Late last night, Brett discussed a rumor connecting Orioles closer Zach Britton to the Chicago Cubs in trade, and it’s certainly a tantalizing and realistic discussion.
After all, the Cubs are headed into another clearly competitive season, have needs at the back-end of their bullpen, and have made two big-time trades for closers on expiring contracts in each of the past two seasons.
But maybe they won’t need to dip into their prospect-stash to bring in an experienced closer. Maybe the guy they leaned on heavily in 2017 who’s now leaving for free agency, Wade Davis, can be brought back on a multi-year deal. Big-time contracts for closers hasn’t been the Cubs M.O. in recent years, but that’s not necessarily the case forever.
“We think the world of Wade, on the field and off the field,” Theo Epstein told NBC Sports Chicago. “We’re definitely going to talk to him.”
Davis didn’t have his best season as a closer in Chicago this past year, but anyone watching closely knows he was as steady a force at the back of the bullpen as you could reasonably hope.
Wade Davis 2017: 2.30 ERA, 3.38 FIP; 58.2 IP, 1.1 fWAR, club record 32 straight saves
His walk rate ticked up quite a bit this season (11.6%), but his strikeout rate rose as well (32.6%). And thanks to a TON of soft contact (28.0%), batters rarely managed to record hits off the Cubs’ closer (.185 AVG). I should point out that his ground ball rate receded this year (40.5%), while his fly ball rate ticked up (38.9%), but neither mark was actually too far off from his career totals. And, again, because of all the weak contact, that wasn’t much of an issue for Davis.
But again, a long-term deal for a reliever isn’t something the Cubs front office loves to do, and that’s no secret around baseball.
“We’ll certainly engage with him,” Epstein said reaffirming the team’s interest to NBC Sports Chicago. “He knows that we’re not known for giving long multiyear deals to relievers, but it’s definitely worth talking.”
Another thing to take take into consideration is the massive contracts elite closers have been able to secure in recent years. Last year alone, the Dodgers (Kenley Jansen, 5 years/$80M), Yankees (Aroldis Chapman, 5 years/$86M), and Giants (Mark Melancon, 4 years/$62M) handed out over $208 million to just *three* closers, and Davis is likely to be valued somewhere close to that tier.
At the same time, you can argue that with those three teams, along with the Red Sox (who are set with Craig Kimbrel) and Phillies/Tigers (who aren’t likely to pay for a closer at this point in their rebuild), off the market, there aren’t a *ton* of big market destinations remaining. Given his familiarity with Chicago, then, maybe there’s a better chance of a reunion than we initially expected.
For what it’s worth, Jim Duquette (MLB.com) is projecting a reunion in Chicago, but doesn’t think the Cubs will get much of a discount (4 years/$62M). Tim Dierkes (MLB Trade Rumors), meanwhile, thinks Davis will get around the same amount (4 years/$60M), but from the Astros instead of the Cubs. And earlier today, we looked at Baseball Prospectus’ free agent predictions, where they seem to believe the Nationals or Phillies could get involved, though both landing spots present significant hurdles.
In the end, I think the big take away here is that the Cubs may actually be more involved in Wade Davis’ free agency than many initially assumed. There’s a need, a fit, a familiarity, and, now, confirmation from Theo Epstein, himself, that the Cubs will be reaching out. Maybe Davis will be worthy of an exception to the way the Cubs typically operate in the bullpen.