On March 31, 2011, Wade Davis was just about to enter his second full season for the Rays. Fresh off a year when he had produced a 12-10 record with a 4.07 ERA and 113 strikeouts in 168 innings of work, Davis had finished fourth in the Rookie of the Year Award voting, and was expected to continue his progress towards becoming a top of the rotation type of starter. He already appeared to be a solid middle of the rotation starter, with the potential to become much more.
As such, the Tampa Bay Rays, as they are wont to do, signed Davis to an extension, with four years at $12.6Million guaranteed, and three team options that would be worth an additional $22.5Million. Naturally, signing a pitcher to an extension after one full season in the majors comes with inherent risk, yet the reasonable financial obligations made the deal appear as though it would be a success.
Then the 2011 season happened. Davis regressed, posting an 11-10 season with a 4.45 ERA, and seeing his strikeout rate and K/BB ratio decrease. In 18 more innings, he gave up 25 more hits while striking out 8 fewer batters than the year before. Suddenly, the extension that appeared to be another masterstroke by the Rays front office appeared to be questionable.
Last season, Davis found himself squeezed out of the rotation due to the Rays astonishing pitching depth, and became their long reliever. And there, Davis transformed. His fastball had picked up another 1.8MPH, and suddenly he was striking out over 11 batters per nine innings. It appeared as though Davis may have found his niche in Tampa, and could even be considered as a potential closer down the line.
And now, Davis has been traded to the Kansas City Royals, along with James Shields, not even two years after signing that extension. In effect, it almost appears as though the Rays felt that the extension was a mistake, with Davis not being worth the value of his contract if he continued to work in middle relief, and moved him to a team desperate for pitching help, where he is expected to compete for a job in the now revamped Royals rotation. However, it is far too early to call the signing an error in judgement in it’s entirety.
Even if Davis never transforms into the starter that he was expected to be, the extension could still prove to be a good deal. Should Davis take over as a closer, and pitch as a closer as he did as a long reliever in 2012, then the remaining $32.6Milion over the next five years would be a bargain. Even mediocre closers such as Jose Valverde have made $9Million a year. Prior to his historically great season, Fernando Rodney made $5.5Million per year to be a league average pitcher for the Angels. However, if Davis languishes as a long reliever, or fails to build upon a solid 2012 season, then the extension could prove to be a mistake.
Of course, Wade Davis is no longer the concern of the Tampa Bay Rays. In the end, they paid just under $2Million for one mediocre season of Davis as a starter, and one solid year of him as a reliever. Plus, he helped the Rays acquire the top prospect in baseball in Wil Myers, and a top pitching prospect in Jake Odorizzi. By that basis alone, the extension almost has to be viewed as a success for the Rays.