J.D. Davis

Why Giants released Davis after not finding any trade interest

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The Giants had two Cactus League games in two different ballparks Sunday, which meant just about every position player on the 40-man roster was set for at-bats. But as players prepared in the morning, J.D. Davis' locker sat untouched, bats spilling out of one end and a packed equipment bag resting on his chair.

Davis was in limbo all week as the Giants tried to figure out their next step, and on Monday morning, he was released. After coming to camp as the starting third baseman, Davis now is a free agent. The Giants owe him only about one-sixth of his contract because of a collective bargaining agreement clause.

On a Zoom call with beat reporters, president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said the front office spent several days last week canvassing the trade market and "didn't get a lot of traction there." The Giants put Davis on waivers over the weekend, hoping someone would claim him and take on his full $6.9 million salary, but Davis went untouched, even though several teams are lining up to take a shot at him in free agency, albeit at a lower price.

Davis' Giants fate was sealed when the team agreed to a contract with Matt Chapman, his former college teammate, earlier this month. The Giants felt there was no reasonable way to go into the season with a bench consisting of Davis, Wilmer Flores, Austin Slater and backup catcher Tom Murphy. The plan is to add more defensive versatility and speed in the spot vacated by Davis.

"It just kind of boils down to roles, some other guys on the team that we would have ahead of J.D. in terms of at-bats," Zaidi said. "If we had a 28- or 30-man roster and we could keep everybody because we know that the 162-game season winds up being a battle of attrition, that would be a different matter. But given the reality of our roster constraints, this was just the move we decided to make."

The roster math makes sense, but the situation was still an awkward one.

Davis was caught up in what will be a rarely used clause in the new collective bargaining agreement, which allowed the Giants to get out of nearly all of the money owed to him and led to them making a move earlier than expected. The Giants had until Tuesday to release Davis and owe him just 30 days of termination pay, which amounts to about $1.15 million. Had they waited a few more days, they still could have released Davis, but they would have owed 45 days of termination pay.

Zaidi would not get into details about the termination clause, but said the Giants acted well within their rights and noted that the CBA is "very cut and dry" on the issue. The language ended up hurting Davis, who became the first Giants player in 20 years to beat the front office in an arbitration hearing.

Davis was the only arbitration-eligible Giant who did not agree to terms before the January deadline and the sides went to a hearing last month, with Davis filing at $6.9 million and the Giants countering at $6.55 million. Davis won, but ultimately may end up losing millions overall because players who go to arbitration hearings do not have guaranteed contracts.

That would appear to be a major loophole for the MLB Players Association to close, but the MLBPA feels that it actually gained ground in tense negotiations with MLB two years ago. The new CBA guarantees contracts for arbitration-eligible players who settle before going to a hearing, which covers just about all eligible players. Davis became an exception when he went to a hearing.

Davis found that process to be interesting and said afterward that he learned a lot about the business of baseball. Over the past two weeks, he learned a bit more. The same was true for many teammates who were surprised to learn over the weekend that Davis could wind up losing most of his 2023 salary.

Zaidi said he spoke to Davis several times throughout the process and informed him of the club's plan on Friday after he was scratched from the lineup. Davis has also been in touch with teammates, some of whom visited him while he was waiting for a resolution.

The decision seems like a potentially problematic one given that Davis was a productive Giant and a good teammate, but Zaidi pushed back forcefully on the idea that players around the league or in the clubhouse will look at the move and decide they might not want to be part of the organization.

"I completely disagree. Just talk to the players on the team and how they feel about how the organization treats them and the communication with the manager, the coaching staff, the front office," Zaidi said. "I'll push back really strongly on this point. When you part ways with a player, no matter what the circumstances, it's often difficult and it often feels personal to the player. I've been in three organizations and seen this a lot and it's just the reality of the business side of things.

"As a front office person you can shout from the rooftops 'it's never personal,' but I also understand that from a player's standpoint it's always going to feel personal. This is their life, their career, and I think to some degree when there is discontent and frustration and disappointment and feeling like there's an element of mistreatment, my general feeling is that players have the right to express that and we're not going to get into a public back-and-forth about that sort of thing because of our understanding that it's a difficult thing to go through.

"But at the same time, to generalize that as a statement about the organization, I would just push back very strongly on that."

It seems unlikely that the Giants will have to deal with a similar situation anytime soon, and not just because of the unique way it played out this time, when they chased Chapman early in the offseason but could not get a deal done until after Davis had gone through an arbitration hearing. MLB teams strongly encourage players to avoid hearings, and the Giants -- like just about every other organization -- take a file-and-trial approach, choosing not to negotiate if a deal isn't reached by the initial deadline. The rules are set up to favor clubs, even if they lose their case.

Given the way MLB front offices have operated this offseason, there seems little doubt that 29 other organizations would have made the same move on Monday. It left Davis looking for a new home less than three weeks from opening day.

The cleanest solution would have been for the Giants to trade Davis after signing Chapman, but Zaidi said that didn't prove possible. At the end of an offseason where players like Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery remained unsigned, and mid-tier position players were shocked by the lack of offers, the Giants couldn't find a taker for a player who was worth 2.2 WAR last season.

"Obviously the financial component was a constraint for teams that we heard about," Zaidi said. "I think we would have been open to any construct of (a trade) that would have made sense for both us and the player, and obviously we didn't match up in that way."

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