The long, cold MLB offseason has finally produced a free agent signing of over $100 million. It is the first time this has happened since the Mets signed Yoenis Céspedes to a $110 million deal in November of 2016.
The Cubs have signed Yu Darvish to a six-year $126 million deal. The deal includes an opt-out, the details of which have not been disclosed at the time of this writing but have been surmised by Jerry Crasnick. It also reportedly includes incentives that could raise the amount of the deal to $150 million. However, what has been reported about these incentives is ridiculous. Darvish needs to win multiple Cy Young awards for that to happen. In a league that has Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, and Noah Syndergaard, among others, he has a minuscule shot of accomplishing this goal. In 2018 alone, he would have to outperform even his 90th percentile PECOTA projections in order to be anywhere close to the NL’s best pitchers.
At one point in his career, Darvish could have been described as a true ace. He has not been quite the same player since Tommy John surgery caused him to miss all of 2015 and the first two months of 2016. In the three seasons prior to the surgery, Darvish had a career 3.48 RA9, but he has had a 3.95 RA9 in the season and a half since then. On the bright side, the surgery has not affected his velocity, and his control has actually improved a little.
Darvish had a stronger 2017 season than the results might indicate. His 4.00 RA9 and 27.3 K%, while quite good, were the worst since his rookie season. However, his Deserved Run Average was outstanding. His 3.08 DRA is nearly a run lower than his RA9, and it ranked 11th in baseball among pitchers with at least 130 IP. The biggest driver of that low DRA is that Darvish did a great job of punching out hitters without giving out many free passes.
Of course, we all know how Darvish’s season ended. Even though he was effective over the nine starts he had with the Dodgers, he performed poorly in the postseason. He had a 6.97 RA9 over four playoff starts. Normally such a small sample size is meaningless unless there was an underlying cause. Well, there were claims that Darvish was tipping his pitches. If there is any truth to that, we should be confident that the Cubs’ coaches can fix it.
I doubt that Darvish’s poor postseason run had anything to do with his underwhelming deal from a player’s perspective. The Cubs are too smart for that, but it is underwhelming nevertheless. To be fair, it is definitely at least two years too long for a pitcher going into his age-31 season. That being said, in an industry that made $10 billion in 2017 without any signs of slowing down, the best pitcher available in free agency is easily worth $30 million more than he will be paid. Honestly, I would not have balked at the deal if it were worth $175 million. The Cubs have the need, they have plenty of money, and they are one of the best teams in baseball.
Speaking of which, despite all the great moves that the Brewers have made this offseason, the Cubs could probably have stood pat and still be positioned to end up winning the division comfortably. Even elite teams should always be looking to get better, and the Cubs still have the Dodgers and Nationals to contend with at the top of the NL.
With the departure of Jake Arrieta, the Cubs’ rotation was looking pretty thin behind José Quintana, an aged Jon Lester, and Kyle Hendricks. They addressed this early in the offseason by signing Tyler Chatwood to a three-year, $36 million deal. His 4.53 RA9 the past two seasons is actually pretty good when you remember that he pitched in Coors Field. On the other hand, he walked too many batters and had a below-average strikeout rate. That is still better than whatever replacement level pitcher the Cubs would have had to turn to otherwise.
Darvish is comfortably worth 3-4 wins more than Eddie Butler, Mike Montgomery, or whomever was going to fill that last rotation spot. That is an absurdly good value at $21 million a year for a team like the Cubs. Darvish could be half as good as that and the team would still be getting their money’s worth.
If there was any truth to the rumors that Darvish was linked to the Brewers, this signing has got to be especially disappointing for their fans. I do not believe that Darvish would have been enough for them to catch the Cubs, but you can imagine how much that gap widens now. We might never know why he chose the Cubs, but if it was just money, the Brewers’ front office should be kicking themselves.
Considering what a bargain this contract is for the Cubs, one has to wonder how the MLBPA is going to feel about it. The Cubs are owned by the Ricketts family, who are billionaires that don’t need to save tens of millions of dollars. It is great to see a top free agent get a nine-figure deal, but if all the top free agents end up signing for lower salaries, it is going to continue to add to the unrest between players and owners.
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.