Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Rajai Davis is 95th on the ESPN player rater this year with a whopping 45 stolen bases in only 349 plate appearances through Sept. 22. To compare, the Philadelphia Phillies’ Brandon Phillips is No. 94 on the player rater, and he has amassed 646 plate appearances. That’s almost double the playing time Davis has seen. Although it’s not as simple as I’m about to state it, one could claim Davis has been doubly effective in his limited playing time compared to Phillips, even with Davis’ modest batting average and low RBI count.
By the way, Davis was 96th on the player rater in 2012. I’m starting to think this is no coincidence.
I’m being facetious. It’s totally not a coincidence. Davis has swiped 216 bags in the past five years alone. He has more steals than Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury since 2007, the year of their rookie seasons, and more steals relative to playing time (measured by plate appearances or games, your choice).
OK, you get it. He’s fast. That’s not the question here. The question is, and has been, since 2007: What will Davis’ playing time look like? And that is a question that has been difficult to answer for years — hence why Davis has gone undrafted the past two years.
And the answer to the question, at least for next year, is pretty apparent: Melky Cabrera in left, Colby Rasmus in center, Jose Bautista in right. But is it really that simple?
Brett Lawrie has, again, disappointed owners this year, but it’s not like Munenori Kawasaki (or whoever is manning second base nowadays) is any better. If Lawrie moves back to second base, Bautista to third and Encarnacion to first, it would leave room for Davis to play left field. This situation completely disregards Adam Lind, but he can slot in as the designated hitter if he does not pursue arbitration. If he does, that leaves even more space for Davis.
Moreover, I think it’s about time to let Joey Bats assume the DH role, at least until he can prove he can stay healthy. Even with Lind at first, Lawrie at second and Encarnacion at third, it still leaves a spot open for Davis. And even if this doesn’t happen, Davis has been more productive than Cabrera now that the speedster has been showing some pop (six home runs this year), which he showed last year as well.
So if I’m a Davis owner, which I conveniently am, I’m considering keeping him for next year. If he’s a free agent, I’m adding him.
Because if Davis earns a full-time role, he is not only a top-100 player — remember, he’s No. 95 right now, on limited playing time — he could be something like a top-50 player, or maybe even better than that. Even in a platoon role (he has smoked lefties to the tune of .330/.395/.491 this year) he would be plenty valuable, and he always has the chance of inheriting playing time with every Joey Bats at-bat.
Now, even with all these scenarios, there’s one last caveat: Davis is a free agency this offseason. While he could stay in Toronto, where he seemingly has the green light, he could sign with a team that is looking for a Billy Hamilton type — a speedy, spark-plug pinch runner.
In all scenarios — a full-time role, a platoon role, even a pinch running role — Davis deserves to be drafted. In which round is a question for another day, but it’s a question I plan to revisit. Davis could theoretically warrant a 10th-round pick in next year’s draft based on his performance the past two years. Otherwise, the incredible value he provides via stolen bases alone is worth a late-round draft pick whom you can stash on your bench until his playing time is sorted out.
In the meantime, keep abreast of Davis’ offseason. Any and all developments will have profound fantasy implications. There are only a handful of players about whom I can say that and mean it — and, until recently, I hadn’t even considered Davis a candidate for discussion. But he is. He’s a fantasy game-changer.