By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — The deal was struck last Dec. 8: The Cubs acquired closer Wade Davis from the Kansas City Royals for outfielder Jorge Soler.
Davis was expendable to Kansas City because it had a strong bullpen and he had one season left on a contract before free agency. Soler was expandable for Chicago because it was flush with outfield depth.
The rest is history, at least for 2017. This deal goes down as one of the most important moves that set up the Cubs for another potential deep playoff run. Davis’ perfect season in save opportunities — he’s 32-for-32 — has set a Cub franchise record for consecutive saves.
More importantly, Davis has stood up in pressure-cooker moments — like Thursday evening, when he threw 1 2/3 scoreless inning to pick up the win in the Cubs’ 5-3 victory against the Brewers in 10 innings.
Davis was part of the 2015 Royals that won the World Series.
“We saw him under huge pressure situations in the playoffs and World Series,” former Royals teammate Eric Hosmer said. “He always had the same demeanor. You were always comfortable with him out there and you learned as a young player by watching him. He showed you how to handle pressure with the same approach and how confident he is about his craft.
“If he gets the final out of a game or gives up a homer, you never see him blink.”
The Davis-Solder trade once again makes Cubs executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer look brilliant. Chicago had made other great trades in the previous five years to help set up a World Series championship. Perhaps the best was obtaining right-hander Jake Arrieta and reliever Pedro Strop from the Orioles in 2013 for right-hander Scott Feldman.
The Cubs were left with a situation of needing a closer this season after Aroldis Chapman signed a five-year deal with the Yankees in free agency early last fall.
Although Soler is under contract for three more seasons (at about $9 million total), giving the Royals hope, Davis has arguably been the Cubs’ MVP.
He alone was the only All-Star the team sent to Miami in July. He has a 1.95 ERA, and he provides the rest of the team with confidence.
“As a closer, he will not let the opposition get to him,” Hosmer said. “When the games get bigger, it is a good feeling having someone like Wade patrolling the back end.”
Soler has gone through another year of injury and unfulfilled promises. The Royals thought they were getting an everyday player and middle-of-the-lineup power hitter. The numbers were so bad early in the season that he was demoted to Triple-A. Soler has played 33 games in the big leagues this season, hitting .147 with two home runs and six RBIs.
“I had to focus on my hitting in the minor leagues,” Soler said on Friday as the Royals prepared to play the White Sox. “I just needed to go out there play and stay on the field. I had an injury early in the season. That affected me and the results. I eventually got better and began having quality at-bats.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.