- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN Insider
As soon as Wade Davis saw Andrew Friedman's phone number pop up on his caller ID on Sunday evening, he knew what it meant even before answering. Friedman explained that Davis had been traded, and the two spoke heartfelt words. Davis really likes the Tampa Bay Rays' general manager, and how he has been treated. "He's been really awesome to my family," Davis told me over the phone Monday.
Davis then spoke with Kansas City Royals general manager Dayton Moore, who told him flatly that the Royals acquired him to be part of their rotation -- a role that Davis once had with the Rays, and something that he wants again. "I've been champing at the bit to step back into starting," said Davis.
He is the real wild card in this trade. James Shields has a long-established resume as a frontline starter and Wil Myers, the centerpiece of the deal for Tampa Bay, is widely regarded as an elite prospect. If Davis ascends into a quality starter, as a complement to Shields and Jeremy Guthrie, the Royals' rotation will look very different, in a division in which lineups are generally weaker than in the AL East.
At the end of a spring training competition last year, Matt Moore beat out Davis for the No. 5 spot in the Rays' rotation, and Davis went to the bullpen and spent the summer learning about his delivery. While most starting pitchers have one bullpen session between starts, relievers throw much more often -- almost every day. Through the repetition, Davis explained, he smoothed out his delivery, eliminating his tendency to throw across his body.
As a starter, Davis had trouble keeping the ball low and away from right-handed hitters, an extremely important spot for any right-handed pitcher. In 29 starts for the Rays in 2010, he had gone 12-10 with a 4.07 ERA, and then in 2011, he was 11-10 with a 4.45 ERA.
But through that relievers' repetition, Davis was able to get to that down-and-away spot much more consistently, and he had a lot of success, striking out 87 in 70⅓ innings, with a 2.43 ERA. Starting versus relieving is oranges to apples, but his understanding of his mechanics seemed to work for him. In 2011, right-handed hitters batted .245 against him, with 50 strikeouts in 362 at-bats. In 2012, right-handed hitters had 142 at-bats against him, and he struck out 50 and held them to a .211 batting average, with 11 walks.
Davis also felt as though he learned about how to employ a cutter, which, for right-handed pitchers, can be an especially good weapon against left-handed hitters; in 2012, lefties had 112 at-bats against him and generated just three doubles and zero homers, with a .161 batting average. The improvement, he believes, was a matter of the collective changes he made.
"I had better velocity, and sharper command," he said.
Davis and Shields exchanged texts about the deal, and they'll have more time to talk later -- about finding a place in Kansas City, or their new teammates, or new catcher Salvador Perez, whom Davis watched during the season and recognized an ability to receive the ball well.
"It looks like it's a pretty good team, to have James and the guys in the bullpen," said Davis. "It looks pretty solid all the way through. I'm excited."
For Davis, the Royals now become a place of opportunity, to apply all that he learned about himself last summer.
The big deal
The Royals were extremely impressed by Shields' win-now attitude.
In talking with rival evaluators, this is picture they painted about the three main players acquired in the deal by Tampa Bay:
• Jake Odorizzi has a lot of pitching tools at his disposal, and he's now figuring out how to use them. His lack of overpowering stuff probably means he'll be slotted somewhere in the back half of a rotation.
• Mike Montgomery is said by scouts to have a big arm -- and serious command trouble, which explains how his ERA has been just under six runs per game over the past two seasons. One comparison I heard is to Matt Thornton of the White Sox; if Montgomery can tackle his control issue, he could have some impact in the big leagues. He has generated a lot of strikeouts and a lot of walks in his pro career.
• Wil Myers is a high-end talent, in the eyes of rival clubs, because of his power and his ability to get on base. "But he's not without his flaws," said one GM, noting the 140 strikeouts in the minors last year. "Plus, holes are exposed at the next level."
Yes, they are. Myers has been ranked as the No. 3 prospect overall in some projections. Consider the players rated as No. 3 by the highly respected Baseball America in the five-year period from 2006-2010:
2006: Brandon Wood
2007: Delmon Young
2008: Joba Chamberlain
2009: Colby Rasmus
2010: Giancarlo Stanton
Stanton has become a star; some haven't. That's not a knock on Baseball America; it's just a reflection of the reality that there is still some mystery in the projections of young players.
It's understandable why Royals fans don't like the trade.
• Tampa Bay needs a catcher and some offense, and A.J. Pierzynski remains unsigned. In some ways, he could be a fit, although rival evaluators don't have good things to say about his defense. One respected agent who has been canvassing the catching market thinks that eventually, there will be a reunion of Pierzynski with the White Sox this winter.
Around the league
• Now that the Dodgers have finished the Zack Greinke deal, they probably have finished their search for starting pitching -- unless something unexpected pops up, according to sources. And they can go about the process of marketing some of their surplus rotation guys, Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang.
The Dodgers have interest in Joel Hanrahan, and now that the Pirates have signed Jason Grilli, perhaps the Bucs will follow up on the talks they had with other clubs at the GM meetings, when they made it clear they would listen to offers for Hanrahan.
• The Cleveland Indians are still looking for the right deal for Asdrubal Cabrera, writes Paul Hoynes, and talked at the winter meetings about a swap of Cabrera to the Phillies. As written here last week, the Arizona Diamondbacks, Texas Rangers and Indians came very close to finishing a deal that would've resulted in Cabrera going to the Diamondbacks and Justin Upton going to the Rangers.
In the eyes of some rival evaluators: Dickey's desire for a two-year deal in the range of $26 million to $28 million is very fair. Think about it this way: With Dickey just one year from free agency, the Mets have been asking teams for difference-making prospects in their trade discussions, like Wil Myers. So why wouldn't the Mets be willing to pay him like a difference-maker?
Hiroki Kuroda will make $15 million in 2013, Andy Pettitte $12 million, Zack Greinke $24.5 million, Dan Haren $13 million, Joe Blanton $7.5 million. Dickey asking for $13 million is hardly an outlier.
Dickey has at least one more assignment with the Mets.
Moves, deals and decisions
3. Walt Jocketty has kept the Reds' rotation together.
4. The White Sox are actively seeking a left-handed bat.
5. The Brewers have been used by free agents to get rich elsewhere. From Tom Haudricourt's story:
Looking for a second consecutive division crown, Brewers owner Mark Attanasio stretched his payroll to a franchise-record $100 million in 2012. He lost that gamble when the team sputtered at midseason and dropped from the playoff race. Despite a late push by the Brewers, attendance dropped from 3.07 million to 2.83 million, and the Brewers finished well in the red for the year.
Those financial losses prompted Attanasio to lower his budget significantly for 2013. Melvin said he expected the team's payroll to be about $80 million or slightly above, depending on what personnel opportunities arise.
11. Scott Boras says he is talking with teams other than the Oakland Athletics about Stephen Drew. And the Athletics are talking about shortstops other than Drew, such as Jed Lowrie and Hiroyuki Nakajima. It would make a lot of sense for Drew to return to Oakland, which has a chance to be pretty good next season, but there is more haggling to be done.
• Now that Michael Young is gone, his impact will be appreciated, writes Kevin Sherrington. Young had kind words for his teammates and Rangers fans, but didn't have much to say about the team's front office, writes Jeff Wilson. The bottom line, friends say, is that he feels he has been lied to repeatedly.
• The Yankees are working out a deal with Ticketmaster.
• Lee Thomas reflects on the '93 Phillies.
• The Marlins could learn from the Rays, writes Linda Robertson.
A rival executive made a great point about the Rays' operation: From owner Stuart Sternberg to president Matt Silverman to GM Andrew Friedman and manager Joe Maddon, they all believe in the same philosophy and share a deep mutual respect. There is not infighting or backstabbing or backdoor drama; they work extremely well together. Most organizations have some sort of rivalry or internal dispute that corrodes the process of making personnel decisions.
• David O'Brien is dead on: If character and integrity are going to be viewed as significant factors in the Hall of Fame voting, then Dale Murphy should get in. That would be consistent and logical, given the handling of the candidacies of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, et al, by the majority of voters.
And today will be better than yesterday.