At just past 5 p.m. here in suburban Washington, D.C., Royals general manager Dayton Moore milled about his suite at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention, took a seat near the room’s desk and pulled his iPhone from his left front pocket.
In this moment, the Royals were still sifting through potential trade offers and deals, still weighing franchise-altering decisions that could shape the 2017 season and beyond. The team, Moore said, was not close to a deal — not yet. But as Moore sat down with two reporters, he needed to check his latest message to make sure.
He looked at his screen and peered back up. Still nothing.
As the week began here at baseball’s Winter Meetings, the Royals arrived ready to listen to offers for closer Wade Davis and other members of their core. By Tuesday afternoon, as the rumor mill heated up and the reports began to fly, it appeared the club was holding out for a more substantial offer for Davis, the dominant closer who was integral in two straight American League pennants and a World Series championship.
But on late Tuesday night, the story began to change. The Chicago Cubs continued an aggressive pursuit of Davis, reportedly offering 24-year-old outfielder Jorge Soler in a deal, according to Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal. The trade was not yet official on late Tuesday night, but it appeared to be tracking in that direction.
There were possible hangups. As the news broke of the Cubs’ serious interest on Tuesday night, the Washington Nationals emerged as another serious suitor, according to ESPN’s Jayson Stark. Another possible holdup in any deal could involve Davis' medical history, which included two stints on the disabled list for flexor strains in his right forearm in 2016.
No deal is finished until it is official. Yet the Royals' reasons for trading their best reliever are seemingly transparent.
Facing financial limitations and a possible exodus of free agents after 2017, the Royals are seeking to cut payroll while replenishing their talent pool for the future. Inside the front office, the goal is simple: Contend in 2017 with the remnants of the 2015 World Series champions while trying to bridge the gap to 2018 and beyond.
“As is the case in every single Winter Meetings, there’s deals on the table,” Moore said on Tuesday afternoon. “There just is. It’s just a matter of timing.”
For the Royals, the timing for a Davis deal could make sense. With the market for relievers at an all-time high, Davis, 31, is a valued commodity and will make $10 million in 2017. The Royals also feel they have an in-house replacement in setup man Kelvin Herrera.
For the Royals’ bullpen, losing Davis would be a sizable loss, but the club appears more comfortable parting ways with a relief pitcher than one of their core position players.
“If it’s good, if it feels right, we’re going to do it,” Moore said. “If it’s the right thing to do.”
Soler, who defected from Cuba in 2011, has batted .258 with a .328 on-base percentage and 27 homers in 211 career games. He has been strikeout-prone in his first three seasons and an average defender, according to advanced metrics, but he offers power potential in a corner outfield spot.
He is also under contract for four more seasons at $17.6 million.
In the last three seasons, Davis has posted a 1.18 ERA while allowing just three homers. After spending most of 2014 and 2015 as a setup man to Greg Holland, he took over the closer role in late 2015 and was brilliant during the postseason, closing out the second world championship in club history.
As the Davis news broke on Tuesday night, other reports surfaced that the Oakland Athletics were making a push for Royals outfielder Jarrod Dyson, 32, who could be deemed expendable in a deep Kansas City outfield.
The Dyson news was first reported by Joel Sherman of the New York Post.