The possibility of extensions for several core Cubs players has been a hot topic this spring, but it’s been discussed for the past several years. From Javy Báez to Anthony Rizzo to Kris Bryant, the hot stove has ranged from lukewarm to, well, not even operational in terms of the chances to sign long-term deals with players approaching free agency.
While David Bote and Kyle Hendricks each signed very friendly multi-year extensions early on in the 2019 season, both were very team-friendly and were inked prior to or very early in the 2019 season. Not to mention Bote approached the Cubs with the offer, it wasn’t prompted by the team.
Strong arguments can and have been made in favor of extensions for Bryant, Báez, and especially Rizzo, the team’s de facto captain who’s been on an almost embarrassingly small deal since 2013. All of these make at least some degree of sense. Outside of that big trio, followed closely by Willson Contreras, it’s a newer Cub that has perhaps the most obvious case for an extension: Zach Davies.
Davies got his Cubs career off to a strong start in Sunday’s series finale, tossing 5.2 solid innings to set his new team up for an opening series win. Of course, the argument for keeping him around beyond this season has deeper roots than an impressive Cubs debut.
While his arrival was clouded somewhat by his connection to the much-maligned Yu Darvish trade, Davies’ career has been defined by consistently solid performance that strongly resembles the pitcher mentioned above. Like Hendricks, Davies continually vexes the computers and human evaluators by out-pitching his projections.
Despite lacking the kind of fastball velocity that has become de rigueur in today’s game, the former Brewer has achieved success by inducing weak contact by combining his 89 mph heat with an effective sinker and an outstanding changeup.
The latter of those has become an increasingly important part of his arsenal in the last two seasons, topping off at a 41.3% usage rate in his highly successful 2020 campaign.
Davies was in the top half of baseball when it came to inducing weak contact in last year’s pandemic shortened season and has been in the top third in other seasons. He has largely been effective at keeping the ball on the ground as well, but the bigger key is preventing hitters from barreling him up. We saw plenty of that at Wrigley on Sunday in a game filled with grounders and lazy pop flies that led to quick innings.
So how about that extension?
At barely 28 years old, Davies is in fact the second-youngest starter in the Cubs’ rotation. Given his age and the fact that his success isn’t rooted in having overwhelming “stuff,” there isn’t a particular reason to think he’s heading toward any kind of marked decline in the near future. There’s more to it than what Davies brings to the table, though.
The need on the Cubs’ end is there and, boy, it’s obvious. Other than Adbert Alzolay, Hendricks is the only starter signed beyond this year. Whatever direction the team plans to head in 2022, they’ll need to get innings out of the starting rotation. Even with other young pitchers presumably — and finally — ready to carry some of that load, depending on untested prospects to fill 60% of the rotation probably isn’t a great idea.
The money should be there, too. With any number of big contracts set to fall off the payroll this offseason, the Cubs have minimal payroll commitments going into 2022. I’m as impatient with ownership crying poor as anyone, but Davies is unlikely to secure a lucrative enough deal to offend the sensibilities of the Marlins, much less the Cubs.
If we take The Professor’s four-year, $55 million contract and then walk it back a bit based on overall performance, we might expect a moderately less juicy offer doing the trick. I would guess four years at $45 million is a deal Davies would be likely to sign. Even for the supposedly cash-strapped Cubs, it’s the kind of deal that makes almost too much sense not to do.
So while we’re all brooding over the fact that the Cubs’ various superstars don’t yet have their extensions, there’s room for even more brooding in Wrigleyville. The need is obvious, the fit is there, and the Cubs should find a way to get a deal done.