Chris Davis is back in line.
The man who looked primed to take over as Major League Baseball's home run king before being derailed by an atrocious 2014 and a drug suspension is again performing his craft as well as anyone in the sport.
Back in 2013, Davis was the kind of player franchises like his Baltimore Orioles built around.
He was 27 years old, durable and hitting the ball with close to as much authority as anyone the game had ever seen on a one-year basis. His final line that season was .286/.370/.634 with a 1.004 OPS, 53 home runs, 42 doubles and 138 RBI. He finished third in American League MVP voting behind Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout and still had two seasons before free agency, when he would be poised for a significant payday.
But 2014 was a disaster.
Davis, amid a nagging oblique injury that cost him 12 games, hit a major league worst .196 among qualifiers. His 96 OPS+ showed he was a below-average player despite his 26 home runs, and to top off everything, he was suspended 25 games for unauthorized use of Adderall. That ban kept him off the team's playoff roster as well.
As drastic as that year-to-year swing was, this summer has brought another change—this one a tick closer to what he was in 2013. And after a big Friday night when he smacked two home runs—his second consecutive multihomer game—to take over the major league lead with 40 long balls in a 10-2 win over the Toronto Blue Jays, it is clear the 29-year-old Davis is back in position for a massive contract once he hits free agency after this season.
Davis told Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun in August:
I think I spent so much of last season and even the offseason taking swings that I had taken last year that weren't really the swings I was looking for. I think I was trying to protect [the oblique] and subconsciously there was a little uncertainty about letting it go. Really right around the All-Star break, I felt like I had a few at-bats where it just kind of clicked for me and I'm taking that swing that I was looking for. I'm getting that swing on a day-to-day basis.
That Davis has once again found his swing has shown in the second half. Entering Friday, he was sixth in the American League with a 1.042 OPS, 181 wRC+ and a .435 wOBA since the break. His 21 homers are the best in league since then.
But it is not just the second half. Davis, who has a therapeutic-use exemption for Adderall this year, as he had in the past before the suspension, has been a productive hitter all season. He went into Friday batting .253/.339/.538 with an .877 OPS and 136 OPS+. He also now has 100 RBI on the year.
Those aren't quite the numbers he put up in 2013, but they are enough to get the attention of other teams in need of a big, middle-of-the-order bat. And with Scott Boras as his agent, nobody should be surprised if Davis wrangles in the kind of contract former teammate Nelson Cruz netted from the Seattle Mariners last offseason after he had a similar campaign to the one Davis is having now.
Cruz got four years and $57 million, and he turned 35 this season and had a performance-enhancing drug suspension stemming from the Biogenesis scandal in his past.
That puts it completely in the realm of possibility that Davis could get a bigger deal than Cruz's, especially in another year when pitching is the superior, more available commodity. It would also mean the Orioles would lose the major league leader in homers in back-to-back offseasons.
Bordick said it: when he's like this, Chris Davis is a "freak show". On another HR binge. 2 more tonight. Free agent cash register rings.— Mark Viviano (@MarkWJZ) September 5, 2015
There should not be much in the way of power on the free-agent market this winter, especially since the Toronto Blue Jays are likely to pick up their $10 million option on Edwin Encarnacion. Justin Upton and Yoenis Cespedes are the other big bats beyond Davis, but neither brings the kind of power the Orioles slugger does when he's healthy.
That means Davis, who failed to come to an agreement with the club after it reportedly offered him an extension following the 2013 season, stands to be the highest-paid hitter on the market come the fall. For now, neither he nor the team will discuss any contract situations.
"That's just the way it's going to be," Davis told Encina on August 13. "I think it's selfish to sit here and talk about my future with this team when we have such a bright future for the next couple of months and I want my focus to be on the field and everybody's focus to be on the field."
That focus will soon change to the financial part of the game, and for Davis, the attention will be significant.
All quotes, unless otherwise specified, have been acquired firsthand by Anthony Witrado. Follow Anthony on Twitter, @awitrado, and talk baseball here.