Quick Reax: Soler/Davis Trade Could Be Win-Win, Fears Still Valid

Whew, I was starting to get a little antsy there. Roughly 16 hours or so after we’d all thought it was pretty much a done deal, the Cubs and Royals have completed a trade.

By this point I’ve written so much about the perceived value of Jorge Soler that even I’m tired of my opinions. And that’s saying a lot, because I’m a man who loves to hear himself talk. Okay, I’m not actually talking out loud, but there’s an inner monologue accompanying me as I type this. With that in mind, literally, I’m going to move on to a brief discussion of the Soler/Wade Davis trade from an angle that I hope will bring together the friends and family fractured by debating it.

If you believe four years of club control of a 25-year-old outfielder is a lot to give up for a 31-year-old reliever with arm issues, you’re right. If you think an injury-prone bench bat is a small price to pay for a potentially elite closer, you’re right. We won’t know the true impact of this deal for quite some time, or at least that’s the hope. Should Davis’s arm explode while trying to close out a game against the Brewers in May, well, I think that might signal a net loss for the Cubs.

On the other hand, Soler’s lower-body issues could turn him into a sad song of what could have been. While I have long harbored skepticism of his ability to reach his ceiling, though, I don’t think he’ll fall apart in KC.

Injury concerns can’t just be brushed aside out of faith, even if you know the Cubs did their due diligence in combing through medicals. So Davis is going to have to remain healthy and consistent in order for this to work out. Part of the reason the Aroldis Chapman deal worked is that the team mitigated its risk by taking him on with only a couple months left in the season and absolutely riding him from there. Now, however, they’re slotting their rental into the 9th inning from April on.

If Davis is indeed healthy — and I think we have to give the benefit of the doubt that he is — the Cubs just got the only pitcher in MLB history to have multiple seasons of 50+ innings pitched with an ERA of 1.00 or lower. He put up a 1.00 ERA over 72 IP (71 appearances) in 2014, then went 0.94 over 67.1 IP (69 appearances) the following season. And he did it largely on the strength of a nasty cutter.

Sahadev Sharma has more on the Cubs’ new closer (subscription required), whose performance puts him atop multiple statistical categories:

Davis also does a remarkable job of keeping the ball in the ballpark. Of relievers with at least 100 innings pitched over the last three seasons, Davis has allowed the fewest home runs (3). In fact, he allows very few base-runners or extra-base hits in general, with an OPS-allowed of .456, also tops in baseball during that span, joining Chapman, Andrew Miller and Zach Britton as the only relievers to allow a sub-.500 OPS during that time period.

So…that would look nice in high-leverage innings for the Cubs in 2017.

And I’m sure it’ll look nice for Royals fans to be reminded of Bo Jackson as they watch the hulking human that is Jorge Soler launching balls out of Kauffman Stadium on the regular. If that does happen, it’s not an indictment of the Cubs’ decision to move the guy. He just wasn’t going to have the opportunity to play enough in Chicago to even come close to realizing his potential. A change of scenery and the ability to DH could really help him.

What it all comes down to is the idea of what Soler could be versus what Davis is. At the same time, while it’s totally valid to lament the loss of the former’s projection, there can be no denying that what he is is a decidedly average corner outfielder. Slightly above average with the bat (106 wRC+ in 765 PA’s), below with the glove. Based on his 1.5 fWAR in 211 career games, Soler has been worth about one win per 150 games.

For what it’s worth, Albert Almora was worth 0.9 fWAR in 47 games last season and Jon Jay was worth 1.1 in 90. Then you’ve got the looming presence of one Eloy Jimenez, who is a Jorge Soler 2.0 of sorts.

I’ll admit that those are very incongruous comps, but the point is that Jorge Soler is not irreplaceable by any means. And while I can understand the belief that he could be much more, I think a lot of that is being driven by an emotional overinvestment into one of the earliest arrivals of these New Cubs. The guys pulling the strings on this move have no such sense of nostalgia clouding their vision.

That’s not meant as a dig at those of you who are most reluctant to let Soler go, just a reminder that we’re talking about a front office that successfully rebuilt this club into a World Series winner in five years. Still in win-now mode, the Cubs are willing to trade from redundancy in order to add depth at a needed position. Not that the Cubs needed a closer, mind you, just that they had to restock their bullpen. And they’re on record as saying that they’re fine with guys who’ve had a few bumps in the road.

Please note that I’m not saying they’re just throwing caution to the wind with this acquisition. But while clean medicals are the ultimate source of confidence, I’d venture a guess that having guys like Hector Rondon and Carl Edwards Jr. in the fold helped to allay some of the fears that could accompany Davis. Heck, the acquisition of any pitcher bears a significant amount of inherent risk. In this case, not needing a closer further mitigates that that risk.

The debate will rage on, perhaps through the entirety of the coming season. Maybe even beyond if Soler really does end up breaking out. I get the sense that most folks had resigned themselves to the idea that Soler was going to be traded (I actually think the Cubs missed the boat by not moving him a year ago), but were hoping to see him involved in something for more than a rental reliever. And I get that.

Even so, I’m kinda surprised the Cubs were able to do this as a straight-up swap, especially given the recent explosion in the closer market. That sets me to wondering whether it’s too good to be true. Unless the Cubs are looking at this as a bridge to installing Edwards as the more permanent — and much cheaper — closer. They get a year of Davis, then gain a draft pick after he turns down a qualifying offer.

In the end, I choose to believe that those most intimately involved with the deal know more about the situation on both the micro and macro levels than I could hope to. That said, I think they’ve probably got more insight into what it’ll take to improve the team and what they need to give up to make that happen. That does not absolve them from criticism or second-guessing, but it does give them a good deal of credibility.

I’m on board with this deal, I like it quite a bit, and I understand why you might not. You, though, I’m not sure why you’re thinking what you’re thinking. So what are you thinking about the trade? Poll below for the quickest thoughts, comments farther below to expound or to call me an idiot.

PS — The Cubs are far from done when it comes to adding to the bullpen and/or rotation this winter, and I think we’re going to see a lot more activity from them in the coming days and weeks on that front. Not that they’ll be doing anything splashy, but this solidifies the back end and gives them a better idea of what they need.

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