NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- The Cubs' goal this offseason was to restock the bullpen, and on Wednesday, they acquired a new closer in Wade Davis by trading Jorge Soler to the Royals.
"This was a big move for us this offseason, in an offseason where we don't feel we have to make a ton of big moves," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said.
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Davis, Greg Holland and Kelvin Herrera combined to form a monster bullpen and help the Royals win the World Series in 2015. The Cubs recognized the importance of relievers in '16, adding Aroldis Chapman in late July to help them in the postseason. The Cubs did consider bringing back Chapman -- who reportedly signed with the Yankees late Wednesday night -- but decided to make what Hoyer called a good baseball deal.
"There's a number of excellent closers on the market," Hoyer said. "We loved our time with Chapman. We weighed everything and decided this was the right avenue to take."
During the past three seasons, Davis has posted a 1.18 ERA with 47 saves over 185 appearances. Cubs manager Joe Maddon knows the right-hander well from their time together in Tampa Bay (2009-12), and that helped sell the Cubs on dealing for Davis.
Davis, 31, was on the disabled list twice this season because of right forearm strains. When he came off the DL in September, he finished with a 3.12 ERA in nine outings, going 6-for-7 in save opportunities. Davis has given up three total home runs over 182 2/3 innings in the past three years. He will be a free agent after the 2017 season.
The Royals encouraged the Cubs to check out Davis personally, so head athletic trainer PJ Mainville flew to New York on Wednesday to do a physical exam.
"[Davis] had a terrific September, and we watched every outing and he looked really good," Hoyer said. "We felt really comfortable with the [medical] file and the examination and the way he threw in September."
Chapman proved how important a dominant closer can be in the postseason.
"We felt like when we made that deal, what we said was, 'If not now, when?'" Hoyer said. "We felt we were the best team in baseball, candidly, and we were in a good position to win our division. Given the way the playoffs are played now in some ways, we felt we needed that multiple-out guy at the back of the bullpen and obviously, Chapman was terrific for us. I know there's no chance we win the World Series without him -- all the outs he got for us late in the games."
Soler, 24, appeared to be the odd man out in the Cubs' outfield with Kyle Schwarber's return and Ben Zobrist's shift to left. In three seasons, Soler has batted .258 with 27 home runs and 98 RBIs. Leg injuries have limited Soler, who was on the DL this year because of a strained left hamstring.
"It's hard to trade a guy like that," Hoyer said of Soler. "Those players we brought in at the beginning of the rebuild, they mean a lot to us. Ultimately, we decided to do that in part because of the depth we have at the corner outfield with Kyle coming back, with Jason [Heyward] in the outfield.
"I wish Jorge all the best. He was great for us, a great teammate. I think this was a good baseball trade. This is a baseball deal. They get a really talented outfielder, a little more control, and we get an elite closer. Both sides feel good about what they're getting in return."
Maddon didn't call Davis to recruit him, but he did vouch for the pitcher's makeup and character with the Cubs' front office.
"He's definitely a difference-maker," Maddon said of Davis, who was a starter early in his career with the Rays. "He's well, he feels great. … He knows how to pitch, too. Part of the allure of him is that he's just not a thrower out there, he knows how to pitch."
Maddon also took time on Wednesday to call Héctor Rondón, who has been bumped from the closer's job once again.
"I wanted him to understand that Wade can't do it all the time and that [Rondon] needs to be ready and prepared to do it," Maddon said. "Ronnie is always good conversationally. I told him how much I respect him. He's always about team. Wade will close, but these other guys will benefit because of that."
Rondon was sidelined in August because of a strained right triceps, posting a 6.41 ERA in 22 second-half outings.
"When a guy gets hurt like that out of the bullpen, I feel like I'm responsible," Maddon said. "Maybe it was using him too much in different situations. At the end of the year, he wasn't as effective as he had been."
The addition of Davis should benefit all of the Cubs' relievers.
"By having this kind of depth, you don't have to put the burden on one or two guys," Maddon said. "Having Wade at the end permits us to use the other guys differently and pass out the workload."
Fantasy spin | Fred Zinkie (@FredZinkieMLB)
Now a member of the defending World Series champions, Davis has the talent (1.18 ERA, 0.89 WHIP from 2014-16) and supporting cast to be a major fantasy asset in '17. But the right-hander could rank outside the top tier of closer options because of health concerns stemming from a pair of arm-related DL stints last season. With Davis in the Windy City, Rondon will remain in a setup role -- and off '17 mixed-league draft lists -- while Herrera could join the second tier of fantasy stoppers as Davis' likely replacement.
Now free from Chicago's outfield logjam, the powerful Soler could be on the verge of a breakout 2017 campaign. While the slugger did not post head-turning stats in '16, he made encouraging strides that were masked by poor batted-ball fortune (.276 BABIP) and a lengthy absence due to a hamstring injury. Showing an improved grasp of the strike zone, the outfielder notched a career-best 0.5 BB/K ratio (0.3 over '14-15) with 12 homers across 264 plate appearances. With Soler gone, Javier Báez should be viewed as a major fantasy breakout candidate. Baez could produce more than 20 homers and 15 steals as the Cubs' regular second baseman now that versatile defender Zobrist has the opportunity to work primarily in left field.