CLEVELAND — Dave Dombrowski was looking for that one missing ingredient, and he thinks he found it in Rajai Davis.
Think Dave Roberts, 2004.
Dombrowski said he talked to Oakland Athletics vice president Billy Beane two weeks ago about Davis. He accelerated his pursuit of the Oakland outfielder after Jackie Bradley Jr. sprained his left thumb sliding into home on Tuesday night.
It’s not that Davis can replace Bradley. No one can replace him in the field since he has no peer. But Davis will be a solid fill-in and when Bradley returns —
“I had a slow start, but over the last couple of months I’ve felt really good,” Davis told reporters after Oakland’s game at Baltimore on Wednesday. “I just appreciate the patience they’ve had with me.
“Extremely excited,” he said about coming to Boston. “The atmosphere is just totally different in the playoffs. I think once you get a taste of that you want a little more. I’m just thankful for this opportunity to come my way.”
Davis said it’s especially exciting because “I grew up in Connecticut so I’m going close to home. Should be fun and I’m looking forward to it. Family is there close by.”
Davis was hitting .233 with 26 steals (in 32 attempts) for the Athletics. He led the American League with 43 stolen bases for the Indians last season and proved to be a valuable performer in the World Series against the Cubs.
In 30 games since the All-Star break, the righthanded hitter has gone 23 for 76 (.303) with an .848 OPS and 11 stolen bases. Davis has recorded five assists and two double plays in 79 games (62 starts) in center field, also making nine starts in right field and two in left.
Davis played for John Farrell in Toronto in 2012 and for Dombrowski in Detroit in 2014 and 2015. The familiarity with Davis was a big reason for the trade, which sent 18-year-old Dominican League outfielder Ricardo Rincones to the Athletics.
“He’s a wonderful human being and he’ll fit in very nicely on our team,” Dombrowski said.
What fits is the speed, and the ability to play center.
“It was a dimension we hope will help us,” Dombrowski said. “I think it’s important because you want to add every little dimension you can. You try to add that little dimension but it’s not always easy. To be able to steal a big base when people know you can steal, that’s huge.”
Earlier in the day, Dombrowski hinted that something was in the works. He was asked why Bryce Brentz, who has hit 30 homers and knocked in 82 runs with a .282 average at Pawtucket, had not been recalled. Then the Red Sox designated Steve Selsky for assignment to take him off the 40-man roster.
I jokingly asked Dombrowski whether he had traded for Giancarlo Stanton. He smiled and indicated he hadn’t.
With Davis aboard it would seem Brentz is even farther down the totem pole.
“Bryce is having a very good year at Pawtucket, but with Chris Young, a righthanded hitter, here and with Brock [Holt] being able to play the outfield, we felt adding an infielder was the best course of action for now, but there are some other things going on,” Dombrowski said before the trade was made.
Brentz has to be wondering what he has to do to see a major league uniform again.
One wonders whether Brentz will even come up when the rosters expand in September.
There’s a lot of power the Red Sox aren’t taking advantage of. Rusney Castillo also is on the DL and might have been a good temporary solution.
Replacing Bradley Jr. is a monumental task. He’s having a Gold Glove season. Nobody has played center field better in baseball this season. The Sox also have to replace his power. His highlight catches will be missed.
Even at 36, Davis remains fast. This isn’t a replacement per se, but someone who can fill in, especially against lefthanded pitching.
Davis had his best season for Dombrowski in 2014. He hit .282 with 36 steals in ’14. He has stolen 391 bases in his career. And for sure he’ll enjoy the fact that he’s back in New England at the end of his career, one that began when the Pirates drafted him in the 38th round in 2001.
This was a good move on the fly, but it’s really hard to replace Bradley Jr., who was on an upswing with the bat and saving runs with his glove.
The Red Sox now have David Price, Dustin Pedroia, and Bradley Jr. on the shelf. But the Indians also have Jason Kipnis, Danny Salazar, Andrew Miller, Michael Brantley, and Lonnie Chisenhall out. Everybody has injuries, but not everyone can go get a player in a deal at this time of the year to fill in.
So Davis should join the team Thursday in Cleveland in time for the final game of the series.
To start, perhaps, his quest to be the next Dave Roberts.