Looking Back at the Tampa Bay Rays’ Pursuit of Ike Davis
If things had turned out differently, Davis could have been a Ray. (Credit: Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports)
In search of a first baseman this past offseason, the Tampa Bay Rays were reportedly interested in New York Mets first baseman Ike Davis. Before they signed James Loney to a three-year, $21 million dollar contract, they even seemed like a likely destination for Davis. The Mets had an abundance of first basemen going into camp so it seemed likely a trade would happen sooner or later. However, Davis has yet to be traded and the Mets may have missed their chance. Davis suffered a calf injury and has not played in a Grapefruit League game in a couple weeks now. At one point, the Rays purportedly offered Matt Joyce for Ike Davis. The Mets turned them down, and the Rays have moved on with Loney.
It is unlikely the Rays’ interest in Davis still exists, with players like Logan Forsythe, Jerry Sands and Sean Rodriguez providing in-house depth should Loney get injured. With Loney signed for the next three years, it will be a while before the Rays are in the market for a first baseman again. Now that the probability of a deal has all but diminished, we can start looking back at whether the Rays and Mets made the right decisions. Did the Mets do the Rays a favor by rejecting that trade?
Originally drafted by the then Devil Rays in 2005, Ike Davis chose not to sign and was drafted three years later by the New York Mets. Davis definitely can do one thing with regularity that Loney cannot: hit the ball out of the ballpark. In 2012, Davis hit 32 home runs. From 2011 to 2013, Loney hit 37 total–his most in a season was just 15. But what he does not provide on the home run ledger, Loney makes up for in the clubhouse and in the field.
“He makes every position on the infield better,” Joe Maddon has said. “Those guys relax in a good way — there’s no rush, there’s no hurry, there’s no concern of a muff….The confidence he draws from the rest of the guys is really significant.” Loney’s contributions extend beyond what shows up in the box score. Evan Longoria has remarked that Loney has a calmness about him. The other infielders can be confident that when they throw the ball to Loney, it will be caught. Right now, that is what is more important to the Rays. Loney provides quiet veteran leadership to help the Rays win games. Ike Davis is not a bad teammate or a bad defender, but he trails far behind Loney in regards to contributions beyond the batter’s box.
Davis has greater upside than James Loney where power is concerned, but Rays fans know from Carlos Pena’s all-or-nothing struggles in his final two years with Tampa Bay that a single-minded hitter doesn’t work. While 2012 was Davis’ best season, it was very Carlos Pena-like. While he did hit 32 home runs, he managed just a .227/.308/.462 slash line. Davis’ ability to contribute to the Mets has always been extremely streaky. Sometimes he will be locked in and hitting the ball into the seats, and other times, he will look entirely lost. Good luck finding a better half-to-half difference than Davis in 2012–he managed just a .659 OPS in the first half but upped it all the way to .888 in the second half. Oh wait, we already did–in 2013, Davis went from .505 to .954, albeit in a smaller sample size. By comparison, Loney has had a difference that large between halves just once in his eight full big league seasons.
The final issue with Davis has been his struggles against left-handers. In his career, he has managed just a .204/.268/.334 line, never putting up an OPS above .560 since his rookie year. Loney has had his own issues against same-side pitchers, especially struggling from 2010 to 2012, but he rebounded with a .299/.339/.390 line in 2013 and is a more respectable .256/.308/.361 overall. Maybe the Rays could help Davis to a similar recovery, but there is a real chance he would end up in a platoon situation.
Thanks to his inconsistency and the Rays’ outfield depth, Matt Joyce was expendable, and the Rays thought to trade from their depth to fill their need at first base. The Mets turned turned them down and they focused elsewhere, ultimately resigning James Loney. Whether or not the New York Mets did the Rays a favor remains to be seen. Davis could turn it around and make the Rays wish that they had gotten him when they had the chance. But for now, Rays fans are happy to have Loney back and Matt Joyce gets another chance to break out. The Rays are content taking their chances with the situation they have, and curiosity will be the driving factor as they see what happens to Davis from here.