Rajai Davis eager to help Athletics turn fortunes around
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — David Forst remembers the exact moment when Rajai Davis hit his World Series-tying home run in Game 7 for Cleveland.
The son of Oakland’s general manager, 6-year-old Judah, would not go to sleep: The boy wanted to stay up and watch the game until the end.
“It’s one of those moments in World Series history I think everyone will remember,” said Forst, who was “begging” his son to go to bed. “The sheer surprise of it. You didn’t expect Raj to be the guy to hit a homer.”
Even before that big hit in the 8-7, 10-inning loss to the Cubs, Forst had kept track of the former Athletics outfielder once he left town in 2010 — moving from Toronto to Detroit and then a year later to the Indians.
And after several months of searching for a new center fielder, Forst found one in the familiar Davis. The speedy 36-year-old AL stolen bases leader received a $6 million, one-year contract Tuesday then spoke about his decision Wednesday.
“It’s just the place where I really established myself as a big leaguer and really gained the confidence that I am a big league player,” Davis said. “The bottom line is this is the best fit for my family and myself. This is what we felt was going to be beneficial for us for this year.”
He is expected to hit at the top of the order, too.
While Davis has played the two corner outfield spots more regularly the past two years, he is eager to get back in center where Forst said his defense remains “excellent.”
Davis, who also played for San Francisco in 2007 and into ’08, hit a tying two-run homer off Aroldis Chapman in the eighth inning against the champion Cubs. He helped Cleveland become a contender again, as he hopes to do with the A’s. Oakland went 69-83 last season to finish with one more victory than in 2015, but the A’s were in fifth place and at the bottom of the AL West for the second straight season — another year of injuries and big-name departures.
Now, Davis is determined to bring experience and a “winning mentality” and help the A’s turn things around.
“Before I went to Cleveland, they were a .500 team and then we won the Central and went on to go to Game 7 in the World Series,” he said.
He can earn an additional $450,000 in performance bonuses based on plate appearances: $100,000 for 500, $150,000 for 550 and $200,000 for 600.
Davis batted .249 with 12 home runs and 48 RBIs in 134 games during his lone season with the Indians, his sixth major league team. He had 23 doubles and two triples.
With 43 stolen bases, he became the fourth-oldest player to lead the league in steals after Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson in 1998 and Eddie Collins in 1923 and ’24.
“He still has his legs, obviously. That’s a big part of the attraction to Raj is the way he runs, and that translates to the field with him,” Forst said. “There’s a group of guys out there who keep up that skill into their mid- to late-30s and Raj is clearly one of those guys. He takes great care of himself, he spends a lot of time on his body and he’s gotten better at stealing bases as the years have gone on. He knows how to run the bases.”
The A’s still have financial flexibility to add to the offense — a right-handed bat would be a big boost after the club missed on Edwin Encarnacion — before spring training begins next month.
“We will continue to explore the market,” Forst said.
AP Baseball Writer Ronald Blum contributed to this report.