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What is Doug Davis Worth?

The other day, Doug Davis announced that he seeks a 3-year contract, covering his final year of arbitration (2007) and his first two years of free agency:

A day after he made his final start of the season, Brewers left-hander Doug Davis said he will seek a three-year contract from the Milwaukee this winter or he will take his case to a salary arbitration hearing.

..."I want to stay," said Davis. "I would go for three [years], and then I will give them the money break."

As always, it isn't a matter of whether Doug Davis "deserves" a 3-year deal--it's a matter of what kind of money it would take to get him to sign one.  If he had matched his 2005 performance this year, we'd be looking at a $20+ million commitment, easy.  As it now stands, we're probably still looking at $15M+, possibly into the $20M range.  

Some of Davis's comments make me think he's shooting for the high end of that range:

Davis accepted the notion that those circumstances may work against him, but he drew on advice he once received from former Rangers teammate Darren Oliver.

"When I was coming up he said, 'You get paid for what you did, not what you're going to do,'" Davis said. "I think I was worth more than what I was paid over the last few years. I'm not saying that would justify getting hurt after I signed a three-year deal, but I think I've earned it. I've earned the chance to get that money and take care of my family and everything.

In other words, Davis, whose best season was 2004 (at age 28) and probably will never get all that close again, is seeking to get money that reflects his 3.39 and 3.84 ERAs in '04 and '05.  That's...well, a decent chunk of change.

Davis is right: players get paid based on their past performance--but more recent performance is weighted pretty heavily.  And, despite the Davis has had basically the same W-L record the last three years, he's just not the same pitcher he was in 04 and 05.  For instance, his walks per nine innings:

  • 2004: 3.4
  • 2005: 3.75
  • 2006: 4.5
...and his strikeouts per nine innings:
  • 2004: 7.2
  • 2005: 8.4
  • 2006: 7.0
The walks are particularly alarming, and his excellent strikeout total in 2005 looks more like an aberration.  At least Davis realizes this, to some extent:
Davis, Dave Bush and Chris Capuano all logged more than 200 innings -- the first Brewers trio to accomplish that feat since 1993.

"That's huge for me," Davis said. "That's three years in a row, and going into a contract year, that's really the only thing I have to bargain with."

Executives can't be trusted to look at peripherals when evaluating guys who are "battlers" who "take the ball every fifth day" and "give you a good chance to win the game," but even without that, it's clear that Davis isn't at his best.  Going into his age-31 season, it's not very likely that he'll regain that better level of performance.

Another important question when considering whether to keep Doug is whether he'll be needed in the rotation beyond next year.  (Actually, whether he'll even be required next year.)

I would imagine that Melvin will want to keep him if only so that we can go into the '07 season with six credible Major League starters: Capuano, Bush, Davis, Ben Sheets, Carlos Villanueva, and Dana Eveland.  If he goes for a free agent such as Greg Maddux, however, Davis could very be the odd man out.

More pertinent is how important DD is to the Brewers plans in '08 and '09.  The entire rotation, except for Davis, will be under the team's control through '08, and the wave of credible innings-eater types is a big one.  Beyond Villanueva and Eveland, there's Ben Hendrickson (I know, a big if), Yovani Gallardo (much more than an innings eater), Tim Dillard, Steve Hammond, and possibly Manny Parra and Mike Jones.  

Every single one of those guys could appear in a Brewers uniform in '07 and make the team out of spring training in '08.  Of course, some of them won't, but if the rotation already includes Sheets, Bush, Capuano, Eveland and Villanueva, there would appear to be a lot of options.  Since all of the younger guys will still be cheap at that point, having Davis under contract for $6-$8M seems superfluous.

The final consideration, then, is whether Davis would sign a below-market deal to stay in Milwaukee, pitch in the rotation next year, maybe bounce back a bit, and then find himself on the trading block next offseason.  If the contract is reasonable, he could be a very desirable commodity--he definitely would've been one had he been available before the '06 season.  If Davis is willing to stay for a $18M deal--let's say $5M for '07, $6M for '08, and $7M for '09, maybe with a $7M club option for '10--I'd be tempted to make that deal, and even more tempted the first time a contender comes looking for innings.