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The Padres’ acquiring Yu Darvish from the Cubs demonstrates two teams going in very different directions

This week’s major trade shows the Padres continue to improve their Major League club while the Cubs’ goal is to shed payroll. 

National League Wild Card Game 2: Miami Marlins v. Chicago Cubs Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Late Monday night Cubs’ beat writer Sahadev Sharma reported that the Cubs and Padres reached a deal to send Yu Darvish to San Diego for Zach Davies and a pile of prospects.

The trade is great news for Padres fans, who gave up little more than a mid-rotation / back-end starter, and prospect lottery tickets that may or may not pan-out for Chicago in the next five years.

Let’s start with the positives here. San Diego is improving significantly and quickly. After acquiring former Cy Young winner Blake Snell from the Rays, the Padres turned around and offered the Cubs presumably the best package for an excellent pitcher.

With significant farm depth, the Padres positioned themselves to improve this offseason, and their timing could not have been better. While nearly every other team is sitting idle this offseason, wringing their hands and licking their wounds about revenue lost due to COVID, San Diego is building an excellent roster that looks on paper like it’s ready to compete with the Dodgers for NL dominance.

Darvish was a three-win player in 2020, even with the COVID-shortened season that allowed him to start only 12 games. In a normal and healthy season, Darvish would likely start about 30 games. He consistently strikes out 30+ percent of the batters he faces, and he holds the record for most strikeouts per nine innings in MLB history(!).

Darvish is in the middle of a six-year, $129 million contract, meaning the Padres will control him through the 2023 season. At the age of 34, he’s still a very effective pitcher, and one who will easily slot-in as the number one starter, with the proven Snell as the number two. Behind them are youngsters 24-year-old Chris Paddack and Dinelson Lamet, who pitched very well in 12 starts last season, but missed the postseason due to an elbow injury (never good news).

Darvish gives the Padres a legitimate ‘ace’ and likely innings-eater who will no doubt relish the chance to be on a competitive team.

As high as the Padres stock is, the Cubs stock continues to spiral downward. With Jon Lester and Jose Quintana free agents, and no longer in the possession of Darvish, Chicago’s rotation has been decimated. Chicago got Zach Davies in return for Darvish; he and Kyle Hendricks are the only decent starters currently rostered by the Cubs, and Davies is obviously a significant downgrade from Darvish.

In addition to Davies, the Cubs received prospects Reginald Preciado, Owen Caissie, Yeison Santana, and Ismael Mena. None of those players has been that highly-touted, and it seems the Cubs salary-dump was more about lottery tickets than receiving anyone projected to be a major impact on the big league club any time soon.

Preciado is an athletic, switch-hitting infielder from Panama, and is likely to be the only player involved in the trade who will be a top-100 prospect in 2021. At the age of 17, it’s hard to tell him timeline and upside.

Yeison Santana is another infielder. The 20-year-old shortstop just adds to the growing list of prospect shortstops in Chicago’s system.

Ismael Mena is a likely corner outfielder who may end up playing center in a crowded Cubs system. Again, it’s hard to tell his future value due to his youth and inexperience (a common theme of this trade).

Owen Caissie was an overlooked Canadian draftee in the 2020 draft. He’s a low-probability MLB player who looks like more of a throw-in than anything else in this trade.

This is hardly a return that would get anyone excited for the future, and what’s really startling is that this return is so light...and yet was likely the best the Cubs could find in the market. This trade speaks volumes about the current state of MLB competitiveness, and how much of an impact owners have in hamstringing their front offices.

An ancillary storyline to all of this is that the Cubs fought tooth-and-nail to keep Kris Bryant cost-controlled for 2021, a season in which they’re not likely to be competitive. We’re less than five years removed from the Cubs 2016 World Championship, yet it seems like a very long time ago.


Steven Martano is an Editor at Beyond the Box Score, a Contributing Prospect Writer for the Colorado Rockies at Purple Row, and a contributing writer for The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano