By Bruce Levine–
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. (CBS) — In a trade that should solidify their bullpen, the Cubs acquired closer Wade Davis from the Royals on Wednesday in what sets up a more direct route back to the World Series as they look to defend their championship. Chicago sent 24-year-old outfielder Jorge Soler to Kansas City to add the key cog to its bullpen in what appeared to be a seamless move.
The 31-year-old Davis brings a big arm and the experience of having pitched in pressure-packed situations during back-to-back trips to the World Series in 2014 and 2015. He was an ace setup man for the Royals before replacing the injured Greg Holland as closer later in the 2015 season.
Davis has been arguably the best reliever in baseball over the past three years, a stretch over which he’s compiled a 1.18 ERA and allowed just three homers. For his career, Davis sports a 0.84 ERA in 32 1/3 postseason innings.
He’s familiar with Cubs manager Joe Maddon and bench coach Davey Martinez, having played under them in Tampa Bay from 2009-’12.
“We knew a lot about him through Joe and Davey Martinez,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. “We had a really good feel for the type of person we were getting. We had a great conversation with him on the phone. I think he is really excited to be a Cub. At the same time, processing that he went to two different World Series with the Royals, that is a special place for him. We are excited to have him. We did a lot of due diligence on him as a person. Joe and Davey speak very highly of him. We feel really good about that part.”
Acquiring Davis is a short buy-in for the Cubs, as he has one year and $10 million left on his contract. The Cubs are letting former closer Aroldis Chapman walk in free agency, refusing to get in a bidding war for him or fellow elite closer Kenley Jansen on the open market. Both are in talks to set a record for the biggest contract for a reliever. Chapman may get five years and close to $100 million before the bidding war ends.
With Davis ready to close in 2017, the Cubs can bring 25-year-old reliever C.J. Edwards along under less scrutiny, keeping the training wheels on for one more year before anointing him closer.
The Cubs are now really deep with talented right-handers in their bullpen. In addition to Davis and Edwards, they have reliable veterans in Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop and Justin Grimm.
The left-handed side of the equation in the bullpen is a bit more dicey. The team insists Mike Montgomery will get first shot at the No. 5 starter role in 2017 as the Cubs need to fill Jason Hammel’s rotation spot. However, trading for another established starter would seem to be more prudent in this case, given how well Montgomery has performed in the bullpen, how he could then provide rotation insurance and also with the fact that left-handed relievers are at a premium right now.
With Chapman gone, Travis Wood hitting free agency and Montgomery in line to start, the Cubs currently only have the recently signed Brian Duensing as a left-hander in their bullpen. As has been mentioned in recent weeks, making a deal with the Rays would help solve a few issues for the Cubs.
Hoyer acknowledged the Cubs are still in pursuit of more pitching.
“That is an area we are certainly looking at,” Hoyer said of void left-handed bullpen void. “We loved the way Duensing threw at the end of the season. Justin Grimm is like a lefty, the way he gets left-handed hitters out. We will continue to look for sure.”
Tthe Cubs will continue to talk with Wood during free agency, Hoyer added.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.