Before Boston acquired reliever Tyler Thornburg from Milwaukee on Tuesday, the Red Sox made a run at then-Kansas City closer Wade Davis, reports Rob Bradford of WEEI. Corner infielder Travis Shaw was the major league headliner the Red Sox surrendered for Thornburg, but he wasn’t enticing enough to the Royals in a Davis deal, a source told Bradford. The Royals instead preferred now-former Cubs outfielder Jorge Soler, whom they acquired for Davis in a one-for-one swap on Wednesday.
Landing Davis would have given the Red Sox two of the majors’ most proven closers in him and Craig Kimbrel, though the former has more setup experience and likely would have served in that role in Boston. Davis has been dominant since 2014, his first year as a full-time reliever, but picking up him instead of Thornburg would have put a greater dent in the payroll of a Red Sox franchise that’s trying to stay under the $195MM luxury-tax threshold. The 31-year-old Davis would have cost the team $10MM in 2017, the last season of his contract, while Thornburg is set to rake in a much more modest salary (an estimated $2.2MM, per MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz) in his age-28 campaign. Thornburg is controllable through 2019 via arbitration and could potentially give the Red Sox a top-caliber setup man over the next three seasons. While he doesn’t have Davis’ track record, Thornburg is nonetheless coming off a breakout year, having recorded a 2.15 ERA, 12.09 K/9 and 3.36 BB/9 across a career-high 67 innings.
As is often the cases with pitchers, both relievers carry health risks: Davis was on the disabled twice last season because of forearm and flexor strains, and the Brewers shut down Thornburg early in 2014 on account of a UCL injury that nearly led to Tommy John surgery.
Meanwhile, that the Royals went for the upside play in Soler over Shaw is understandable. The soon-to-be 25-year-old Soler’s also younger (2017 will be Shaw’s age-27 season), though he comes with less control. Shaw won’t be a free agent until after the 2021 season, and he has two pre-arbitration years remaining, whereas Soler can hit the open market at the end of the 2020 campaign. He can also opt into arbitration beginning next winter, which seems likely if he comes closer to realizing his vast potential. For now, though, the Cuba native is due a modest $15MM over the remainder of the nine-year, $30MM contract he signed with the Cubs in 2012.