Everyone knows the Yankees need another starting pitcher or two. We’ve already discussed a couple of the big names in free agency: Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg. There are others on the open market that are a few notches below those two, but the Yankees could also explore a trade to bolster the rotation. Yu Darvish, who came up in the mailbag at the beginning of the month, could be one of those options.
Before he was posted and signed by the Texas Rangers, Darvish had a masterful seven-year career in Japan for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters. The career numbers in the NPB are just absurd: he had a 1.99 ERA in 1,268 1/3 innings there. At just 24 years of age when he came over to the US, there was a boatload of interest in acquiring his talents.
The Rangers made the high bid to the Fighters for Darvish: $51.7 million. This of course was well before the new posting rules, which now max out at $20 million. Darvish later signed with Texas for six years and $56 million.
Darvish spent about five and a half years deep in the heart of Texas before the Rangers dealt him to the Dodgers at 2017’s trade deadline. Yu helped bring the Dodgers back to the World Series for the first time since 1988. Darvish became a free agent after the fall classic concluded with a loss to Houston.
Then 32 years of age, Darvish truly hit free agency for the first time. It took until February of 2018 for him to find a home. Eventually, he signed with the Cubs for six years and $126 million. He could have opted out of the remaining four years and $81 million on his contract after this season ended, but chose not to. It’s not clear whether or not Darvish is available at the moment, but with rumors about Kris Bryant’s availability, one would think Chicago is open to offers on any of their high-priced players.
There’s so much more to Darvish than the fact that he’s a very good pitcher. Bobby touched on this in the mailbag previously linked, but the gist is that he’s pretty active on Twitter and funny to boot. He once joked that Masahiro Tanaka was overpaid. A more recent example: he absolutely roasted Justin Verlander in the playoffs. Aside from engaging in lighthearted stuff, he’s not afraid of addressing more serious baseball topics either, such as the Astros’ latest scandal.
Since departing his home country, Darvish has had an excellent stateside career. He’s had some health issues, which I’ll get to in a little bit, but when on the mound he’s been stellar. In 1,051 innings, Darvish owns a 3.57 ERA, 3.49 FIP, and 3.05 DRA. Those numbers have made him one of the league’s top-25 starts since 2012, his rookie season.
As great as those numbers look, there’s always the “what have you done for me lately?” question. He’s now 33, so his decline phase surely has begun or is nearing. In fact, it seemed like Darvish could have been in for an ugly and steep decline at the outset of his Cubs career.
In 2018, Darvish made just 8 starts for Chicago. They weren’t good: he only completed six innings thrice and posted a 4.95 ERA. The underlying numbers weren’t pretty either: he walked 21 and allowed 7 homers in 40 innings. What’s worse is that his season ended in mid-May.
Things didn’t get much better to start year two on the north side. By the end of this June, Darvish had made 17 starts and still struggled with control and dingers. At that time, the righty had a 4.98 ERA and 5.27 FIP. Things looked pretty bleak.
Come July though, things changed. In his final 14 starts of the season, Darvish was brilliant and rediscovered his control. He posted a 2.95 ERA and 3.06 FIP during this 88 1/3 inning run to close the season. Even though he allowed 15 homers during that span, Darvish limited the damage by walking just 7 batters.
The late season run helped bring Yu back to respectability. He just was able to get his ERA below 4, but what’s more impressive is that Baseball Prospectus’s DRA indicates that this was actually Darvish’s best season of his career. His 2.69 DRA isn’t his lowest raw total, but when adjusting for the juiced ball, he had a DRA- of 55 (i.e. 45 percent lower than league average), easily topping his previous low of 61 in 2013.
So, even now at a later stage of his career, it’s safe to say Yu still has it. There was some thought that he could opt out of his deal this winter, though that obviously didn’t come to fruition.
As hinted at earlier, Darvish does have a somewhat lengthy injury history. Considering that he debuted at Japan’s highest level at just 18 years-old, it’s not surprising that he’s got a bit of wear and tear at this stage of his career.
Darvish was a bastion of health for most of his career in Japan. He debuted for the Fighters in 2005, but wasn’t deactivated for any injury until shoulder fatigue sidelined him in 2009. He also dealt with minor knee and back issues the year after.
Unfortunately, Darvish has had a tougher time staying on the field in the US. Let’s go year-by-year:
- 2012: Healthy!
- 2013: Right shoulder strain, on DL from 7/7 – 7/22.
- 2014: Started year on DL with neck stiffness, but was ready by 4/6. Season ended on 8/13 with right elbow inflammation.
- 2015: Had Tommy John Surgery in March and missed entire season.
- 2016: Returned from TJS on 5/28, but returned to DL retroactively on 6/9 with shoulder discomfort. He was reactivated on 7/16.
- 2017: Back stiffness in August, on DL from 8/17 – 8/27.
- 2018: Inactive from 5/5 – 5/15 with the flu. Right triceps tendinitis kept him out from 5/23 through end of season.
- 2019: Healthy!
So Darvish has avoided the injured list in two of his eight seasons in the MLB. Scary! Most of these are arm issues too, which is alarming.
Darvish will receive a frontloaded $81 million through 2023. He has limited no trade protection too. According to Cot’s, he had full no trade protection through 2019, but can only block deals to 12 teams starting in 2020. It’s unclear if the Yankees are one of those 12.
Does he make sense for the Yankees and what would a trade look like?
As much as I like Darvish, I think the injury history is scary enough that the Yankees should be hesitant. The team needs certainty in its rotation, and Darvish doesn’t necessarily provide that. We can be pretty sure that he’ll be great — when healthy. It’s just a matter of how many innings the Bombers could actually count on. Now, if the Yankees land a big fish like Cole, that changes the equation. But Darvish as the lone big pitching acquisition just doesn’t quite cut it.
On the flip side, what would the Cubs want for Darvish? Do they even want to trade him? Here’s a snippet from Cubs’ owner Tom Ricketts:
“We have the resources financially. We have the good, young players. Maybe we can’t keep them all because of the salaries that they’ll demand over the next few years. But ultimately now, I think we can stop talking about windows. We should be consistent, and we should be looking toward building a division-winning team every year.”
Well then. Trading someone like Darvish surely would help them keep guys like Bryant and Javier Báez. So, I’d have to think they’d listen on Darvish offers.
Chicago still wants to be in contention next year though, so they’ll need to recoup something that can help them now. They have no shortage of needs, either: its bullpen is thin, the rotation could use help (especially if they deal Darvish!), and second base and center field are weak spots.
My thought is an NBA-style trade here: the Yankees send Chicago JA Happ (i.e. an expiring contract) while taking on a good portion of Darvish’s remaining money ($70 million?). The Yankees could also send one of their array of pitchers on the 40-man to help the Cubs’ pen (Jonathan Loaisiga?) and perhaps an infielder (Tyler Wade or Thairo Estrada?) or outfielder (Mike Tauchman?). The Cubs do have four 40-man spots open right now, so they’d have room to take on a couple more players. Anyway, whether or not this is fair is unclear to me. I couldn’t get these parameters to work on Baseball Trade Values, but regardless: my trade proposal sucks.