Cubs make out well by trading Jorge Soler to Royals for closer Wade Davis

javier baez throws seeds at jorge soler

The Cubs and Royals have agreed to a trade that would send Jorge Soler to Kansas City in exchange for closer Wade Davis, but is currently pending physical exams. My first reaction to this is I’m surprised it’s a straight swap, given the recent market for elite closers. Some may argue Soler has more value but clearly he didn’t to the Cubs, and looking at the numbers, Wade Davis is every bit as good as the other elite relief pitchers in the game.

Edit: It’s official, Jorge Soler straight up for Wade Davis who will make $10 million in 2017 and then head to free agency.

It was difficult back in 2014 to wrap my brain around the fact that Wade Davis was all of a sudden an effective major league pitcher. For years Davis had been a middling starter for the Tampa Bay Rays. He was drafted in the third round in 2004 when Tampa Bay was still the Devil Rays, and made his debut in 2009. For two years the Rays tried him as a starter but never with any success, as he had no command with weak strikeout and walk rates, and also allowed too many home runs.

In his last year with the Rays in 2012 they tried him out in relief, and all of a sudden Davis was a new pitcher. He still walked too many batters (3.71 BB/9), but his strikeout rate more than doubled from 5.14 the previous season to 11.13 K/9. His home runs allowed finally dropped below 1.0 and sat at 0.64 during his 70.1 innings that year, producing a 2.43 ERA, backed up by a 2.78 FIP. His xFIP was higher at 3.24 due to a lower than normal HR/FB rate of 7.6%.

Davis was traded that offseason to the Royals as part of the James Shield trade that sent Wil Myers to the Rays. However, instead of sticking Davis in the bullpen where he had success the previous year, the Royals couldn’t resist another shot in the rotation. Davis predictably failed yet again so finally in 2014 the Royals put him back in the bullpen and the rest is history.

Davis is now 31-years-old and is coming off a three year stretch in the pen that has seen him eclipsed in reliever WAR only by four familiar names: Dellin Betances – 8.5 WAR, Aroldis Chapman – 8.0 WAR, Andrew Miller – 7.2 WAR, Kenley Jansen – 7.0 WAR, and then Wade Davis – 6.3 WAR.

During that time frame, here are the numbers to know:

  • ERA: 1.18
  • FIP: 1.86
  • HR/9: 0.15 (!)
  • xFIP: 2.76
  • K/9: 11.53
  • BB/9: 2.91

Of those five elite closers atop the reliever WAR list at FanGraphs, Davis has the lowest ERA, and by far the lowed HR/9. The next closest in HR/9 is Chapman at 0.30 and then it goes up to 0.55 for Betances, 0.73 for Miller and 0.72 for Jansen. While his xFIP still doesn’t believe he can duplicate it, Davis appears to have an ability to suppress home runs more than any reliever in baseball, and this is obviously a hugely important skill for a relief pitcher to have.

While his walk rate is a little higher than most elite relievers, as long as it stays below 3.0 and is matched up with a strikeout rate in the double digits, Davis is going to continue to put up elite numbers for the Cubs. Which brings us to Jorge Soler. The potential is dripping off this guy, so it’s easy to see how other teams would covet the potential potency of his bat, but can his bat be that special that he would net a year of an elite closer on his own?

The Cubs just traded a phenom in Gleyber Torres for not even half a season of Aroldis Chapman. To be fair, that market was a different landscape and the Cubs were in a much more competitive position to acquire a finishing piece to a championship season, so it was understood at the time and is easily accepted now that the Cubs would overpay in order to bring in that type of player.

However, you have to think that the package the Cubs gave to the Yankees was so much that it at least helped to set the market for an elite relief pitcher on the open market. Just last offseason the Phillies traded a very good but not elite closer in Ken Giles to the Astros and received a quality package that included breakout starting pitcher Vincent Velasquez, and former number one overall pick Mark Appel, as well as a couple additional prospects.

While Soler is already somewhat proven at the Major League level, he has also proven to be flawed as a Major League outfielder. He does possess a strong arm but his judgement and athleticism in the outfield leave much to be desired. He has rated negatively defensively in each of his three big league seasons and it’s likely not going to improve as age and injuries add up.

If he is all bat no glove, is he that much different than Kyle Schwarber? One could argue Soler has as much or more offensive potential than Schwarber, and I’d have to believe the Royals are in that camp if this is a straight up swap. But Schwarber seems like a much safer pick to reach that potential.

This trade almost seems to good to be true for the Cubs. They take a piece that didn’t fit anywhere on the team and who could never stay on the field long enough to get a proper evaluation, and are potentially turning him into a full year of an elite closer. Some can argue that the value for this trade is squarely on the side of the Royals, if you look purely at one year of Davis for four years of Soler, but I also believe it’s easy to argue that the Royals should be asking for more citing recent trades.

As far as the Cubs fans are concerned, there is only one thing on their minds and that is repeating as World Champions in 2017. Soler may have helped bring on board a couple younger prospects, or been the centerpiece of a trade for a starting pitcher, but we saw what the Cubs had to give up at the deadline for an elite closer, and they were fortunate at the time that multiple elite closers were available. Davis can now help them repeat as division champions and will hopefully be there to shut the door in the playoffs.

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