I’ve written a lot about Khris Davis this year. I guess I have a thing for underdog types, which describes Davis. He was never heralded as a top prospect in the Brewers farm system. I don’t think he even appeared on team-specific top-prospect lists. Thus, the fact that he has retained a starting role speaks to his ability to outperform expectations. And I’ve consistently argued that he’s better than people tend to think. With that said, it may come as a surprise to learn that I hope the Brewers trade him this winter.
The thing about Davis is that he’s not a great player. He might not even be noticeably above average. That’s not to suggest that he lacks real value. Very much the opposite. His offense is above average, and as a total package I think he’s at least average.
It’s about understanding how best to utilize that value. Khris Davis is a nice complementary player, but not one a team should build around. Now that the Brewers are undergoing a transition period, they need core players. Complementary players, unless young and without identifiable replacements within the system, are expendable. In this way, Davis’ best value to the Brewers is now in a trade.
BP Milwaukee’s J.P. Breen broached the topic of trading the left fielder on Monday. He identified the two main reasons why a trade makes sense. First, Davis has solid trade value due to the in-game power that he exhibits. Second, the Brewers have a reasonable replacement ready in Domingo Santana — among others, I would add — and he appears to have a similar profile to Davis with perhaps more upside. That helps make a move easier to stomach for the front office.
Naturally, this leads me to wonder what fans may reasonably expect the Brewers to receive in return. In order to get some idea of Davis’ potential return value, we can look for other trades involving similar players. This is always tricky because no player is ever perfectly comparable to another. Despite that, I think I’ve identified a few useful examples from recent trades of Mark Trumbo, Evan Gattis, and Yoenis Cespedes.
I have to mention that this exercise will mostly be analyzing their offensive numbers. When one begins to bring in their defensive value, the comparisons do break down a little. For one thing, Davis is limited to left field while some of the others can sort of play other positions. Gattis was a catcher when he was traded, and Trumbo offered the ability to play first base in addition to corner outfield spots. I use the word “ability” loosely for each player, however, as neither is adept at any position. Gattis has served primarily as the Astros’ designated hitter since his trade and hasn’t caught at all. Khris Davis does grade out better than both of them by DRS and FRAA in the outfield, for what it’s worth. Cespedes, though, is easily in class of his own defensively.
But none of these players, except perhaps Cespedes, was acquired for their defense, which is why I think their offenses serve as appropriate tools for comparison. First let’s look at their career numbers to show why I think that is fair:
I should also show you their numbers from their major-league debut to the point at which they were traded:
This group can be separated into two distinct tiers and maybe a third. Again, one could make a decent argument that Cespedes is in a class by himself, but Khris Davis is close or better in several categories. I would argue they’re both in a tier above Trumbo and Gattis, who are very similar offensive players. While Gattis appears to have had similar offense to Davis at the time he was traded, he had less experience and has faltered since the trade.
Service time and salary is another thing to consider. When the Athetics traded Cespedes to the Red Sox he had just 1.5 years of control remaining at $10.5 million average annual value (AAV). Mark Trumbo was moved by the Angels while he still had three years of team control remaining. Evan Gattis was shipped by the Braves to Houston along with four years of team control. After this year, Khris Davis will also offer four more years of team control, including one last pre-arbitration year in which he’ll make near the league minimum.
Yoenis Cespedes offers more in terms of in-game contributions and so in that sense is worth more. But when you factor in the contract situation, things get a bit murkier. This brings Cespedes closer in value to Khris Davis, who is worth some amount more than Trumbo and Gattis. Considering Davis offers at least similar offensive potential and possible greater than the latter two, the combination of offense and amount of team control could theoretically make him a much more attractive trade target.
Now to look at the trades themselves. When the Athletics traded Yoenis Cespedes to the Red Sox they received left-hander Jon Lester and outfielder Jonny Gomes. The A’s also sent a competitive-balance draft pick to the Red Sox. This is a bit of strange trade, as it was purely an exchange of major-league talent as far as the players involved are concerned. The Red Sox appear to have made this move with an eye towards competing again quickly which is and isn’t what I think the Brewers will want to do. I do suspect they’ll be looking for talent close to the majors, but not necessarily established major-league commodities. I also suspect they’ll want more team control.
The Trumbo trade looks closer to what I think the Brewers would be interested in, but it’s also a strange one because it involved three teams. The Angels parted with Mark Trumbo (and later pitcher Andrew Schugel) and received pitchers Hector Santiago (from the White Sox) and Tyler Skaggs (from the Diamondbacks). Santiago was already established in the majors as a 4/5-type starting pitcher. Tyler Skaggs was at one time a highly-rated pitching prospect that had lost some shine. He was the prize of the deal, though, as he did still present mid-rotation upside with perhaps some hope for more. The Skaggs part at least sounds like something the Brewers would consider, even if they seem to have plenty of back-end starters at the moment.
Evan Gattis presents both the most recent trade and perhaps the best comp for what a Khris Davis trade may look like. The rebuilding Braves sent Gattis to the Astros for right-hander Mike Foltynewicz, third baseman Rio Ruiz, and pitcher Andrew Thurman. Foltynewicz is a divisive prospect whose upside has been labeled anywhere from mid-rotation starter to back-end starter to solid reliever. Rio Ruiz is an offense first third base prospect who may have to move to first base. Thurman was more or less just a throw-in piece who offered fastball velocity and a chance to pitch in big-league bullpen someday. I think this package probably best fits what the Brewers may be looking for, an imperfect starting pitching prospect with some upside, a decent position prospect, and a throw-in.
As always, it’s practically impossible to guess what the Brewers can truly expect in return for a player. Markets change over time. Things become valued differently too. Fortunately, right-handed power seems to still be highly valuable. Of course someone must have need of a left-field-only or DH power bat. And that’s where things get complicated. If the Brewers can find a buyer or two then they should be in a position to get good value back for Khris Davis, value that better suits the needs of the team going into the future.