Not even the defending champs can rest on their laurels.

The Chicago Cubs aren’t, clearly, as they made their first big splash of the offseason Wednesday, acquiring All-Star closer Wade Davis from the Kansas City Royals, per Jeffrey Flanagan of

It’s a simple, straight-up swap, with 24-year-old outfielder Jorge Soler going to Kansas City. That’s no small sacrifice for the Cubs, as we’ll delve into shortly.     

For now, though, let’s focus on what Chicago got: a replacement for free-agent flamethrower Aroldis Chapman and a nice dose of security at the back end of the bullpen.

Davis has been nothing short of elite since moving into a full-time relief role in 2014. During that span, he’s posted a 1.18 ERA with 11.53 strikeouts per nine innings next to just 2.91 walks per nine.

His 6.3 WAR from 2014 to 2016 ranks fifth among relief pitchers, behind only Dellin Betances, Chapman, Andrew Miller and Kenley Jansen, according to FanGraphs’ measure.

Then there’s Davis’ postseason pedigree. During the Royals’ deep runs of 2014 and 2015, Davis logged 25 mostly high-leverage innings, yielding just one earned run with 38 strikeouts and five walks. Here, check out some highlights of his six-out save in Game 4 of the 2015 Fall Classic:

If that reminds you of the work guys such as Miller, Chapman and Jansen did in the 2016 playoffs, well, it should. Davis is cut from the same cloth. He’s got the stuff and the fortitude to play the role of super-reliever.

He’s also got familiarity with Chicago skipper Joe Maddon, who was his manager from 2009 to 2012 with the Tampa Bay Rays, when Davis was mostly a starter.

As the Cubs edged close to acquiring Davis on Tuesday night, the Washington Nationals swooped in with a “late push,” per’s Jayson Stark

Chicago ultimately won out by cashing in Soler. That stings. The young Cuban is under team control for four more years and is loaded with raw tools. His production has declined since an eye-opening debut in 2014, when he posted a .903 OPS in 24 games, but he has the potential to develop into a high-caliber offensive player.

The Cubs could afford to jettison him because of an outfield depth chart that features Kyle Schwarber, Ben Zobrist, Jason Heyward, Albert Almora Jr., Matt Szczur and newly signed Jon Jay, plus reigning National League MVP Kris Bryant.

For all his talent, Soler was a spare part, as’s Jesse Rogers spelled out:

The trade really comes down to the multiple years of control with Soler versus the one year for Davis. If you’re a Cubs fan, ask yourself this: Who’s likely to have a bigger impact on the team in 2017 — a part-time outfielder or the closer on the reigning world champions? We know Davis is going to see a lot of action; we can’t say the same about Soler…

Davis comes with some risk and downside. He’ll be a free agent after next season, so he’s something of a rental, though the Cubs could try to hammer out an extension. He battled injuries last season and landed on the disabled list twice with a strained forearm. His average fastball velocity dipped slightly, from 95.8 in 2015 to 95.0.

He finished the season on a high note, however, tallying six saves and fanning 15 in his final 9.2 innings.

Assuming the health issues are behind him, the $10 million he’s owed in 2017 could be a relative bargain. Mark Melancon already broke the record for a relief-pitcher contract when he got four years and $62 million with the San Francisco Giants. Chapman and Jansen will surely blow past that total when they find homes.

The Cubs have other solid arms in the pen, including Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon and Carl Edwards Jr. With Chapman out the door, though, this was one of the few areas where Chicago could upgrade.

“You’re always looking to augment bullpens,” Maddon said, per’s Carrie Muskat. “I think every organization, after this past postseason, is looking to re-invent their bullpens in different ways based on how we utilized ours.”

Added general manager Jed Hoyer, per Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune, “The more relievers you can add, the more we can add that late and have multiple weapons, the better.”

Davis is a weapon. Now, he’s in the Cubs’ holster. 

The champs, in other words, aren’t resting on their laurels. 


All statistics and contract information courtesy of FanGraphs and unless otherwise noted.

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