The Royals have traded off one of their World Series heroes, Wade Davis. He is heading to Chicago to play for the most recent World Series champions, the Cubs. In exchange, the Royals receive a talented, young outfielder who hasn’t quite put it all together on the field, Jorge Soler.
Let’s start with the return because that’s now the most important thing to the Royals and fans. The Royals are helping the big league club in both 2017 and in the future by acquiring Soler, who will be 25 when the 2017 season begins. He is a physical specimen who burst onto the scene in 2014 with a .292/.330/.573 line in 24 games as a 22-year old, but he hasn’t quite figured it out yet since then. Overall, he’s hit .253/.328/.413 since in 187 games and 668 plate appearances.
That line isn’t the only concern as he has struggled in right field in his big league career. He isn’t especially fast, though he does have enough speed that he should be able to handle a corner outfield spot. He just hasn’t been able to field his position well to this point in his career. I imagine the Royals are hoping Rusty Kuntz can work his outfield magic to help Soler improve defensively.
What’s encouraging about Soler at the plate is that he began walking a considerable amount more in 2016, while showing better discipline in general. He swung at the fewest pitches out of the zone in his career by far in 2016. In spite of his decreased average, that discipline allowed him to post a TAv of .293 last year and he was worth 1.1 WARP. If he can increase his contact rate a bit, he could become a star offensively. That’s a big if, of course.
He’s owed $17.6 million over the next four seasons on his current contract, but following the 2017 season, he can choose to opt into the arbitration system, which seems like a near certainty. His $3.66 million salary figures to see a jump and will continue to rise for the three years following. Even so, the first year figures to be relatively reasonable unless he explodes in 2017, which means he has at least two years of relatively cheap years of production.
Now to what the Royals are giving up.
The Royals are losing one of the best relievers in baseball in Davis. Since moving to the bullpen in September of 2013, Davis has posted a 21-5 record in 192 games with a 1.17 ERA and 47 saves to go along with 241 strikeouts and 63 walks in 192.2 innings pitched. Plus, he recorded the final out of the 2015 World Series, so he holds a special place in the heart of both the Royals organization and Royals fans.
It wasn’t always such a loving relationship, though. Davis came to the Royals as part of the vaunted Wil Myers for James Shields deal and was expected to be a cog in the Royals rotation for years to come. But he struggled and struggled mightily, which forced a move to the bullpen. He was a success from the word “go” after moving, but the fans weren’t in love with the idea of him on the team at all. And now he’s one of the most beloved Royals of all time. Things change fast, I suppose.
But now, it’s time to move on, and I believe this is the right decision for a number of reasons. With the closer market exploding, the Royals are right to cash in on one of the game’s best, especially because they have another option in Kelvin Herrera who can perform well in that role. Additionally, Davis isn’t without his injury questions as he spent two separate stints on the disabled list with forearm issues, which can be a precursor to the dreaded Tommy John surgery. The Royals have been burned by that before with their closers, so I believe they’re right to make the move to deal him.
Personally, I think the return of Soler alone for Davis isn’t enough. I think Davis is in the conversation with Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller and both brought back more. By the same token, both were traded mid-season when demand is different and other options were not present in exchange for money and no prospects. I also understand the injury risk that Davis brings to the table and maybe the medicals aren’t as rosy as the Royals would have liked you to believe. I don’t hate the deal because I like Soler enough, but based on what we know, it seems as though the Royals should have netted a better return.
The trade of Davis wipes $10 million off the books for the 2017 season, and with the $3.67 million salary for Soler, that’s a net decrease of $6.33 million, which brings the Royals current commitments for the 2017 season down to about $97 million for 12 players and Omar Infante along with $29.3 million in estimated arbitration salaries. The move leaves Kelvin Herrera as the Royals closer, a role where I believe he will thrive, but it clearly weakens the Royals bullpen for the time being, and that’s an area where the Royals have said they want to get better, so now it’ll be interesting to see what moves await.