Today is Wade Davis’s 32nd birthday – Happy Birthday, Wade! – and he just finished off his 29th consecutive save last night to open up his 2017 season with the Cubs. Somebody get that man a slice of cake.
Davis has put up a 2.23 ERA, a 3.26 FIP, and a 3.74 xFIP for the Cubs, and I don’t think anyone could or would argue the trade that brought him here for Jorge Soler was anything but a success. If Davis continues to do what he does on into the playoffs, should the Cubs make it there, then the trade will be considered an unbridled success.
At a time when we seem to feel nothing but nervousness whenever Joe Maddon has to make the call to the pen except in the 9th inning, Davis’s presence has been an oasis in the latter part of ballgames this year.
… but does that mean the Cubs should re-sign Davis in the offseason?
It’s a question that has been percolating under the surface as the trade deadline(s) passed, and Justin Wilson has failed to show that his closing time in Detroit will translate to closing time in Chicago next year. As the end of the season draws nearer, the question will grow stronger.
Should the Cubs simply make Davis a qualifying offer and move on, or should they make a concerted effort to resign him to a multi-year deal?
Consider the many countervailing forces here. On the one hand, the Cubs don’t have an obvious closer replacement ready to go, as each of the possibilities – Wilson, Carl Edwards Jr., Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop – all come with worrying bouts of extreme ineffectiveness. Davis has become almost uncomfortably reliable – no matter what happens in the frame, he just gets the 9th inning done. And if the Cubs lose Davis after a qualifying offer, they get only a post-second-round draft pick now under the new CBA.
On the other hand, Davis, now 32, is going to command a Chapman-Jansen-Melancon-like contract, and two of those three deals already look like potential disasters. Davis’s numbers, while still very good, are almost universally the worst of his relief career. Davis’s unsightly 12.6% walk rate is particularly alarming, even if somewhat mitigated by an elevated 31.3% strikeout rate.
Davis has been healthy this year, but dealt with arm injuries last year, and has seen his velocity decline this season. Each of his fastball and his cutter are down about a MPH from last year, and that was down about a MPH from the year before. He can obviously still get great results with a 94 MPH fastball and a 91 MPH cutter, but it was just a couple years ago that his fastball sat near 97 MPH and the cutter routinely hit 94 MPH. Those are significant differences, especially if you project further decline into his mid-30s.
My gut says the Cubs will have talks with Davis about a new deal, but they won’t go to the Aroldis Chapman-Kenley Jansen level (five years, $80 to $86 million), and might not even be willing to entertain a Mark Melancon contract (four years, $62 million). Given the similarities in results and age for Davis and Melancon at the time of free agency, it’s hard to imagine Davis not shooting for at least that level. And with enough closer-hungry teams out there, he might get it somewhere.
So, the Cubs are in a tricky spot. They’ll need a sure-fire closer once again next season, and may even need the bullpen to be more effective next year depending on how the rotation shakes out. They do not have an infinite budget under the luxury tax cap, however, and do have to keep an eye on that robust and extremely desirable post-2018 free agent class.
With arbitration raises coming for the positional core, and a couple pricey long-term deals already on the books (one of which, Jason Heyward, already threatens to become dead money at some point in the future), I have my doubts that locking big money into a closer with Davis’s profile is the right move for the Cubs right now.
Of course, I also have my doubts that the Cubs can find their next “perfect” closer internally. I can’t say I’m crazy about the Cubs having to go back into the trade market again this offseason, but maybe we do see that’s another angle explored.