To improve their chances of overtaking their chief divisional rival in 1990, the KC Royals signed pitcher Storm Davis to a lucrative free agent contract. Then, they signed a second Davis to an even bigger deal. The results were eerily similar.
For the Kansas City Royals, the signing of Storm Davis in December 1989, a move designed to bolster the club’s pursuit of AL West Division rival and World Series champion Oakland, wasn’t enough. Davis was a starter and the club desperately wanted a veteran lock-down closer to fill the shoes of Dan Quisenberry, who so mysteriously lost his touch after the team’s World Series victory in 1985. Jeff Montgomery had assumed the role in ’89, but the KC Royals wanted more.
So it was that they went after another Davis — Mark, late of the San Diego Padres and considered by many the top closer in the game. Davis had saved 72 games, including a National League high 44 in 1989, since becoming the Padres’ main closer in 1988. He made the All-Star team both seasons and in ’89 won the National League Cy Young Award, the rarest of prizes for relief pitchers. He struck out 8.9 batters per nine innings that year and had a 9.3 SO9 the season before.
That Kansas City signed Davis was as surprising as the money they signed him for, hotly pursued by several richer teams, the Royals landed him for four years at $13 million. The deal’s average yearly salary of $3.25 million was the largest annual salary in the game’s history.
It turned out to be money horribly spent.
Davis immediately supplanted future Royals’ Hall of Famer Montgomery as the club’s closer, but saved only six games in 1990. Although he still struck out hitters with impressive frequency (9.6 SO9), he struggled with control, walked too many batters (6.8 BB9), and gave up too many runs (5.11 ERA, 5.64 RA9). Before July was over, Montgomery had reclaimed the closer’s job.
Trying to salvage something of Davis, the Royals tinkered with him as a starter in 1991 and ’92, but he remained primarily a reliever. He went a cumulative 7-6 with one save in 42 games before the club traded him to the Braves in July of ’92 for Juan Berenguer, who went 1-4 with a 5.64 ERA the rest of the season and never pitched in the majors again. It seemed a fitting end to the Royals’ failed association with Davis.
From the moment Davis gave up 12 runs in 13 innings and blew three consecutive save opportunities in May of his first Royals season, until he threw his last pitch for Milwaukee in 1997, he was never the same pitcher who saved 44 games and won a Cy Young in 1989. His decline with the Royals was shocking; the depth of disappointment surpassed that of Storm Davis’ KC deal and figured significantly in the club’s failure to catch Oakland. His signing ranks here as the worst free agent deal in Royals’ history.
The KC Royals typically don’t spend much on free agents. Perhaps their unfortunate experiences with Storm Davis, Omar Infante, and Mark Davis have something to do with that approach.