For the several hundred professional baseball players endowed with the ideal blend of superior talent, health, makeup, and major league experience, the waning days of March represent little more than an opportunity to fine-tune their pitching/hitting mechanics, blow the last remnants of the winter cobwebs out of their heads, and try desperately to avoid serious injury. For the players perched precariously on the roster bubble, it's a frantic, stressful time where a couple of 'off' days can make or break a player's immediate major league chances and have a marked impact on his personal finances. And for all the rest, there's either quiet acceptance, frustration, disbelief, or some combination of the three.
What's particularly difficult to watch is the player who you like personally and really and truly desire nothing but the utmost success for, but who appears to have had his greatest window of opportunity slam shut on him already, and who isn't willing to accept the outcome that seemed already preordained several months prior. Case in point: Chris Davis, who desperately craves a big league gig, believes he has done everything the organization has asked of him, and believes that the only fair resolution is to either give him a shot in the majors in Texas, or deal him elsewhere:
"The ball is in their court, so to speak. I thought if I came in and played well and proved that I had made some adjustments at winter ball, I thought I had a shot at making the roster. You're told one thing, and then an entirely different thing is done. What are you supposed to believe? ... At the end of the day, it's not about being in a Rangers uniform, but being in a big-league uniform. Maybe now it's time to turn the page and go somewhere else."
A huge caveat before going any further, and a caveat worth recalling every time you read an eyebrow-raising quote along these same lines: by rendering opinions based only on the printed word, we're missing out on the very critical nonverbal component of Davis's message. The nature of modern-day sports journalism -- and how we absorb it -- is such that we tend to skim very quickly through reports from the team beats, with our eyes glazing over at the sight of the many tired old banalities and only lighting up when they catch sight of something that could legitimately be construed as revelatory, inflammatory or accusatory. I'm not deriding that approach, or saying that there's really anything that can be done about it; it would, however, probably serve us well to remember the limitations of the printed word in the context of quotes from sports figures.
All of that being said, there's something strange about what Davis is saying here, and it's really bothering me that I can't put my finger on exactly what it is. I don't know if this is delusional optimism speaking, or if the Rangers made a specific promise to him as far as him receiving a legitimate shot to win an Opening Day roster spot that was later recanted, or if his veiled accusation of the Rangers not being honest with him is entirely a function of his frustration boiling over. I wish I did know. And I wish I could reconcile his belief that he's a "quality major league player" with the ugly facts of the situation, which consist of a career .248/.300/.459 (.325 wOBA) batting line in 872 major league plate appearances and a walk-to-strikeout ratio that, without significant/sustainable improvement, will torpedo any glimmer of a hope of a decent major league career.
To be clear, I can't say that I still "trust" him in the sense of considering him to be a viable major leaguer. Repeated high-visibility failures at that level have a tendency to erode your confidence. I'm aware of the optimistic tidbits that have dropped on his Cactus League performance and, more importantly, the underlying processes generating those results, but for me to buy in agan, it's going to take a strong stint at Triple-A Round Rock, a major injury to one of Mitch Moreland/Michael Young/Mike Napoli, and then an extended audition in the majors that shows us enough to give us somethng to believe in. Davis isn't inclined to go through that rigmarole again, instead stating that a return to the Pacific Coast League "would be like a slap to the face."
That, in turn, breeds internal conflict. I like the self-confidence and intensity, but I don't like the way his message comes across. Then again, I'm almost certainly expecting too much from a guy consumed by frustration, whch generally doesn't lend itself to the most politically correct responses. And I certainly don't presume that the Rangers feel the same way that I do about it, or that they'd be right in doing so -- but what can they do, really? They could throw one of Moreland or Napoli under the bus to create a roster spot for Davis, or kick Andres Blanco to the curb and make Young their all-purpose utility infielder, but they won't. They could trade him, but if the Rangers' handling of the Young situation is in any way applicable to other such situations that might arise, this organization will not acquiesce to a player's trade wishes unless there is a clear and definable benefit to doing so. Unless there's somebody out there who wants to overpay for a guy who still has some measure of upside, but who has also thus far epitomized 'replacement level,' there's simply no way everyone can end up happy.
I don't expect to write about Davis again at any length any time soon, because there are far more pressing matters before us and because I certainly don't expect to see Davis locking in a full-time major league job during the remainder of his time in Texas. It's funny, though, that even though I'm probably as down on the probability of him succeeding in the majors as anyone, and even though most people in general seem to be down on him, we just can't seem to let him go.