Yu Darvish has been traded for Zach Davies and four young prospects in a highly criticized trade by Jed Hoyer. While it is a bit too soon to judge, and as we wait on other moves that make the Cubs' plans a bit more clear, we have several reactions to the Darvish trade.
I didn't care for it at first, but I've come around. I still hate the fact that the Cubs might be rebuilding and that this might be the end of the Bryzzo era. That said, Jed Hoyer got fair value for Yu Darvish. Considering Yu's age and contract, Hoyer was never going to get a top 5 prospect for him.
Yu has 3 years and 59 million left on his deal. My question is, what would he be worth on the free agent market? He's going into his age 34 season. He's obviously coming off a great stretch. Not season. Stretch, as he pitched just 12 games in the COVID-shortened 2020. Here's a list of the overall largest contracts for pitchers who signed a free agent deal at age 34 or later, sorted by average annual value (AAV).
Justin Verlander age 36 2 years/$66m $33m aav
Yu Darvish: age 34 3 years/$59m $19.6m AAV
Rich Hill: age 36 3 years/$48m $16m AAV
Derek Lowe: age 35 4 years/$60m $15m AAV
Randy Johnson: age 34 4 years/$52.4m $13.1m AAV
Ted Lilly: age 34 3 years/$33m $11m AAV
Yu on the free agent market would be a tough deal to nail down. He's coming off a Cy Young worthy season, but he also looked like a total bust in 2018. Would he get the same $20 million per year he's making now? I think that he would get 3 or 4 years, likely capping out at $15m per year. Maybe a bit more AAV for a 3 year deal. At max, he gets a Derek Lowe deal.
Now if that's all a team is willing to pay in just dollars, factor in prospect cost. Would a team be willing to give up a first round draft pick should Darvish be attached to a qualifying offer? Is that first round pick worth more than 4 prospects ranked 10-15th in your system? Minor leaguers can be tough to project, I think I'd rather have 4 10-15th ranked prospects who are just starting out their minor league journeys than one top pick. A lot of injuries or lack of development can happen. I'd rather have 4 good lotto tickets than one great one.
People complain the Cubs didn't get any major league ready prospects in this trade. They did get a pitcher who's been in the big leagues for 6 years. I'm talking about Zach Davies, who's actually had a better ERA than Darvish for the last three years. Davies has a career 3.79 ERA, which would rank 27th among qualified starting pitchers in all of the MLB if he pitched 1000 innings overall (currently 683) .
Regardless of how Darvish projects to perform as he ages, I think we can all agree that as he's already making big money for an older pitcher, he therefore does not have as much surplus value that would bring back a haul in the trade.
I'm in the "it's too early to tell" camp on the Darvish trade. The four very promising young players that came back from the Padres in the deal are high upside, high risk guys who could very well bring a lot of benefit to the Cubs roster in the not too distant future. Classifying them as simply "four teenagers" like a lot of fans have done does a great disservice to the potential of these guys, and is just one step up from calling them "slapdick prospects." I think we can be better than that. As Pronk pointed out as well, Zach Davies isn't some scrub--he's a quality middle rotation MLB pitcher who will contribute to the team in 2021 as the club transitions into the next phase. He'll only be here for a year, but I suspect he'll give the team a year of quality innings like he has pretty much his entire career. He's better than just a "discount Kyle Hendricks," and we should evaluate him accordingly and stop acting like discount Yankees fans.
I think we need to get some realistic eyes on this deal, and Pronk started going down that path already. As much as we might love Yu Darvish the human being, Darvish had what amounted to one full dominant season with the Cubs--half of 2019 and the very truncated 2020. As much as we might like to think of his recent greatness, the Cubs traded Yu Darvish, not Jacob deGrom, and the Cubs were never going to get a top 10 prospect for a 34 year old, injury prone pitcher who struggled through the first year and a half of his current contract. Do I think Yu will continue to dominate? Absolutely! I look forward to watching him own the Dodgers regularly! Is that how other MLB front offices view his potential with his age and history, however? Absolutely not.
I also completely see the need for the Cubs to start doing something to restock the farm. In fact, they probably should have done something dramatic already. Unfortunately, the Darvish move was probably the one that made the most sense if now was the time. Baez, Bryant and Rizzo are at their absolute lowest value after having very, extremely off 2020 seasons, so trading any of them for high level prospects is likely a nonstarter. And with Jed seemingly more willing to part with guys and actually do the reset than Theo was, you might want to get used to the idea that Willson Contreras could be gone before the season starts because he's the guy most likely to bring back a high level haul.
For the future, though, Darvish brings back the biggest haul for the biggest salary savings so the Cubs can play in next year's killer free agent market while adding to their young, improving minor league system. Without making moves like this (and possibly a Contreras trade), the Cubs end up like the Royals--watching all of their star players walk away in free agency without any extensions or cashing in on any trades. At least this way maybe we'll see an extension of Rizzo and/or Baez and some big adds next offseason.
I mean, unless you want them to be the Royals...
Let me start off by saying that I'm not a fan of this trade. I've gone back and forth trying to think about how I want to articulate my view on this trade. I've thought about what exactly is Yu's value in the league and in baseball. I've thought about where the Cubs are in this current run and what the future is like. I've written around 10 paragraphs and deleted each one because I could not think how to piece them together without it just being a wall of text.
I think Yu has a lot of value to both the Cubs and the league in general. He finished second in Cy Young voting this year, and has put together a dominant one and half years of pitching. He was an ace to this team and still had three years left. The Cubs are entering their final year of having Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, and Anthony Rizzo (lifetime contract now please). The NL Central is a pretty weak division. To me, the Cubs were in a perfect spot to make one last push at winning a World Series with this core. Instead, they traded away an ace for Zach Davies (he is a good pitcher) but they will also lose him at the end of the season.
The other four players they received are 20, 18, 17, and 17 years old. Best case scenario these players are ready in 2-3 seasons. I honestly have no idea what to expect from minor league players these next few years. Last year was lost due to the pandemic and I'm not sure this year will be any better. I think it is more realistic that these players are 4 to 5 years away from contributing, if they contribute at all.
The trade of Yu Darvish tells me the Cubs have no real hopes of extending KB, Javy, and Rizzo. I think one of them gets an extension but that's it. The Cubs are building for the future but that future is a few seasons away. The Cubs had a ton of money come off the books this offseason. This team did not have that many holes that needed to be addressed. Instead of trying to reload, they are choosing to rebuild and that is just so disappointing to me. That is why I'm not a fan of this trade. This team still had a real shot at contention but the Cubs now look to the future, a distant one at that.