Davis Will Be Missed, But Indians Will Still Be Stealing Bases
Craig Gifford | On 08, Jan 2017
The Indians are saying “goodbye” to a pair of popular veterans who played integral roles in helping the Tribe reach Game 7 of the the 2016 World Series. It was the first Fall Classic for the Tribe in 19 years. Gone are the power-hitting Mike Napoli and base-stealing Rajai Davis. Both veterans were signed to one-year deals before last season and both proved there was still a little something in the tank.
Napoli has yet to sign on the dotted line with another team. However, Cleveland’s big free-agent addition of first baseman/designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion means there is no room for Napoli. Encarnacion, who is a more consistent hitter over his career, is an upgrade there. The middle of the Tribe’s batting order got better on Thursday with the official announcement of the contract agreement.
Davis and his 43 stolen bases are also gone. The Indians did not sign an upgrade or a similar player as they did for the first base/DH job. Instead, the speedy 36-year-old shortstop inked a one-year, $6 million pact with the Oakland Athletics last week. Unlike Napoli and his power, it is unlikely the Tribe will reach outside the organization for a replacement to Davis’ feet.
The Tribe is definitely going to miss Davis’ running game and veteran leadership. More so, his absence on the base paths will be felt. Running was a big part of the Tribe’s game last season. Cleveland led the American League with 134 stolen bases in 2016 and was fourth in all of Major League Baseball. Davis was obviously a big part of that.
Davis was also a big part of manager Terry Francona‘s outfield platoons, being able to play all three positions. His main platoon work was in center field with last season’s rookie sensation Tyler Naquin. That job will likely be handled now by Abraham Almonte. Almonte missed the first half of the past season and the postseason due to a failed drug test during last spring training. All players who fail a drug test are ineligible for the playoffs. Almonte hit .264 in 67 games, consistent with the same .264 he hit in 51 games in 2015 and 15 points higher than Davis. He also stole eight bases. In his 118-game tenure with the Tribe, Almonte has swiped 14 bags in 14 attempts. It is not quite the total of Davis, but does show that the young 27-year-old Almonte is no slouch when he gets on base either.
Davis also split time in left field with fellow veteran Coco Crisp, an August addition, who may or may not return this season. The hope is left will be covered this year by a returning Michael Brantley on a full-time basis.
In the outfield, it appears the Tribe is covered. When it comes to stealing bases, the team may take a little step back this year. That is not to say the Indians will be lousy or even average in the base swiping department. Cleveland still has a handful of guys who wreak havoc on opposing pitchers once aboard.
Jose Ramirez was second on the club with 22 steals, ninth in the A.L. Francisco Lindor had 19 steals and Jason Kipnis had 15 thefts. Both were in the top 20 of the A.L. You can pencil in Almonte for double digits in a full season. Brantley, given full health, can also hit the 15-20 steals mark. The stolen base cupboard certainly is not bare.
However, none of those guys is Davis, nor are many players in the league. Davis’ stolen base total was 13 more than the second best in baseball’s junior circuit a season ago. He has been swiping bags at a high rate for years, going over 40 five times and hitting the 50 mark once.
Davis is now in Oakland, where he is sure to steal more bases. Known for his speed, the funny thing is, he left Cleveland a lasting image with his bat. He hit arguably the biggest home run in franchise history in Game 7 of the World Series. With the Tribe trailing 6-4 with two out in the bottom of the eighth, Davis hammered a game-tying homer off Aroldis Chapman, one of the best closers in the games. Davis tried to keep the Indians alive in the 10th, with an RBI single that turned an 8-6 deficit into an 8-7 affair, before the Cubs finally put the Tribe away.
The Indians have the players to replace Davis’ production in the field. They have the hitters to replace his bat in the lineup. The team, not too long ago considered young and inexperienced, has plenty of guiding lights in the clubhouse at this point.
What Cleveland does not have is someone who can steal 40 bases in a season. Not many teams do. No one in the A.L. will have that outside of Oakland and the Indians have rarely had that kind of speed on their base paths. Davis’ 2016 total was 13th best in a season for the long-tenured franchise. Kenny Lofton has the top seven totals. Omar Vizquel, in 1999, had been the last Cleveland player to steal 40 in a year. Davis was the first Indian this century to hit that threshold.
The Indians, with their handful of quick players, will still remain a threat on the bases. Davis will be missed in that department. However, the Tribe still has the manpower to lead the league in stolen bases in 2017. Stealing has become a lost art in the American League, which has come to favor the long ball over the running game. Davis and the Tribe brought it back into vogue last summer and the Indians are likely to still be an opportunistic base-running squad. It will no longer be one man anchoring the group. Instead, pitchers will more likely have to worry about multiple guys getting aboard.
Davis will be missed, but the Indians will still be off and running with their eyes towards a return trip to the Fall Classic at the end of their race.
Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images