As we enter the new year and with the offseason about halfway over, the Milwaukee Brewers have themselves a bit of a logjam in the outfield. Our beloved local nine currently has eight outfielders on their full 40 man roster, three of which--Keon Broxton, Kirk Niewenhuis, and Ramon Flores--have been added since the regular season ended.
New GM Slingin' David Stearns has made it relatively clear that the club does not plan to employ Domingo Santana regularly in center field in 2016, meaning the right-handed hitting Broxton and lefty Niewenhuis will probably be battling for the Opening Day spot during spring training. That leaves the Brewers with three starting-caliber corner outfielders in Santana, Ryan Braun, and Khris Davis for two remaining starting positions.
The most sensible way for the rebuilding Brewers to clear up this conundrum would be to execute a trade. Given Ryan Braun's rather sizable contract and Santana's combination of youth, upside, and the fact that he has six remaining years of club control, Davis is the most obvious candidate to be dealt. While Braun and Santana are both capable of manning either outfield corner, Davis' poor throwing arm limits him solely to left field and makes him a rather inflexible piece of the Brewers' outfield puzzle.
However according to Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports, it might be difficult for the Brewers to make a deal at this time. In a recent post Morosi notes that the free agent market is still saturated with outfielders, meaning that the club may have to wait until the trade deadline to find a partner that offers a suitable package for their starting left fielder.
Indeed a nearly unprecedented amount of alternatives still remain available on the open market for this late in the offseason. Not only are mega-deal candidates like Alex Gordon, Justin Upton, and Yoenis Cespedes still waiting for their markets to come into focus, but middle-tier free agents like Gerardo Parra, Denard Span, and Dexter Fowler remain available as well. As all these and many more players remain available for only the cost of their contracts, it could be tough for Stearns to convince a team to give up a package of prospects in exchange for Davis.
For Milwaukee, this means that the starting outfield will likely feature Davis in left and Braun (who the club reportedly is NOT considering transitioning to first base at this time) in right. That might slide Santana into a fourth outfielder role similar to that of Gerardo Parra from last season, where he could start 3-4 days per week while rotating through the outfield positions. Ramon Flores is currently injured and is unlikely to be ready for the start of the season at this point, but he is out of options so when he returns he'll likely assume the fifth outfielder role.
Given his four years of remaining club control, there is hardly a rush to push Khris out the door. When the club does decide to get serious about moving him, however, they should be able to attract a decent package in return. The 27 year old has been among the games' best sluggers over the last few seasons and as Morosi notes, the only player who has hit as many home runs as Davis (60) while playing in 325 or fewer games since the start of 2013 is the powerful Jose Abreu, first baseman for the White Sox.
Davis dealt with a torn meniscus that cost him about six weeks in 2015, but he still produced a terrific .247/.323/.505 batting line and "Khrushed" 27 home runs in just 440 plate appearances while he was healthy, good enough for a well above-average 121 wRC+. Those marks were all in line with his career .250/.315/.494 slash and 119 wRC+ in his two-plus seasons. Davis has proven that he's a legitimate power threat who demonstrated a nice eye for taking walks last season with a 10% BB rate. Though he is limited to just left field he's about an average to below defender out there as his instincts, clean routes, and all-out effort help to make up for his weak throwing arm. For his career he owns a -3 DRS and -6.0 UZR in close to 2,300 innings in left.
For what it's worth a few speculative fits for Davis' services could be the San Francisco Giants, Chicago White Sox, or Kansas City Royals, who are all in the market for some help in the outfield. An American League club might make even more sense, where Davis could also fit in as a designated hitter. Perhaps one of those clubs or another could be convinced to part with a couple of prospects in exchange for four years of Khris Davis at an inexpensive rate, rather than investing $8-10 mil annually or more in a free agent contract this winter. If not, however, look for Khrush to continue his slugging ways in a Brewer uniform to start next season until the trade market comes into focus.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs