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Injury, inefficiency ends the Wade Davis saga

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After losing the closer job to Daniel Bard, Davis was unable to complete the entirety of his three-year contract

Welcome to the 2020 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back at every player to log playing time for the Rockies in 2020. The purpose of this list is to provide a snapshot of the player in context. The “Ranking” is an organizing principle that’s drawn from Baseball Reference’s WAR (rWAR). It’s not something the staff debated. We’ll begin with the player with the lowest rWAR and end up with the player with the highest.

★ ★ ★

No. 36, Wade Davis: -0.7 rWAR

How excited were you on December 29, 2017 when the Rockies signed Wade Davis?

The Davis contract has officially expired, and the valiant attempt to acquire a closer from outside the Rockies’ system amounted to five appearances in the final year of the deal. Davis tallied 4 13 innings over those five outings, and allowed 10 earned runs en route to a 20.77 ERA.

This is the same Wade Davis that held a 1.18 ERA in his final three years with Kansas City (2014-2016). This is the same Davis that threw the final pitch of the 2015 World Series; the same reliever that collected three consecutive All-Star appearances before coming to Denver; the same closer that earned the National League save title in his first year with the Rockies.

For now, Davis furthers the lineage of recent Rockies bullpen struggles. Reliever deals can be volatile, but in Colorado, many have been explosive.

During spring training, Davis prompted some optimism prior to the March shutdown. He worked 3 13 scoreless innings against Cactus League hitters. A handful of his Summer Camp reports were desirable, too. Davis recorded back-to-back saves in Colorado’s first two wins of the regular season, and although he allowed a run in one of those two innings, he was off to a relatively good start.

After four days of rest, the optimism soured. Davis failed to complete an inning before allowing four earned runs to the Padres. He was later placed on the injured list with a right shoulder strain.

47 days after his outing with the Padres, Davis toed the rubber again. His first batter, Edwin Ríos, hit a gut-wrenching home run to right field.

Davis’ final appearance in a Rockies uniform came the following day. His line replicated his result against the Padres prior to the IL: 23 innings, four earned runs.

One day later, Davis was designated for assignment. We likely won’t see him in a Rockies uniform again.

We can only hope there are lessons for the Rockies to learn after his three-year, $52 million deal. Recent history highlights the fragility of reliever signings: when so many of those deals don’t pan out, what can we possibly learn?

Perhaps one of those lessons, although hardly a lesson, is to acknowledge that conventional wisdom can bear zero significance when it comes to predicting reliever success. At the time of Davis’ signing, who would have thought it would be Daniel Bard, years removed from professional baseball, taking over the closer duties? Who would have foreseen Jake McGee and Bryan Shaw wouldn’t even pitch in the final years of their deals?

One immediate question strikes Davis’ future, and it concerns whether he will pitch again in the big leagues.

It is presumable that he could sign a minor league deal with any big league club. Such an experience could be humbling after he was one of the most dominant pitchers in the game, but it may be necessary for him to make a return.

(Under that pretense: what if the Royals bring him back on a minor league deal?)

While it comes as no consolation for Rockies fans, at least Davis has tasted the successes of this game at the highest level. He’s left with the bitter taste of his 2019 and 2020 showings, but he earned his World Series ring five years ago. His body of work earned him a serious payday in both Chicago and Colorado. He persevered through the lowest of lows in his time with the Rockies, which is no easy task.

The Rockies, meanwhile, are left to distinguish how to move forward after such a signing. Since the departure of Huston Street, Colorado has featured eight closers in the past nine years (according to Baseball Reference).

For now, the race is on: will the Rockies find a perennial closer before the Broncos find a perennial quarterback?