The Offseason Closer Market and Wade Davis

The Hot Stove is beginning to heat up during the first day of the 2016 MLB Winter Meetings, and before most of us were done digesting our breakfast the market for closers this offseason had been set.

Mark Melancon was the first domino to go in the trinity of sharp closing talent that is on the auction block this winter, with Melancon receiving a deal with an AAV of $15.5 million.

The price of pitching as a whole has become more and more ludicrous each offseason during free agency, but $15.5 million for a closer is a whole new ballpark, no pun intended. Closer are volatile, they often don’t last long, and they pitch around 50 innings per season if you’re lucky — you can’t use them too much because they’re fragile. Not all of them can be Andrew Miller.

So now not only has the market become thinner by one player, leaving just Jansen and Chapman (who the Cubs are very unlikely to resign), but it’s become a game of who will shell out the most money to ensure they acquire the best talent in one of baseball’s most fleeting positions.

Trades are an avenue in which many teams are looking to explore this offseason due to a thin free agent class, should teams find themselves well enough equip to do so, and this adds another candidate to the list of closers on the market if you can shell out the currency to make the trade: Wade Davis.

The Cubs are interested, and they have the talent to make a deal like this work: affordable, team controlled, major league ready talent to spend, as well as prospects. The question is what are the Royals interested in for Davis? The current landscape of the World Series sweetheart Kansas City Royals that baseball has grown to know and love are going to soon be gutted by free agency, and soon as in next offseason. The Royals will be losing Eric Hosmer, Jason Vargas, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, Danny Duffy, and Jarrod Dyson. That’s rough.

The question for gauging the value of this type deal then becomes one of what the Cubs are truly getting for Davis. Davis has been a well established closer since becoming one in 2014, posting ERAs of 1.00, 0.87, and 1.87 over the last three years. In 2014 and 2016, Davis didn’t even allow a single home run. Take a look at Davis’ stats for the last three seasons with the Royals:

2014 72.0 39.1 8.2 1.19 1.44
2015 67.3 31.1 8.0 2.29 3.23
2016 43.3 26.7 9.1 2.29 3.73

There’s no doubt that Davis would fill Aroldis Chapman’s shoes almost as well as any other closer on the market would. There’s also an added bonus that the Cubs front office has been interested in in the past: Davis has a relationship with Cubs coach Joe Maddon from their days together in Tampa Bay.

Since Melancon has set the tempo for the price of closers in this free agent class, and it’s been rumored that Chapman is seeking a 6-year deal, Davis’ $10 million salary in 2017 suddenly looks as friendly as the price of a closer of his caliber will get. Of course that’s not the only price of this deal; surrendering talent is sure to hurt the self-image of the Cubs and their fanbase more than it is going to affect their talent production on the field. The Cubs are likely the most even and talent rich team in baseball and though it would hurt to lose a player such as Schwarber, Baez, or whoever else would be on the block this winter — and not just in a trade for Davis — it wouldn’t be a move that leaves the clubs 2017 production level in jeopardy as much as it would just leave it thinner. The closer role is an important one to fill moving into 2017, and the Cubs have the players to make a deal like this work. This is the type of deal that even if it hurts, you make it.

The issue now becomes that Davis may be affordable, but he hits the free agent market after the 2017 season. So the Cubs would be giving up a player who’s young, affordable, under team control, etc., for one year of a closer that will set you back $10 million. In that context, this deal sounds like a hefty one to get done. However, if the Cubs were interested in extending Davis, that would likely make the deal more palatable.

The issue with extending Davis is that should he have a successful campaign with the Cubs, and even should he regress a tad, the cost of signing a player as talented as Davis before they take dive into the waters of free agency usually comes with a big price tag, and more recently that has been in both dollars and years of the deal. The Cubs are not the type of organization that is interested in dumping tons of cash and and exorbitant amount of years in the type of player that can quickly become a payroll liability that no one is willing to take off your hands. If they were, they’d likely just go after Jansen or try and extend Chapman.

There’s always interest in trying to work on the type of deal that Melancon received from the Giants earlier today though, if that’s the direction in which the opt-out clause craze we saw in 2015 is headed. Melancon’s deal is front loaded to look like this:

Being open to a deal like that may lead Davis to be at least interested in hearing the Cubs out on an extension.

There is a lot of trepidation in the type of deal that nets you one year of one of the game’s best closers for $10 million. But any team is realistically able to do it, and had enough finesse to do it in a way that is a win-win for them, it’s the Cubs.

Lead photo courtesy of John Rieger—USA Today Sports

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