Cubs sign Yu Darvish, shake up frozen free agent market

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Rangers at Orioles June 30, 2014

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On Saturday, the Chicago Cubs and Yu Darvish reportedly agreed to a six-year, $126 million contract. The deal could net Darvish up to $150 million including cash incentives.

The 31-year-old right-hander did not post the numbers of a perennial Cy Young contender as he did in his first few seasons, but he played well in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery, finishing the season with a 3.86 ERA and 209 strikeouts over 186.2 innings pitched.

Darvish’s underwhelming performance in Games 3 and 7 in the 2017 World Series with the Los Angeles Dodgers, coupled with age and former injuries, had the potential to lower his stock as a free agent heading into the offseason, but the four-time All-Star and 2013 Cy Young Award runner-up was still a headliner in the talented 2018 free agent class.

Darvish finished the season strong, lowering an inflated ERA with a 3.44 over nine games as a Dodger and eclipsing 200 strikeouts for the first time since 2013.

Although he gave up a career-high 27 home runs this season, Darvish recorded his highest average fastball velocity, 94.2 mph, since coming to the big leagues. These numbers pale in comparison to what Darvish threw in 2016, but, for him and the Cubs, they are encouraging, as a significant decline in the 31-year-old’s skills doesn’t seem to be in the immediate future.

This signing makes sense for the Cubs. In Darvish, the Cubs secured a potential ace and solidified their starting rotation, with or without the return of free agents Jake Arrieta and John Lackey.

Chicago may have also felt pressure to sign an aging Darvish in response to the moves of division rivals. The St. Louis Cardinals acquired outfielder Marcell Ozuna to anchor an already deep lineup and overhauled their struggling bullpen.

In addition, the Milwaukee Brewers had a busy offseason to move from being National League Central Cinderella stories to becoming contenders, acquiring outfielders Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich as well as pitcher Yovani Gallardo. While these moves make the Central pennant race an exciting story throughout the 2018 season, the Cubs remain the favorites to finish atop the division.

The 2018 offseason took off following the World Series, largely because of the Miami Marlins’ fire sale and the Los Angeles Angels’ acquisition of Shohei Ohtani from Japan, but since the Winter Meetings, the free agent market has remained relatively stagnant.

It’s shocking that a proven ace like Darvish did not sign until Feb. 10 — just three days before pitchers and catchers are schedule to report for spring training. It’s even more shocking that so many notable free agents are left. From starting pitchers such as Arrieta and Lance Lynn to sluggers Eric Hosmer and J.D. Martinez, free agents have struggled to find the right fit.

Darvish’s signing could influence the strategy of other teams. Without him, the Dodgers could look to address their rotation depth either within the organization or in the open market.

The Brewers, who are looking to add to a starting rotation anyway, may feel pressure to sign yet another arm to compete in the National League Central. Of the remaining free agent class, Darvish could be the first of many big signings before the start of the season.

Until then, the waiting game continues.

Max Mennemeier writes for Bear Bytes, The Daily Californian’s sports blog. Contact him at [email protected]