This winter’s crop of free agents in Major League Baseball leave a lot to be desired at many positions. But one position is fully loaded with plenty of top quality names. And that position is relief pitcher, as closers will be the hot commodity this MLB offseason.
Let’s start at the top. Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon headline the field. All three men have a seat in the top five closers club in Major League Baseball, and all three men are going to be getting paid. The 29 year old Chapman has the luxury of not having to worry about a qualifying offer being attached to his name, to go along with his ability to throw over 100 mph and strikeout any batter. Jansen will have the qualifying offer attached, but at 29 and having the ability to throw as hard as he does to go along with 0.67 WHIP and 47 saves, someone will be glad to acquire his services. Melancon also saved 47 games, and he is only a few years older than the others. Given he will not have the qualifying offer on his name, his 1.64 ERA and consistency will draw plenty of teams.
The rest of the free agent market is filled with names with closing experience as well. Guys like Jonathan Papelbon, Santiago Casilla, Andrew Bailey, Sergio Romo, Brett Cecil, Neftali Feliz, Dan Hudson, Brad Zeigler and Drew Storen are all set to be free agents. Now sure some of these guys are not going to just take over a closing job wherever they sign, but the truth of the matter is they have all closed games before. Some of them very successfully.
Then there is the name Greg Holland. Only a few years ago he was considered the best closer in baseball. Then he suffered an arm injury and had to undergo Tommy John Surgery. This lead to the Kansas City Royals releasing him, and he missed the entire 2016 season. Holland will only be 31 next season, and it is expected that he will be good to go in time for Spring Training. He could be the steal of this extremely crowded market.
Back to the Holland injury. When he went down, the Royals turned to a former top prospect who initially came up with the Tampa Bay Rays as a starter. After struggling as a starter, he was converted to a reliever, and he became a dominant one. And when he stepped in for Holland, he become one of the most feared closers in the game. His name is Wade Davis.
And now Davis finds himself at the center of trade rumors. According to Jon Heyman, Davis is drawing plenty of early interest on the trade market.[embedit snippet=”kenny-ads”]
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) October 14, 2016
Davis currently has a a 10 million dollar club option waiting to be picked up. At the conclusion of the World Series, the Royals will do just that. That will lock Davis into the final year of his current deal at a rate that is likely cheaper than Chapman and Jansen are going to ask for. Craig Kimbrel will be making over 11 million this reason, and 13 million the next two seasons. So at 10 million for one season, Davis looks like a bit of a bargain.
Davis did not have his best season in 2016 as he struggled through injuries, but his overall numbers were still solid. He saved 27 of 30, with a 1.87 ERA and 47 strikeouts in 43 and a third innings. The season prior, when he took over for Holland, he saved 17 of 18, striking out 78 with a 0.94 ERA and 0.79 WHIP. So with his skill set and price point, it is is understandable why teams would be asking about him.
And the Royals are looking to change a few things up following a disappointing 2016 campaign. The club finished third in the AL Central, going 81-81 and finished 13.5 games behind the division winning Cleveland Indians. They also missed the Wild Card by eight games. So the team will look to change a few things, and clearing out Davis’s 10 million could allow for some extra flexibility. The team has a capable backup closer in the form of Kelvin Herrera, who saved 12 games this past season in Davis’s absence.
Another reason Davis becomes such an interesting option for teams looking for a closer, is the way he finished the season. When he came back from the DL he was a tad rusty. But in his final seven innings, Davis did not allow a run. He struck out nine, and only walked one in that span as well. So he appeared to be back to his old self, meaning he will have a full and healthy offseason with no injuries to worry about healing.
Now we do not know exactly who has reached out to Kansas City about Davis, but there is no shortage of candidates. The Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs and Washington Nationals are all at risk of loosing their top relievers. The New York Yankees are said to be interesting in bringing back Chapman, meaning Davis could become a fallback. The San Francisco Giants are in need of a bullpen overhaul, and would be an extremely nice fit. The Seattle Mariners could certainly use an upgrade at the end of their pen, and are not likely to spend the big bucks on the big three. The same can be said for the Los Angeles Angels, Colorado Rockies and Cincinnati Reds among others.
The main reason Davis is such a fascinating option is he helps even the playing field. There are plenty of teams who are not going to be able to afford the likes of Chapman, Kenley and Melancon. Therefore they won’t even get involved. But with Davis, he is only 10 million for one season. So a smaller market club, or one that is cash strapped, who is on the verge of contending could very easily make a push to acquire Davis. He will be one of the most interesting names to follow this winter, as he has made an interesting relief pitching market even more exciting.