(Editor's note: If there is one thing that all of the "spend to contend" talk this offseason has done, it has convinced us more than ever that the kids love things that rhyme. Hence, we are embarking on a six-week journey to preview the upcoming season, one Blue Jay at a time. 30 Jays in 30 Days. It's not the smartest idea we ever had, but still...it rhymes. So go with it.)
Who: Rajai Davis, #11, outfielder. 5'10", 195 LBS. 31 years old.
Tao-Approved Nicknames: "Ray-Jay", which is what Mrs. Tao insists on calling him, no matter how much we admonish her.
History: Six MLB seasons and 571 games played. One season with Toronto.
Contract Status: $2.75 million in 2012, and $3 million club option for 2013 (with a $500,000 buy out.)
Career Stats: .273 Batting average, .319 On-Base,.377 Slugging, .696 OPS. 177 stolen bases and 49 times caught stealing.
2011 Stats: 95 games played and 388 plate appearances. .238 AVG/.273 OBP/.350 SLG/.623 OPS. 34 steals versus 11 times caught. One home run.
Nerd Stats: -0.2 WAR (as per Fangraphs); -6.9 Ultimate Zone Rating in 2011.
Somewhat Surprising Stat: In spite of being lumped into the crowded left field picture, Rajai actually started more games in right field (7) than in left (4) in 2011.
What the what?: The Blue Jays were nine games over .500 (52-43) in games in which Davis played.
Looking Back: When he was initially acquired, we figured that Davis could be a decent fourth outfielder who wouldn't look overly out of place if forced into the lineup on a regular basis. The subsequent trade of Vernon Wells vaulted Davis into an everyday role, but his early performance as an everyday fixture at the top of the lineup served only to convince us that he'd best serve the team as a bench resource.
Given John Farrell's fixation with the running game at the outset of his managerial career, Davis seemed to be a perfect player to fit into this new philosophy. A speedster at the top of the lineup? What's not to love?
But Davis' Blue Jays career couldn't have started much worse. Sure, he beat out an infield single in his first at bat as a Blue Jay and stole two bases before scoring. But on that very first run to first, Davis looked as though he tweaked something, and the rest of his season was punctuated by extended periods on the bench and the disabled list. They say that speed never slumps, but it certainly pulls up lame more than its share of the time.
The injuries seemed not to allow Davis to ever get comfortable in the lineup, and aside from a passable month of May (.339 OBP), 2011 was a forgettable season. Moreover, Rajai spoke elusively about personal struggles that were on his mind as he scuffled through an extended hitting droughts in June (.483 OPS for the month).
Davis' defense in centrefield looked dodgy through most of the season, and he seemingly attempted to make up for bad routes or slow reactions with raw speed. The acquisition of Colby Rasmus only served to underscore the deficiencies with Davis' glove. (As did the late season reacquistion of DeWayne Wise.)
Looking Forward: Barring injury, it would be surprising to imagine him spending any time in the middle of the diamond. In the best case scenario, Rasmus will presumably getting the lion's share of the work in centre, and Bautista will hold down right, which means Rajai will be forced to scavenge for playing time left field along with the cast of dozens that are looking to fill that spot.
Davis' speed may well be the ticket that earns him a role on the bench, with pinch-running assignments likely to be his best chance to get into the lineup. The Jays won't be able to send him to the minors if he gets squeezed out of the 25-man roster, though don't be entirely surprised to see a trade to a National League team before they start opening the dome on a regular basis.
2012 Expectations: There's a small voice in the back of our head that wonders if he might not be a candidate for a bounce back season. Realistically, his best season lies three seasons in the past, and was fuelled in part by an unsustainable .361 BABIP. A full season bench role with an OPS around the .700 mark would probably be about the best scenario we could envision.