According to Ken Rosenthal, the Chicago Cubs have signed Yu Darvish to a six-year, $126 million contract, which could rise to $150 million through performance incentives. According to Jeff Passan, Darvish also has a player opt-out option available after two years on the deal. In Darvish, the Cubs receive a player who immediately fixes their need for a front-of-rotation-starter, but he also brings them a long-term stability to their rotation.
Filling out the rotation
After allowing starting pitchers Jake Arrieta and John Lackey to enter free agency, the Cubs needed to fill two spots in the rotation. The Cubs took care of one spot by signing Tyler Chatwood earlier the offseason, but the Cubs still needed to add quality at the top of their rotation. The Cubs’ starters ranked fourth in starter ERA in the NL with a 4.05, sixth in starter FIP with a 4.27, and fifth in starter xFIP with a 4.10 xFIP. Those numbers are not too bad, but the Cubs ranked behind the Dodgers and Washington Nationals in starter ERA, FIP, and xFIP, and behind the Cardinals in starter FIP and xFIP. Even with their stellar rotation, the Cubs needed to add a top end starter to stay competitive with the Dodgers and Nationals, and to fend off the Cardinals.
Darvish gives them another high-quality arm to go with Jon Lester and Jose Quintana. Last season, he managed a 3.86 ERA, 3.83 FIP, and 3.65 xFIP along with a 27.3% K% and a 7.6 BB% with both the Texas Rangers and the Los Angeles Dodgers, and there are no signs of him slowing down very soon. At age 31, he has experienced no notable dips velocity or movement of his pitches over the last year, so he should keep on performing at the same high-level next season. Even if he does not fully replicate his numbers, the Cubs still will get a high-quality starter in Darvish.
Thinking about the long term
Barring any injuries or massive underperformance, the Cubs should contend during this season, and after developing most of their position players, the Cubs should have a contending team for several years. But signing Yu Darvish has some interesting implications on the Cubs’ future seasons beyond 2018.
Under general manager Theo Epstein, the Cubs have focused on developing position players while acquiring high level and major league ready pitchers, as Epstein felt that position player prospects were less risky. Of the Cubs starters, Kyle Hendricks is the only one who developed in the minors with the Cubs. But with their position players sorted out at the major league level, the Cubs now have some very promising young arms in the minors in Oscar De La Cruz, Jose Albertos, Adbert Alzolay, Alex Lange, and Brendon Little. They are all a few years away, with arrival times of 2019 at the earliest, but most project to arrive in 2020.
The contract is ideal for the Cubs, both immediately and after 2018. Darvish not only gives them short-term coverage but an experienced arm for those prospects to learn from in three years. Darvish is the only starter who has a contract beyond 2020, so the Cubs will have to rely heavily on the young pitchers to step up once it arrives. Darvish could help them grow, and if they meet expectations, Although the Cubs will pay Darvish $20 million per season as he enters his mid-30s, the Cubs will still have plenty of money to work with because of their relatively cheap pitching with the team controlled pitchers. By signing Darvish, the Cubs have addressed a future need and found a solution to their need of a front-of-the-rotation starter.