Possible Trade Target: Chris Davis

Today in “things I swear I had thought of myself but hadn’t had a chance to write about before ESPN did” news… ESPN speculates (emphasis on speculates, as this just seems like a good fit, not that there’s been even the slightest sniff of a rumor) that the Dodgers would do well to look at Rangers infielder Chris Davis:

For the latter part of the offseason and early during spring training, much of the talk in Arlington — and Surprise, Arizona where the clubs trains — has been about Michael Young and how he fits on the current roster. It appears he’s slated for some time at first base and perhaps DH, as is veteran Mike Napoli and second-year man Mitch Moreland. But former starting first baseman Chris Davis is having a heck of a spring so far, and if nothing else could have some trade value. Clubs that could have a need for a left-handed power hitter at first base or DH include the Los Angeles Dodgers, who may not be sure James Loney is their future at the position — and Loney is battling some minor injuries this spring — as well as the Tampa Bay Rays and Houston Astros.

Davis has had problems making consistent contact, but if his early-spring performance is any indication, there may be some improvement there on which to build, and nobody has eve doubted Davis’ power potential.

I’ll go a step further and say that Loney isn’t the future, but this isn’t about replacing Loney. It’s about buying low on a lottery ticket with power, who may or may not be a long-term solution, but would at least provide some options right now at more than one position. If this sounds familiar, it’s because that’s the exact same rationale I gave for looking at Mike Morse in December, and everyone seemed to think that was a great idea.

As for Davis, he’s basically the definition of a lottery ticket. He’s got power, that’s for sure; he hit 38 homers over 736 plate appearances in his first two seasons, or roughly a season-and-a-half, and he’s hit 94 dingers in parts of five minor league seasons. He’s also known for his absolutely absurd strikeout rates, in particular the 150 whiffs (against just 24 BB) in only 419 plate appearances in 2009, and he’s lost his job at 1B at least three times. His 2010 was an outright disaster, as he was demoted to the minors twice while hitting just .192 with a single homer in 179 PA.

So why should we care?

Well, there’s a lot to wish on here, and the Dodgers as currently constructed are in the business of wishing. For all his struggles, keep in mind that he doesn’t even turn 25 until next week, and his minor league stats have been impressive, with a career line of .311/.370/.569. I’d argue that his minor league numbers could be viewed as being even better, because his first two years were the worst of the five. In parts of three seasons at AAA, he’s destroyed, putting up a .328/.395/.547 line.

In addition, he’d add much-needed flexibility to the lineup. Part of the reason I liked Morse is because he was an underrated power guy, but also because he could potentially be a righty partner to Loney at 1B and Andre Ethier & the gang in the outfield corners. Davis isn’t an outfielder, but he is the extremely rare lefty bat who can play a bit of third base, and if you remember my adventures in looking at Eric Chavez and Wilson Betemit to pair with Casey Blake this offseason, you know how much that idea intrigues me. To be clear, I’m not looking at him as any sort of starter right now, because defensively, he’s questionable at best at the hot corner, but is reportedly a plus fielder at first base.

Of course, none of that matters if he doesn’t start making contact and hitting, and while the minor-league numbers are great, the major league production (besides for the power) hasn’t been there. So what makes me think it might be? Well, there’s the youth, of course; he’s two years younger than Loney and already has more homers (oops. that’s not true). But there’s also this series of tweets from Baseball Prospectus colleague Jason “Professor” Parks, who really ought to know about these sort of things given that he’s in Arizona right now and is the proprietor of the recently launched Texas Farm Review, dedicated to Ranger prospects.

#Rangers 3B Chris Davis kept his weight shifted to his back leg, angled his back shoulder, opened his hips, extended and crushed another HR.

@JustinFischer No competition w/ Moreland; Davis has been playing 3B. Legit shot at 25-man or trade target for other teams.

Davis? Certainly. RT @Octoberty: @ProfessorParks Does he look like a Major Leaguer?

Quick reflexes and steady. Better than expected. RT @jay_jaffe: @ProfessorParks how does Davis look at the hot corner?

@jamesdecker2006 He’s facing inferior talent, but he’s executing at a high level, so there is sone hope for sustainability

@MikeSciosciasTI He can handle 3B; average defense (MSTI note: in response to my asking if he really had a shot of playing 3B in the bigs)

It’s that second tweet which interests me most. Davis is seemingly not in competition for the 1B job with Mitch Moreland and Mike Napoli, and on a team with Adrian Beltre and Michael Young, he has no prayer of seeing much time at 3B (though the fact that he’s apparently holding his own there is intriguing), and that makes him available. Davis is off to a scorching start this spring – .421/.476/.842 in 21 PA – and no, I don’t need to be reminded how little 21 spring plate appearances matter, but the fact that he’s struck out just three times is very encouraging.

This is a Dodger team that badly needs offense, has no future at 3B, and may or may not have a present at 1B. (In case you didn’t see, Don Mattingly claims that if Loney were to miss an extended period of time, his replacement would likely not be Blake or Jay Gibbons, but Russ Mitchell. Yikes.) Davis may not field well enough to handle 3B full-time, and he may not hit well enough to play 1B full-time. But if you think the 2011 Dodgers, as constructed, are good enough to contend but not good enough to win, as I do, then you need take a gamble now and then, and Davis offers hope and possible longer-term solution – if the trade price is right, that’s worth giving him a shot in my book.

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