Newberg Report: Davis' fate uncertain
First baseman could make it back with Rangers, or another team
Shortly before Rangers first baseman Chris Davis got word last week that he was heading back to Triple-A for the third straight year, he said during an interview: "You talk about the struggles and the journey it takes to go through the Minor Leagues. Some guys spend seven or eight years in the Minor Leagues and finally get a chance to be in the big leagues. It's definitely a game of opportunity and a game of chance." Davis' charge is now to earn that next opportunity, that next chance.
A number of fans in Texas (and a reporter or two) have decided that this particular demotion could spell the end of Davis' Rangers run, particularly in light of the fact that his roster replacement was Justin Smoak. Last year when Davis was optioned, Hank Blalock stepped in at first base in what was clearly a placeholder role. Not the case with Smoak, who most believe may never go back to the minor leagues and is under club control longer than Davis is.
But it's obviously too soon to put Smoak on next year's All-Star Ballot, or campaign for his Rookie of the Year chances in 2010. The club has already demonstrated a number of times this month that lack of production will only be tolerated for so long, in a year in which the expectation is to contend for a playoff berth. If Smoak were to struggle for a month, he could be back in an Oklahoma City RedHawks uniform himself.
As for Davis, his Rangers fate could go in any number of directions. Jason Botts split the 2005 season between Oklahoma and Texas. Same thing in 2006. And in 2007. And again in 2008. The big switch-hitter regularly terrorized Triple-A pitching, but things never clicked in Arlington, he eventually cleared league-wide waivers, then got a deal in Japan, and returned this year to the States for a camp audition (with the White Sox) that didn't go well. He's playing independent league ball right now.
On the other hand, there's Nelson Cruz, who had a similar four-year split between Triple-A and the big leagues, cleared waivers himself, and finally put everything together in 2009.
And they don't always take that long. Take a look at what Adrian Gonzalez did with the RedHawks in 2004 and 2005, and what he did the same two years in Texas. One trade later, he found his stroke as a Padre and has settled in as one of baseball's most dangerous hitters.
Sometimes it takes more than one change of scenery or opportunity. The Rangers traded for Ryan Ludwick in 2002, but got no big league production out of him in two years split between Texas and Oklahoma. Texas dealt Ludwick to Cleveland, and in two-plus seasons on the Indians shuttle he failed to get untracked. Detroit signed him to a Minor League deal in 2006 and didn't even give him a big league look. St. Louis took a similar chance on the outfielder for the 2007 season and struck gold.
While he hasn't had his Ludwick breakthrough, Laynce Nix finally had a productive season in the big leagues last year with Cincinnati, after four years of bouncing between Triple-A and the big leagues with Texas and Milwaukee.
Is Davis sentenced to a Botts path at this point? Or is he a trade away from making the club regret moving him as much as Gonzalez has? I'd wager something in between, and I wouldn't rule out Ludwick or Cruz production eventually for the 24-year-old.
Smoak's arrival could mean that Davis's next real opportunity comes with a new team, like it did for Ludwick. But it could still happen here, too, as Texas knows firsthand from its patience with Cruz that sometimes it takes several chances before things click.
Jamey Newberg is a contributor to MLB.com. A Dallas lawyer, he has been an insane Texas Rangers fan since the days of scheduled doubleheaders, Bat Nights when they actually handed out a piece of lumber instead of a grocery store voucher, and Jim Umbarger. He has covered the Texas Rangers, from the big club down through the entire farm system, since 1998 on his website, www.NewbergReport.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.