February 10th. That's how deep into the off-season we had to make it before one of the premier, big four free agents finally signed (Darvish, Arrieta, JDM, Hosmer). There's been a lot written about why this has been the case. There will continue to be a lot written about it. I have some thoughts, but first, I am just so excited we finally have some baseball news so let's get to that first:
According to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, Yu Darvish has agreed to a six year, $126 million contract with the Chicago Cubs. Incentives could bring the total value up to $150 million. My first thought? Good for the Cubs. They are built to win now, and both their front office and ownership recognize that. This Darvish signing is yet another move by future HOFer Theo Epstein that indicates he wants to win multiple championships with this core. Let's take a look:
-Heading into 2015 signed Jon Lester to a six year, $155 million contract
-Heading into 2016 signed Jason Heyward to an eight year, $184 million contract
-At the 2016 trade deadline sent top prospect Gleyber Torres in a package for Aroldis Chapman
-At the 2017 trade deadline sent top prospect Eloy Jimenez in a package for Jose Quintana
-Heading into 2018 signed Yu Darvish to a six year, $126 million contract
This doesn't always happen with teams that are built to win, especially once they already get a championship. Look at the Mets right now. Shouldn't that ownership be making even more moves when they have Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, and Yoenis Cespedes all under contract and in their primes? Uhhhh yes they should be. A few years ago small market Kansas City mortgaged their future to upgrade the 2015 Royals. They're paying for it now, no doubt, but they won a championship. Every Royals fan will tell you it's worth the trade off.
Darvish is going to slide into a rotation that also features Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana, and Tyler Chatwood. In 2017 the Cubs posted the fourth best ERA in the National League, and the eighth best in all of baseball. Pitching was already a strength for them and Darvish definitely makes up for the now assumed loss of Jake Arrieta.
As for what Darvish brings to the table the answer is a loooooot of strikeouts. Since coming to the majors in 2012 the 31-year-old is averaging 11 K/9 for his career to go along with a 126 ERA+. This is a Tommy John survivor who, while he isn't as electric as he once was, is still a legitimate top of the rotation guy. In 2017 Darvish pitched 186 2/3 innings, struck out 209, posted a 3.86 ERA, and accumulated 3.3 WAR. He faded down the stretch (and got obliterated in the World Series) but he certainly makes the Cubs better.
That isn't to say he comes without red flags. Any time you sign a pitcher over 30 to a long term deal there is going to be risk. Additionally, Darvish's 10.1 K/9 in 2017 is the lowest of his career. His 118 ERA+ was his worst since he was a rookie. By the time this contract expires it will be 2023. That should be somewhat scary for Cubs fans. 2023 sounds far away, because it is far away.
But that's a problem for the future. After winning the World Series in 2016 the Cubs experienced a championship hangover to start the season last year. The team was basically playing .500 ball for the first half before rallying to win their second straight division title. They won an epic five-game showdown in the NLDS against the playoff tortured Nationals, but ran out of gas in a NLCS loss to the Dodgers. NL Central competitors saw an opening so it was important for the Cubs to counter moves made by the Cardinals (Marcell Ozuna) and Brewers (Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain) this winter. Darvish is a risky signing, but the time to make a risky signing is when you have a championship core already intact. Good for the Cubs.