What might attract Blue Jays to a J.D. Davis trade with Giants?

Photo credit:Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports
Thomas Hall
1 month ago
Last week, the Toronto Blue Jays watched their ex, Matt Chapman, leave town for good after putting pen to paper on a three-year, $54-million contract with the San Francisco Giants, squashing any hope of a potential last-minute return coming to fruition.
Suddenly, however, the Giants now possess more big-league-calibre infielders than roster spots available. Sound familiar?
Landing Chapman, a four-time Gold Glove winner, is a significant development for San Francisco, whose team defence ranked in the bottom third of the majors in defensive runs saved (-15) last season. While he’ll be a significant upgrade at the hot corner, his arrival displaces the club’s former everyday third baseman, J.D. Davis, who seemingly no longer has a role on the roster.
With Chapman taking over starting duties at third base, Davis probably won’t see much time (if any) on the left side of the diamond in 2024, shifting him to a reserve role. He could platoon at first, where he logged nearly 90 innings in ’23, but that spot already appears filled with LaMonte Wade Jr. and Wilmer Flores expected to share the position.
As currently constructed, the Giants likely have two options with Davis – a free agent after this season, making $6.9 million – before Opening Day arrives: keep the 30-year-old as a bench bat or trade him to a team with a need at third base – like the Blue Jays, perhaps.
There are just over three weeks until the regular season begins, so the Giants don’t have to rush into making a decision. At the same time, though, if president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi hopes to add another impact starting pitcher, say Blake Snell or Jordan Montgomery, for instance, shedding Davis’ salary could make either of those routes more feasible.
San Francisco, which hasn’t exceeded the luxury tax since 2018, currently projects to open this season with a payroll of roughly $231 million after signing Chapman, placing them under $6 million below the first threshold ($237 million). Not only would they cross the first tax bracket by acquiring Snell or Montgomery, but chances are they’d ride up against the second one, or even surpass it, in the same move.
Unless, of course, they find a buyer for an expendable contract.
We know the Giants’ motivation behind trading Davis, but how would inserting another infielder into an already crowded group benefit a team like the Blue Jays? Beyond anything else, he’d provide them with another option at third base that, if the season started today, would have Isiah Kiner-Falefa in a starting role.
Kiner-Falefa should fare much better with the Blue Jays versus his two seasons with the New York Yankees. Still, for a player who’s never been worth more than 1.6 fWAR in a single season, he alone won’t sufficiently replace Chapman’s value (3.5 fWAR in ’23).
Third base will probably morph into a game of musical chairs this season, with Cavan Biggio and Davis Schneider likely candidates to split time at the hot corner with Kiner-Falefa. Santiago Espinal, Ernie Clement or Eduardo Escobar – in camp on a minor-league deal – should also factor into that equation, depending on which player from that trio breaks camp with the big-league team.
Even if things trend positively for that group, they won’t just have Chapman’s innings to replace at third – they’ll have Whit Merrifield’s at second and in left field, too. And it doesn’t appear the organization’s minor-league depth will have much of a say in the matter, at least out of the gate.
Given the reps available at third and second base, many wondered if the talented group of Orelvis Martinez, Addison Barger, Leo Jimenez and Damiano Palmegiani might receive an opportunity to start the season in the majors. But so far, it’s been the opposite. Based on the limited live-game reps they’ve taken with the Blue Jays’ regulars, it seems management believes they require additional seasoning at Triple-A Buffalo.
Regardless of where you stand on that debate, there’s no denying this offence needs to procure a bat-first hitter this spring – whether it be an infielder or outfielder. Since the Giants have one to spare, there’s little reason for Ross Atkins not to explore that potential trade avenue.
Historically, Davis’ offence has been considered several steps ahead of his defence, as evidenced by his 25.9 offensive wins above replacement and -22.8 defensive wins above replacement across seven career major league seasons. But, surprisingly, he spent most of last season being a better defender than an offensive generator.
The Giants witnessed significant improvements regarding the veteran infielder’s glove work, particularly at third base. Despite finishing 27th out of 27 qualified big-league third basemen in DRS (-11), his newly improved range led to plus-five outs above average, placing among the top 10 at his position.
Plus, with his respectable showing at first base, Davis’ infield range ranked in the 90th percentile of the majors – a remarkable accomplishment, considering his track record as a suboptimal defender.
Davis’ offensive showing was far less impressive, given his mediocre .248/.325/.413 slash line and 104 wRC+. However, those results don’t tell you how successful he was over the first two-and-a-half months of the season, hitting .287/.371/.486 with 10 home runs, 40 RBIs and a 135 wRC+ through his first 66 games.
But that success evaporated the rest of the way, with his hard-hit rate falling from 50.3 per cent to 39.2, while his strikeout rate climbed just over three per cent to 29.3 – a disastrous outcome for a right-handed hitter who features a hard-hitting, swing-and-miss profile at the plate.
As a former 20-home-run hitter, power has previously been a part of Davis’ craft, and he’s among the better low-ball sluggers in the sport. One of the reasons that attribute wasn’t as prominent last year might have been his increased workload, as he compiled the most plate appearances (546) and innings (1,002.2) of his career.
Playing more than he’s accustomed to is an issue he wouldn’t encounter in Toronto as a part-time contributor at third and, potentially, first base. As someone who’s proven effective versus lefties (career 115 wRC+) and righties (career 114 wRC+), the Blue Jays could utilize him in many different situations.
The only problem is, however, Davis and Kiner-Falefa share a similar characteristic: they both create damage against four-seamers and curveballs.
Davis has also crushed cutters, especially over the last three seasons, earning a 14.6 run value in those situations. But, where the Blue Jays’ biggest need lies are versus sliders, sinkers and changeups – neither of which Davis has performed overly well against since 2021. Meanwhile, there’s already someone competing for a spot in camp who’s been able to handle sinkers and changeups: Escobar.
On top of that, if Atkins traded for Davis, that likely guarantees Kiner-Falefa and Schneider would share outfield duties with a southpaw on the mound, forcing Daulton Varsho or Kevin Kiermaier to the bench. Unless both Spencer Horwitz and Daniel Vogelbach didn’t make the team out of spring, there wouldn’t be room to roster a traditional platoon outfielder.
For these reasons, it’s probably more likely Toronto’s front office makes a late outfield addition – whether that comes via free agency or trade – rather than one of the infield variety, further committing to the various players already available to them.


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