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At last we saw our first real big free agent signing of the MLB off-season….in February.
Well, 2nd one if you count the Lorenzo Cain to Milwaukee contract, but that seems like an eternity ago. Will it kick off the signing period of Arrieta and Cobb after Darvish now signed? Who knows. But today I am not going to talk about the remaining free agent pool, because well, that may have been beaten to death.
The Cubs signed Yu Darvish to a 6-year, $126 million contract, beating out the likes of the Twins, Brewers, Dodgers, and Rangers for his services. In the contract is the famed opt-out clause which we are seeing early on in the contracts. So Cubs fans think and believe that Darvish will be out in 2 years.
Assuming he pitches well.
And that is the big risk.
Is he overpaid? Yes, from all aspects. Grossly overpaid? Probably not. Darvish I feel is a good #2 guy behind an ace so in that aspect, he fits well with the Cubs. However, Chicago is giving Darvish a lot of money, similar to what they gave Jon Lester, to Darvish. So in this case, he does need to pitch like an ace.
So why do I feel like this is a high risk/reward issue? To me there are more risks than the actual reward (which is obviously another World Series championship on the North Side).
First off, Darvish did struggle last year in Texas and while he wasn’t awful in his stint with Los Angeles (in fact, he was pretty good up until the postseason), he wasn’t that dominant guy we saw in his early years with the Rangers. Obviously his injury that knocked him out of the 2015 season, there may have been lingering effects of that. His ERA was the highest since he joined the Majors in 2012. The K/9 rate dropped a full game and the HR/9 rate went up (albeit small). So there are some concerns on that part.
Darvish is 31 years old. Still in the midst of his prime for at least….about 2 years. However, if the slider is not what it once was, there should be some red flags right there. There had been a nice little debate about the contract last night with the regular contributors on this site of why the slider failed. Was it his arm? Was it the fact when the World Series started the balls were juiced thus knocking anybody who holds a good slider to get shelled? Maybe it is a mixture of both as well as even another thing that wasn’t looked was Darvish played in humid Houston and oddly hot LA during really the daytime in the World Series. It could be a mix of all three. But if the slider isn’t working and he gets those games of having to pitch at Wrigley with the wind blowing out, it will be cause of concern.
The other thing and I think it should be looked at is the fact of Darvish isn’t necessarily a big-game pitcher so far in his career. And of course, we are talking post-season. Yes, the World Series games were very well-documented. And while he pitched well against Arizona and the Cubs last year in the NLDS and the NLCS respectively, he has not shown through his career that he can pitch out of his mind. In addition to the shelling he took from the Astros, he got rocked in his lone start in 2016 vs. the Blue Jays in the ALDS and pitched so/so in the Wild Card game against the Orioles back in his first year. The argument of course from Cubs fans he pitched against AL teams with power from top to bottom while the NL isn’t that way. True, but what happens if the Cubs do get to the World Series against the Astros, Indians, or Yankees and those teams are stockpiled? While the off-season has not been as strong for teams, the Cubs will also have to go up against the Brewers, who have a solid lineup top to bottom and will have to see the Nationals, which their lineup is pretty stout as well, not to mention the Dodgers. So it is something to look at especially if the Cubs and Brewers are battling it out for the division in August and September or seeing the likes of the Dodgers and Nationals in post-season.
One of the other things I thought of was Darvish’s performance against the Astros in the World Series and how he imploded on it. Sometimes a mess like that can stick with you for a very long time. Will this affect Darvish? Who knows, but he looked in Game 7 that he had zero confidence in any of his pitches at all. And it doesn’t matter what you do, losing your confidence as a pitcher can linger for a long period of time.
Assuming if Darvish struggles the next two seasons in Chicago or if he doesn’t pitch up to snuff, he will likely not opt out of his contract. That’s very bad news for the Cubs who already have Jason Heyward’s contract, which is looking more and more like an albatross one. It ties up more money to those guys instead of when the likes of Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant end up being free agents. And then that is where the fun begins of what the Cubs should and need to do.
But the Cubs are in a win-now situation, even with all their young guns like Bryant, Rizzo, Baez, Contreras, etc. They know that these guys will all command massive paydays (albeit down the road) and won’t keep them all in the mix. So if Darvish can pitch like a #2 guy in the rotation like I think he can, all of the concerns I have is for naught.
But if they don’t win and Darvish struggles, this will be that risk that hinders Chicago for a while.
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat