After losing Jason Heyward, the St. Louis Cardinals will inevitably turn their attention elsewhere. After making big offers to Heyward and David Price, it’s crystal clear that the Cardinals mean business this winter. With the lack of a true power hitter in the lineup, many would like to see St. Louis set their sights on free-agent first baseman/outfielder Chris Davis.
While Davis blasts a ton of home runs and drives in a ton of runs, he is not the answer for the Cardinals, especially not on his desired terms.
There is no denying the raw, jaw-dropping power of Chris Davis. The big Texan can hit home runs despite breaking his bat or being caught so far out on his front foot that only one hand is on the bat at the time of impact. Over the past four years, Davis has led the league in home runs twice, and is the only 50-homer hitter in the league. He is also a 200-strikeout threat every year.
With the Baltimore Orioles, Davis has run extremely hot and extremely cold. In his near-MVP, 53-homer 2013 season, Davis batted .315 in the first half, but only .245 in the second half. The Orioles’ offense inevitably struggled right along with Davis through a .211 July and a .216 August. The 2014 season was a complete and utter disaster for Davis. He batted only .196 with 173 strikeouts in 127 games. For the most part, Davis was consistently a .260-.270 hitter in 2015, but he did bat .196 in May and struck out 47 times in August, the month that ultimately torpedoed the Orioles’ playoff hopes. For his career, on a 162-game basis, Davis strikes out 200 times per year. It is really just a matter of time before he breaks the single-season record of 223.
What has made the Cardinals so dominant in the National League Central is their ability to keep the line moving. Chris Davis is the opposite of keeping the line moving. In no at-bat can he be viewed as a threat to simply put the bat on the ball. Although he is a threat to homer every at-bat when he is locked in, Davis is also a threat to strikeout four times a game during a slump. In those slumps, Davis leaves most at-bats looking utterly bewildered and lost at the plate, often becoming very timid and passive early in the count. When things are going well, Davis is aggressive on fastballs, but at times he will stand with the bat on his shoulder.
The Cardinals would not commit to ten years for Albert Pujols, a far more polished, consistent hitter with an established track record of keeping his average well over .300. Davis has a track record of hitting home runs, but also a track record of being incredibly streaky and strikeout-prone. Every team can use a 40-homer threat in the heart of its lineup, but certain teams should not be willing to stomach the strikeouts. The Cardinals are one of those teams.
St. Louis will be much better served by spending its Heyward/Price money on Alex Gordon, a solid defender who can keep the line moving. Gordon will be far cheaper than Heyward, and the Cardinals can utilize the remaining money on a starting pitcher like Wei-Yin Chen to fill in the hole left by Lance Lynn. Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk both had a higher OPS than Heyward in their rookie seasons, and will mask his loss whether or not the Cardinals target another bat. It does seem like St. Louis will be in the market for a bat, but the next target should not be Chris Davis. He just does not fit the Cardinal Way.