Axl Rose once said “…nothing last forever, even cold November rain.” This feels appropriate when discussing the Kansas City Royals and their 2015 roster. It’s been known for awhile that we would start to see the players from that club disperse and at some point probably become ex-Royals. Throw in the Royals issue with payroll, and it became very apparent that the 2017 version of the Kansas City Royals could look much different. The first hammer was dropped on Wednesday as closer and supposed cyborg Wade Davis was dealt to the Chicago Cubs for outfielder Jorge Soler.
First, lets look at what the Cubs are getting with Davis. Davis has been one of the best relievers in baseball over the last three seasons, throwing 182 innings over that span with 234 strike outs, an ERA+ of 351 (league average is 100), 8.9 bWAR, FIP of 1.86 and only 3 home runs allowed. There are no 100% definite’s in baseball, but these last few years Davis has been about as much a lock as a pitcher can be. It wasn’t just the regular season where Wade was a lock, as he only allowed 2 runs over 25 innings throughout the 2014-2015 postseasons. If Davis comes in the game, you feel pretty confident that the game is over and he will wrap up another victory. All of this is what the Cubs are hoping for by picking him up this winter, as they look for another trip to the playoffs in 2017.
If there is a concern for Chicago, it is Davis’ right arm. Wade would make two appearances on the disabled list in 2016 for a forearm strain. Both times he would go down, the Royals stressed there was nothing wrong with Davis’ elbow and he just needed some rest to heal. This did have an effect on his velocity for most of 2016:
On average, Davis’ four-seam fastball saw a decrease in 2016, down about 1 MPH from his average in 2015. His sinker and cutter both saw a decrease as well, both of which weren’t drastic but it was noticeable. There is no way to tell for sure that this will continue but it is something the Cubs had to take into account before acquiring him. It appears the Cubs were very thorough when giving him a physical this week, so what they saw must have been good enough for them to pull trigger.
So how will this effect the Kansas City bullpen? Obviously, Kelvin Herrera will take over the closer’s role in 2017, a role he performed in admirably while Davis’ was injured this past season. The Royals have talked a lot this winter about building their bullpen back up to elite levels, so I would assume that they are not done restructuring the pen for the upcoming year. One option they have for a setup role is young lefty Matt Strahm, who put together a really good rookie season in 2016. Another in-house candidate is Josh Staumont, who has become the Royals number one prospect, according to Baseball America. More than likely, it will be some combination of those two and an arm or two that the team picks up this winter to complement Herrera at the back-end of the bullpen. Also remember that former closer Joakim Soria will return in 2017 and as much as his performance in 2016 was very underwhelming, he does have experience in the role and could see some late inning work this next year, although I wouldn’t expect him to see the majority of time in that role. There is some work left to be done to the pen, but considering the Royals were the 5th best bullpen in the American League in 2016, they aren’t as far away as some think.
So what about the player that Kansas City acquired in this deal, Jorge Soler? Soler will be entering his age 25 season in 2017 and is a former top prospect in the Chicago organization. Soler first saw time in the big leagues in 2014, putting together a very solid .292/.330/.573 line through 24 games. Since then, he has struggled with inconsistency and injuries, posting a line of .253/.328/.413 over 187 games and very average OPS+ of 101 during that span. While the injuries are a concern (as well as his attitude, as he was late to camp the year after signing his contract with Chicago), the upside is an enticing look into what he could do when healthy. Scouts have listed Soler as having 70 power, which is on a scale of 20-80, and while he might never be a guy who hits for a high average, he has improved his walk and strike out rates this past season. Defensively, he has an above average arm in the outfield but overall he is below average out in the field. One has to wonder if he will struggle a bit on defense, as he will be moving from one of the smallest outfields in baseball to the largest. I would expect Soler to probably bat in the 5th to 7th spot in the lineup in Kansas City, as the Royals utilize his power while not putting him in more of a run-producing spot. If healthy, both physically and mentally, Soler could be a solid run-producing bat in the lineup who the Royals will have under contract for the next four years.
While that contract control I am sure played a part in it, I would tend to believe that Davis’ injuries last year made it to where the Royals were only able to get Soler in this deal. It was believed by some that the Royals would get a haul similar to what the Yankees got for Aroldis Chapman last summer, but they were different trades. The Cubs were in a position where they needed a ‘lights out’ reliever to guide them through the playoffs and most teams are bound to overpay at the trade deadline. The Cubs had other options beside Davis, and in many ways had more control than GM Dayton Moore did in the trade talks. Throw in Davis’ forearm and the four years of contract control for Soler, and it makes sense why it was a straight up ‘1 for 1′ deal. It would have been nice to get more for Wade, but all things considered they at least got a bat that has a good chance to be an above average hitter in Kansas City. Whether this deal is a win or a loss for the Royals will be determined on a number of factors, not just Soler and Davis’ numbers. As much as most Royals fans didn’t want to see Wade leave, it was a trade that made sense for Kansas City, as they got a young, cheap every day player while freeing up some room on the Kansas City payroll. At some point this Royals team will look nothing like the team that won the World Series a year ago and it could be sooner rather than later. This could just be step one in a roster reconstruction; step two could be in the very near future.