Boston Red Sox tried to trade for Kansas City Royals closer Wade Davis


The Boston Red Sox made a strong run at Royals closer Wade Davis, who was ultimately shipped to the Chicago Cubs instead.

Dave Dombrowski managed to find a solution for the eighth inning void in the Boston Red Sox bullpen, but Tyler Thornburg wasn’t his first choice.

WEEI’s Rob Bradford reports that the Red Sox made a push to acquire Wade Davis from the Kansas City Royals, only for the All-Star closer to be dealt to the Chicago Cubs instead.

While it seems Boston may have come close to enticing the Royals into a trade, Kansas City preferred Chicago’s offer of outfielder Jorge Soler over third baseman Travis Shaw. Once it became clear that Davis wasn’t coming to Boston, Dombrowski moved on by flipping Shaw, along with minor league prospects Mauricio Dubon and Josh Pennington, to the Milwaukee Brewers for Thornburg.

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Not that there’s anything wrong with that outcome. Thornburg is a solid choice to serve as the new setup man, coming off of a season in which he posted a 2.15 ERA and 12.1 K/9 rate. He spent most of the season working primarily in the seventh and eighth inning before moving into the closer seat after the trade deadline. Thornburg racked up 13 saves last season, showing he’s capable of filling in as the closer if anything were to happen to Craig Kimbrel. He’s the type of power arm the Red Sox coveted for the eighth inning role and he should prove to be a reliable option late in games.

But, wow, how great would this bullpen have looked with Davis in that spot instead? The 31-year old owns an obscene 1.18 ERA and 11.5 K/9 over the past three seasons since transitioning into a full-time reliever. He has converted 44 of 48 (91.6 percent) save opportunities since taking over as the Royals closer mid-way through the 2015 season, quickly establishing himself as one of the elite at that position.

Prior to that he was a lights out setup man behind Greg Holland in a stacked Royals bullpen. In that role he proved he could dominate in any inning he was asked to work in, he could toss multiple innings when needed and his manager could feel safe handing him the ball knowing Davis would get the game to his closer with the lead intact.

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The Red Sox should have one of the better bullpens in the American League, led by the tandem of Kimbrel and Thornburg, along with a returning Carson Smith and converted starter Joe Kelly. Even the strongest lineups will have trouble making a comeback late in the game against that group, but adding a pitcher the caliber of Davis would have made this unit a monster. The Kimbrel-Davis combo would strike fear into any opponent, forcing them to claim a lead early if they have any intention of winning – not an easy task considering the Red Sox rotation now boasts three of the top starters in the league.

As tantalizing as the idea of adding Davis would have been, Boston is arguably better off in how things panned out. Trumping Chicago’s offer would have meant adding more to the deal than they ultimately sent to Milwaukee and Dombrowski needed to keep his best assets available for the blockbuster that was to come later that day when he acquired Chris Sale from the Chicago White Sox. In the wake of all the trades Dombrowski has made in the past year or so, Boston’s farm system is nearly barren, while going all in for Davis would only have depleted it further.

We also have to consider that Davis is owed $10 million this season in the final year of his current contract. Not only would his salary make it more difficult for the Red Sox to dodge the luxury tax, but he could potentially bolt after one season in search of another opportunity to be a closer.

Thornburg isn’t quite as dominant as Davis, but he’s still very good. He’s likely to earn just north of $2 million in his first year of arbitration and remains under team control until 2020. He’s not better than Davis, but he is a better value.

Also noteworthy is that these are two pitchers trending in different directions. Thornburg has increased his inning total out of the bullpen and his strikeout rate, while seeing a significant decrease in his ERA over the last three seasons. Davis still had a fantastic 1.87 ERA last season, but that’s a fairly big jump from the ridiculous numbers he put up the previous two years, while his innings and strikeout rate are also trending in the wrong direction.

Next: Red Sox relying heavily on Pablo Sandoval

Red Sox fans will end up being quite content with Thornburg in the bullpen, but with the knowledge that Dombrowski was perhaps on the verge of landing an even bigger fish in Davis we can’t help but wonder what might have been.