 'Shoot, this guy is killing us.' He's gonna make the plays he should."

The bat, obviously, is Davis' principal attribute. Since the start of the 2012 season, he leads the major leagues with 159 home runs and is seventh among MLB regulars with a .533 slugging percentage.

Davis is also baseball's runaway leader in strikeouts over the past four seasons with 749, even though he hangs in the box against lefty pitching far better than the typical slugger of his ilk. In 2015, Davis logged a respectable .268/.330/.468 slash line vs. lefties with 10 homers in 190 at-bats.

Boras points out that Davis and Rodriguez (another of his former clients) are the only free agents in the past 15 years to hit the free-agent market with multiple 45-home run seasons on their résumés. While A-Rod signed his $252 million and $275 million contracts at a time when power was abundant in baseball, Davis is hitting 40-plus homers in a fallow period for power in the game.

Boras' research department trolled through the archives and found that the 20-homer, 80-RBI man is slowly becoming extinct: In 2009, a total of 62 big league hitters were in the club. That number shrunk to 34 in 2014 and 41 players this past season.

Davis has encountered some bumps in the road on the way to his big payday. He received a 25-game suspension late in the 2014 season for testing positive for amphetamines associated with the drug Adderall. This year, he received a therapeutic-use exemption for a new medication to treat his ADHD and responded with a major league-high 47 home runs. He ranked second in the American League in RBIs to the Toronto Blue Jays' Josh Donaldson with 117.

"I thought he was going to have this kind of year all the way back to spring training," a scout said. "Maybe the medicine helps him stay focused in his approach. I saw him stay on balls and hit some pitches the other way, and it kind of snowballed. He looked like he was locked back in to two years ago, when he was a monster [and hit 53 home runs]."

At this point, it's strictly speculation where Davis could land through free agency. The St. Louis Cardinals, San Diego Padres, Houston Astros, Blue Jays, Seattle Mariners, San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Angels have been mentioned by assorted media outlets, and the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees are bound to come up in conversation eventually. The Orioles have also made it clear they would like to keep Davis if possible. He has been a comfortable fit in their clubhouse mix, and he has shown an affinity for hitting at Camden Yards.

"If a team has a first baseman, they can sign Chris Davis as an outfielder for one or two years, then bring him back to first base," Boras said. "He gives them that flexibility. He's an above-average outfielder. He also can play third base. And he's one hell of a relief pitcher, too."

That's a joking reference to the 2012 season, when Davis threw two shutout innings in a 17-inning game between the Orioles and Red Sox at Fenway Park in his only career appearance on a mound.

Davis won't be resurrecting that act once he signs a nine-figure deal, but all other scenarios are on the table. Hot-stove season is underway, and his representative is open for business.