Davis determined to earn starting role with Mets
After offseason trade rumors, slugging first baseman happy to stay with club
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Because his cell phone buzzed so incessantly, Ike Davis heard the daily rumors. He was going to get traded, of course. Mets general manager Sandy Alderson made his shopping list public. At least one rival GM spoke openly of his interest. The Mets had two starting first basemen and only one job, and Davis was to become the casualty.
But as the holidays came and went and snow began covering Citi Field, things changed. Wary of Alderson's insistence on acquiring young pitching, rival teams began filling their first-base vacancies through other means. The whole episode reached a crescendo when Davis' father, Ron, slammed the Mets' tactics during a late-winter fundraising dinner in Manhattan.
It was with that as a backdrop that Davis stood outside the Mets' Minor League complex early Friday morning, deflecting questions about his emotions and reaffirming his commitment to the team.
"[It's] a little bit of shock I didn't get traded, but I'm happy I didn't," Davis said. "Obviously, they had to make the right deal for them, and no one offered what they thought was enough, so I'm here.
"It's all hearsay until something happens anyway. Obviously, just knowing that you're not going to play with your guys again, your friends that you've made and stuff like that, is tough. But I never once was off the team, so it's kind of like [there was an] article every day, but there was no trade. It's not a big deal. I wanted to be back. I'm back. So I'm happy about it."
Happy, even though escaping awkwardness in Port St. Lucie will be a full-time job. Earlier this week, Davis missed a scheduled meeting with manager Terry Collins because he "totally forgot about it." He has yet to talk formally with Alderson, and did not give any indication that he plans to.
Then there is Lucas Duda, whom Davis considers a friend. Duda, who would have been the unquestioned starter at first base had the Mets traded Davis. Duda, who now may have to accept a Minor League assignment or a bench role if Davis wins the job.
"It's not like we can control anything," Davis said with his typical nonchalance. "You've just got to go play and see what happens. I love Duda, he likes me, and, just, whatever, you know?"
But Davis has an inherent advantage because he has been there, done that in a big league setting. Unlike Duda, who has never even played a full season in the Majors, Davis is two years removed from leading the Mets with 32 home runs. His overall numbers that season weren't pretty, due to a massive slump that consumed his April and May. But the former first-round Draft pick showed enough potential to intrigue the powers that be.
A year later, amid soaring expectations, Davis again slumped early -- this time enduring a Minor League demotion. Just when he started showing signs of improvement, he suffered a season-ending oblique strain. Next came the trade rumors, the offers, the uncertainty and the nothingness. Now it is Davis versus Duda on Florida's Atlantic coast, and -- despite what the former says -- the pecking order seems clear.
"I just see a different Ike Davis," Collins said. "Last year he came in as the guy. Now he's fighting for his life, and I think that changes the way you go about things."
Still, Davis noted, "it's always a competition."
"Nothing's changed from the first Spring Training I got here until now. You don't know if you're going to be on the starting team, you don't know if you're going to be a starter, you don't know where you're going to be. You just have to go out and play and see where they put you. We're not in control of that. We're in control of how we play on the field, and that's it."
To that end, Davis eschewed most of his normal fishing and hunting trips this winter, focusing on rehab and baseball activities in Arizona. He started hitting in November as opposed to January in an effort to avoid another early-season slump, and Collins plans to give him extra Grapefruit and Minor League at-bats for the same reason. Davis studied video and feels he has fixed a leg issue that caused his hands to drop in the batter's box, though he is wary of tweaking his swing too much. That, he said, is what got him into trouble in the first place.
How it all affects him remains to be seen. What happens in Florida could determine not only Davis' place with the Mets, but his future as a big league player.
"It's the third day, and Spring Training hasn't started," Davis said. "But I feel pretty good."