The Chicago Cubs made breaking news on Saturday when it was announced that they had signed free agent starting pitcher Yu Darvish to a 6-year, $126 million deal. The deal could be worth up to $150 million with incentives, and also reportedly includes opt-out and no-trade clauses.
Darvish, who will turn 32 this year, has played in 5 major league seasons since coming over from Japan in 2012. He missed the 2015 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery, but he has still pitched just as well since coming back from his injury. His career totals include a 3.42 ERA with a 1.18 WHIP and a 3.30 FIP. He has always been a strikeout pitcher owning a 11.0 K/9 rate (the highest rate in MLB history among pitchers with 100 career starts), and he is a perennial candidate to hit the 200 strikeout mark. Since returning from TJS he has been able to lower his walk rate while maintaining his high strikeout rate, which helped him attain a 4.69 K/BB ratio during his nine game stint with the Dodgers last season.
One of the big appeals to Darvish, aside from being one of the best starting pitchers in all of baseball, was the fact that he was not eligible to receive a qualifying offer from the Dodgers, and because of that he had no draft pick compensation tied to him. The other notable starting pitchers on the free agent market – Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb, and Lance Lynn – all received qualifying offers from their original teams, and any other team that goes on to sign them will have to give up a draft pick. In the Cubs’ case that draft pick compensation didn’t matter with re-signing Arrieta, though it may have been a factor in their decision to not pursue him very hard.
Based on the guaranteed $126 million, Darvish will earn an annual average of $21 million per year. That amount is considerably less than the offer they reportedly made to Arrieta (4-years, $110 million, a $27.5 million AAV), and allows the Cubs to remain well below the luxury tax threshold for this season. There is still some wiggle room before they hit that mark but it seems more likely that they will save that space for any moves they might make throughout the season.
Darvish will join Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana, and Tyler Chatwood in what will be a very strong rotation. This group of starting pitchers now ranks as arguably the top rotation in all of baseball, and several of them have what it takes to be the front man and toe the rubber on Opening Day. His addition will keep Mike Montgomery in the bullpen for now, but since he performs a little better in that role it may be the best thing for the team.
This signing is exactly what the Cubs needed to do to beef up their roster, and the inclusion of Darvish should help the team navigate through what has become a much more interesting NL Central division.