Baltimore Orioles: When will the O’s have a new active WAR leader?

Chris Davis is the Baltimore Orioles active WAR leader. How long until someone surpasses him?

On Sunday, MLB.com’s Will Leitch published an article outlining each team’s current WAR leader. For the Baltimore Orioles, that player is Chris Davis.

Davis hasn’t been the Orioles’ active WAR leader for long. Adam Jones held the title until a few months ago, with 29.4 fWAR. But Jones’ career in Baltimore has almost certainly reached its end, and we’re on to a new era.

Davis currently has 14.0 career fWAR which in a vacuum isn’t bad, but considering that Davis has been in the majors for eleven years and has a 7.0 fWAR season under his belt, it’s not exactly positive.

He didn’t help his case last year, finishing the season at -3.1, which ranked among the worst seasons of all time. However, Davis isn’t going anywhere, at least not anytime soon. He’s under contract for four more years, at just under $85 million, making him an untradeable asset.

GM Mike Elias has stated that the Orioles roster is better with a good Chris Davis, which is obvious, but also telling. They have to work to try to get Davis back on track because like it or not, he’s part of the roster for the foreseeable future.

So the question becomes this: will an Orioles player surpass Davis in the next four years, or will Davis pass the title along when he leaves Baltimore?

Who are the candidates to overtake Davis?

The Orioles admittedly don’t have a lot of them right now, and considering that it needs to happen in four years or less, it could be the case that Davis holds the title until he leaves town. But we can make the case for a handful of players.

The first, and probably most obvious, is Trey Mancini.

Mancini currently has 1.9 fWAR but he actually posted a mark of -0.2 last year during his sophomore slump. He’s hit 24 home-runs each of the past two years and has a career .777 OPS, but if he’s going to get there, it’ll be exclusively because of the bat.

Mancini isn’t a great defender at first and playing him in the outfield, as has been made clear many times, is a net negative for the Orioles. Over the past two years combined, Mancini has just over 1,500 innings in the outfield, and just under 700 innings at first-base. He’s posted a -13 DRS and a -6 DRS at those positions, respectively.

Defense matters in baseball, and in all versions of WAR. Mancini has a chance to pass Davis, but he’ll have to do it in spite of his defense.

The player closest to surpassing Davis right now is Alex Cobb.

Cobb currently has 11.8 career fWAR, including the 1.3 mark he added last year. Assuming that Cobb stays healthy over the remaining life of his contract (3 years, $43 million), he should surpass Davis’ mark sooner than later.

Cobb has a career 3.75 ERA and a 3.88 FIP, with an 18.9% strikeout rate. When healthy and on his game, as we saw down the stretch last year, he’s a very good pitcher.

However, all signs point to the Orioles trading Cobb as soon as the opportunity presents itself. My bet is that he gets traded before he can post another 3-4 wins.

As for the rest of the pitchers who are close, Andrew Cashner (9.8 fWAR) and Dylan Bundy (4.4 fWAR) could theoretically get the job done, while Mychal Givens (4.9 fWAR) doesn’t have the time to do it.

Cashner has two years left on his contract. He has three seasons with at least 2 fWAR, but has never posted more than 2.6. He’s the dark horse candidate to surpass Davis, considering his lack of trade value, and the likelihood that Davis continues to subtract from his career WAR total.

Forgive me if I don’t have faith in Bundy at the moment. There’s a real chance that his true talent level is his 2017 season (low-to-mid 4’s ERA, mid-30% groundball rate, low-20% strikeout rate), and if that’s the case, he’ll never be the ace we all expected him to be, and the Orioles likely won’t re-sign him in two years.

Losing Roger McDowell might be the best thing for Bundy, but for all we know, his development has been permanently stunted. Add in the fact that Bundy has two arbitration years left, and needs to post somewhere close to 10 WAR in that time, and we’re betting against it.

The rest of the pitchers are a toss-up. Thinking that Josh Rogers, David Hess or someone in that group pass Davis is wishful thinking, and the higher-tier prospects likely don’t have enough time before Davis leaves.

There are three other hitters who you can make the case for

Austin Hays needs to stay healthy and earn an everyday spot in the outfield, but he has the talent to do it. The downside for Hays is that he’s gotten off to a rough start; he posted -0.7 fWAR in his 2017 stint in Baltimore, so he essentially needs four straight 4-fWAR seasons to take over. It’s very unlikely but not impossible.

Cedric Mullins was worth -0.3 fWAR during his time in Baltimore last year and has real platoon split issues. He has the defense to get the job done, but if he doesn’t make immediate improvements at the plate, he’s going to be too far behind to reach Davis within the timeframe.

If Renato Nunez can find the power stroke he had in the minors, he’s absolutely a dark horse candidate to get there. Nunez was consistently a 20+ homer guy in the Athletics’ system, and he hit 32 in 2017 at Triple-A Nashville. He has the defense to play everyday and he posted 1.2 fWAR in just 73 games last year. At 0.9 total, he’s got a long way to go, but his path is clear.

Jonathan Villar has just two years left before he hits free agency and he’s not close enough to do it (4.5 career fWAR). I’m high on DJ Stewart (0.5 fWAR) but it feels certain that he’s going to lose playing time to Hays this year, and Yusniel Diaz and Ryan McKenna when they make it to the majors.

It feels dirty, but if you made me pick a guy to pass Davis, it’d be Cashner. He’s close enough to do it, and the Orioles need his consistency in the rotation so he’s an unlikely trade candidate. What do you think? Will one of these Orioles surpass Davis, or will he hold the title until his contract expires?