For over a year and a half, the Kansas City Royals were the terror of the AL Central division. The run, which started roughly midway through the 2014 season, culminated in the Royals’ first World Series title in 30 years. But after a lackluster 2016 season, in which injuries, decline, and a few bad deals dragged them back down to Earth, it appears that the run is over. Teams are already inquiring into potential trade candidates, and the Royals appear ready to deal.
Jon Heyman of FanRagSports reports that Royals’ ownership has tasked general manager Dayton Moore with clearing payroll and retooling the roster into at least a modest rebuilding effort. With the Royals’ payroll approaching $144 million in 2016, serious deals will be required to shrink costs. According to Heyman, closer extraordinaire Wade Davis appears to be one of the key pieces the Royals are looking to move.
Davis will be a free agent after the 2017 season, as his $10 million dollar club option is a lock for the Royals to pick up. The 31-year-old closer battled through forearm tightness in July 2016. He hit the disabled list twice during the season, and missed all of August. Yet he rebounded in September and looked every bit the monster relief pitcher the Royals have enjoyed over the past few seasons.
Davis posted a 15:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 9 2/3 innings of work in September. After the Detroit Tigers got to him in his first outing back from the disabled list, Davis reverted to his usual outstanding form despite a slight dip in fastball velocity. He finished the year with a 1.87 ERA and a 2.29 FIP in 43 1⁄3 innings. He also repeated his 2014 trick in not allowing a single home run on the season.
With the era of the dominant reliever now established throughout baseball, and on display this postseason through the outstanding work of Andrew Miller, Kenley Jansen and others, Davis is likely to remain a hot commodity despite some modest injury concerns. The availability of free agents such as Mark Melancon, Kenley Jansen, and the big prize, Aroldis Chapman, is already primed to make this the most lucrative offseason market for relievers that we’ve ever seen. Davis should be right in that mix as a trade option.
Were the Tigers to acquire Davis and his cutter of doom, their 2017 bullpen would be in great shape, even if they decline Francisco Rodriguez’s contract option. Davis is exactly the type of reliever fans in Detroit has craved for years. Presumably the Royals would look to extract a heavy toll in terms of prospects from the Tigers were such a deal possible. Unfortunately, the Royals’ goals in moving some of their expendable pieces are probably contrary to the Tigers’ ability to offer on a player like Davis.
Rather than worrying about acquiring prospects, the Royals are instead likely to package Davis with a bad contract in order to clear payroll. Starting pitcher Ian Kennedy would appear to be the leading candidate in such a move. Kennedy scuffled most of his year in Kansas City, and is owed $56 million over the next four seasons. Such a move would leave the Royals’ pitching staff somewhat crippled in 2017, while realigning their payroll to begin rebuilding around the remaining core.
The goals of the Royals’ ownership and front office don’t align well with those of the Tigers. This, along with the divisional proximity, makes Detroit a very unlikely match for Davis. But his potential departure would alter the current power structure in the AL Central, signaling at least a temporary rebuilding effort by the Royals. The Tigers and Cleveland Indians would be left with clearer paths to a divisional title in 2017.
Still, for a team looking to make one all-out effort for a title in 2017, acquiring Davis may prove a steal. Wherever he lands, he will likely provide a huge boost to a contender without them having to wade into what could become an all-out bidding war for the dominant relievers hitting the free agent market.