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Explaining Wade Davis's full impact on Cubs and hidden value as a free agent

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USA TODAY

Explaining Wade Davis's full impact on Cubs and hidden value as a free agent

The Cubs understand Wade Davis cannot only be measured in saves (76 across the last three seasons) or career postseason ERA (1.40) or All-Star appearances (three years running). There is real value to the way Davis interacts with teammates, the peace of mind that comes with the ninth inning and the outsized influence those elite closers have in the playoffs.

That makes Davis such an interesting case study for a front office that generally avoids long-term commitments to closers, viewing the job as too narrow and too volatile and believing that the next great reliever can develop organically.

Maybe the Cubs will ultimately decide that they need to pour their resources into filling roughly 400 rotation innings while planning for next winter’s blue-chip class of free agents and the escalating costs for their young hitters.

Davis is 32 years old and coming off a season where he put up a career-high walk rate, got hit noticeably harder in the second half and threw 92 pitches in his last two playoff appearances.

Davis also has a 32-for-33 in save chances on his 2017 stat sheet, a World Series ring from the 2015 Kansas City Royals, a more sophisticated ninth-inning style than, say, Aroldis Chapman’s 100-mph fastball and a reputation for being a baseball gym rat and a pitcher whisperer.

“He is always trying to learn, always trying to figure things out,” said Brian Duensing, another free-agent reliever who would be a good fit as the Cubs rebuild their bullpen. “The guy’s so well-prepared. He’s got great stuff, obviously. But he’s also a guy that knows what he has. He knows the type of pitcher he is, and he’s constantly in the film room looking at video.

“He has an approach every time he faces a team. He knows what he wants to do to certain guys. He’ll even talk about it to us in the bullpen.

“He won’t talk about every hitter, but there will be two or three guys. He’s just like: ‘This guy is a prime candidate for’ – whatever, a front-hip cutter – and sure enough he faces the guy and he called the whole at-bat four innings beforehand.”

Duensing remembered being with the Royals on a minor-league deal for spring training in 2016 and how Davis subtly pointed him in a new direction.

“Literally, we were sitting next to each other and he was talking about some mechanical things (Zack) Greinke would do,” Duensing said. “(Wade) said (Greinke) would try this and this and that. I’m like: ‘Oh, that makes sense.’ So I went out and tried doing it from the left side. I’m like: ‘Oh, well, that feels way more comfortable than I had been feeling for two years now.’”

Duensing wound up earning a role with the Baltimore Orioles bullpen in 2016, parlaying that into a one-year, $2 million deal with the defending World Series champs, posting a 2.74 ERA in 68 appearances for the Cubs and becoming part of Joe Maddon’s playoff circle of trust.

“(Wade) turned my career around a little bit,” Duensing said. “I had been struggling for a while, but he helped me kind of find my release point again, and it felt comfortable to be on the mound, just by having a nonchalant conversation with him.”

Are those quiet leadership skills worth the four-year, $62 million contract the San Francisco Giants gave Mark Melancon last offseason? Probably not, but presence and intangibles do matter as the Cubs try to reboot Carl Edwards Jr., fix Justin Wilson and overhaul their bullpen while continuing to be a 90-win team that’s expected to compete for a World Series title.

“He’s just cool, calm, collected – ‘Triple Cs,’ I call him,” Edwards said. “Watching him, it’s like reading one book – ‘Three Little Pigs’ – over and over again. Sooner or later, you’re going to know exactly how to do it, and you’re going to know exactly what the story is. Just watching Wade, it actually gave me some motivation and it gave me a lot more confidence.”

The Cubs have traded for two of the game’s best closers within the last 16 months, using Chapman and Davis as short-term solutions and setting up one of their most critical decisions this winter: Can they afford to not think big again?

“Wade has been such a big factor for us,” general manager Jed Hoyer said, “not only in terms of how he pitches in the ninth inning, but there’s also a calmness and a consistency to him that I think is contagious to the guys in the bullpen.

“We’ve been really fortunate to have him this year. There’s no doubt there’s a disproportionate value in a bullpen in October. We’ve seen that for the last few years, and that’s not going to go away.”

White Sox surprised that nobody has acquired Miguel Gonzalez

White Sox surprised that nobody has acquired Miguel Gonzalez

MINNEAPOLIS -- The White Sox remain in let’s-make-a-deal-mode, Miguel Gonzalez has pitched well for six weeks and yet he’s still here.

If you’re surprised by that development, you’re not alone.

Even the White Sox starting pitcher’s manager reflected his astonishment about the status of Gonzalez roughly 90 minutes before he took the mound on Thursday. Gonzalez pitched well yet again, though the White Sox ultimately lost to the Minnesota Twins 5-4 at Target Field. It was the eighth quality start produced by the free-agent-to be in nine outings since he returned from the disabled list on July 18. The waiver trade deadline for Major League Baseball falls at 11 p.m. CST on Thursday night.

“A little bit (surprised),” Renteria said. “He’s pitched against some of the top clubs in the big leagues in his last four or five starts and has done a nice job keeping us in ballgames and minimizing damage, to a run or two in some or most of the starts. But I am surprised. He has done a great job. I wouldn’t be surprised (if he’s traded). It’s still not midnight yet so if today is the day, I wouldn’t be surprised if something would happen.”

The market for Gonzalez has been relatively quiet with few exceptions. Given that Gonzalez has a 3.27 ERA since he returned from a shoulder injury in mid-July and is affordable (he’s owed a little more than $1 million), the White Sox had to believe their asset would drum up more interest.  

Though he doesn’t overpower hitters with the fastball, Gonzalez has a nice mix of pitches and has proven to be consistent and likes attacking the strike zone. Gonzalez posted a 3.45 ERA between 2012-2014 for the Baltimore Orioles. He struggled in 2015 and did so again earlier this season after a shoulder injury limited his ability. Prior to the injury, however, Gonzalez pitched well for the White Sox in 2017, posting a 3.18 ERA in his first six starts after he finished 2016 on a good run. Gonzalez posted a 2.72 ERA over his final 13 starts of 2016 (79 1/3 innings).

But for now at least, a run of seven poor starts from mid-May to mid-June in which Gonzalez had a 7.15 ERA and eventually landed on the disabled list has tempered the interest. Since returning, Gonzalez has only had on rough outing on Aug. 3 at Boston as he got chased after 1 2/3 innings.

“I saw him throw in Boston and he didn’t throw well, but he still has good stuff,” one American League scout said. “I’d like to have him. He could at least pitch out of the bullpen.”

Gonzalez said he has tried to avoid thinking about the potential for a trade even as the White Sox traded a boatload of players over the past six weeks.

Anything that isn’t nailed down has been on alert to the possibility of a trade since the White Sox began to offload players last December with the trades of Chris Sale and Adam Eaton. The process included a series of trades in July that saw the departures of Jose Quintana, Todd Frazier, David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, Dan Jennings, Anthony Swarzak and later Tyler Clippard.

But Gonzalez, who was stunned to be released by the Baltimore Orioles at the end of spring training in 2016, has enjoyed his time with the White Sox. He’s 12-18 with a 4.01 ERA in 45 games (44 starts) since coming over and credits the White Sox for giving him a chance after a rough 2015 season.

Gonzalez has been one of the team’s steadiest pitchers since he returned in July. On Thursday, the right-hander said he wasn’t as crisp as normal but got by in the early innings because the Twins had an aggressive approach. The Twins doubled three times off Gonzalez in the fifth inning to score twice and tie the game. But Gonzalez stranded the go-ahead run with a strikeout of Eduardo Escobar and retired four straight to get through the sixth. Gonzalez allowed three earned runs, seven hits and walked two while striking out five in a 110-pitch effort over six innings.

“Not thinking about it, honestly,” Gonzalez said. “If something happens then it’s meant to be. But if it doesn’t than I’m here all the way with the White Sox.

“It is what it is. Nothing that we can control. We’ve got to keep pitching, keep going out there every fifth day and try to make things happen.

“I’m happy (with my recent performances). A lot of positives. Been able to go out there until the sixth, seventh inning, even to the eighth. That’s a blessing in disguise. Struggling for a lot of months and to be able to come back and do that has been great.”

Nicky Delmonico gets opportunity to showcase himself with rebuilding with White Sox

Nicky Delmonico gets opportunity to showcase himself with rebuilding with White Sox

The rebuilding White Sox have called up another one of their talented prospects.

The White Sox announced on Tuesday they have purchased the contract of infielder/outfielder Nicky Delmonico from Triple-A Charlotte.

Delmonico takes the roster spot of outfielder Willy Garcia who was placed on the seven-day DL with a concussion.

Delmonico, 25, is slashing .262/.347/.421 with 12 home runs and 45 RBI in 99 games with Charlotte this season. Delmonico was named to the International League All-Star Team earlier this season.

Delmonico, who has no major league experience, was originally selected by the Baltimore Orioles in the 6th round of the 2011 MLB Draft  out of Tennessee. In 490 games spanning across six minor-league seasons, Delmonico has a .257/.341/.432 slash line with 61 homers and 248 RBI.

Garcia was injured in Monday's victory after he collided with rookie second baseman Yoan Moncada tracking down a fly ball in short right field.

The 24-year-old Garcia is slashing .258/.317/.441 with two home runs and 11 RBI in 40 games with the White Sox in 2017.

The White Sox continue a three-game series with the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday night at Guaranteed Rate Field.