Yu Darvish has long been the best potential rental starter on the trade market, but it hasn’t been clear just yet whether the Rangers will actually sell.
A recent slump has them five games under .500, though, a billion games behind the fire-hot Astros in the AL West, and now 4.5 games out of the second Wild Card spot, behind six other teams. This does not look like a good playoff situation for the Rangers.
Thus, they’ve started to explore trades, according to Jeff Passan. And that includes gauging the market for their 30-year-old ace, Yu Darvish, who is a free agent after this season. Passan declines to state outright the teams most involved or finalists or anything like that, but does list the Houston Astros, Milwaukee Brewers, New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians, Colorado Rockies and Los Angeles Dodgers as being among the teams looking for starting pitching who have the prospect capital to acquire Darvish.
You’ll note the Cubs are absent from that list, and I’d argue that’s a reasonable exclusion, in particular because they have already acquired a starting pitcher this trade season in Jose Quintana.
But that doesn’t mean the Cubs aren’t involved. In fact, Jon Morosi reports that the Cubs have inquired with the Rangers on Darvish, and says that a trade match is “more plausible” now than it would have been at the All-Star break, given the Cubs’ recent hot streak and the Quintana acquisition (which, in Morosi’s view, allows for the flexibility to add a rental).
At this time of year, you’d be foolish not to inquire on virtually any available player who might help your team, because, as the Diamondbacks-Tigers trade on JD Martinez shows, you never know for sure whether you might be able to get a bargain. The Cubs will always due their due diligence, even if you’d be hard-pressed to call them a favorite to land a guy like Darvish at this time. (And, hey, as it’s been with Sonny Gray and Justin Verlander – if you’ve got division competitors looking at a guy, it never hurts to make your interest known, too.)
Darvish, who had Tommy John surgery in 2015, returned to action in 2016, and has been healthy this season. He hasn’t quite been the guy he was pre-surgery, though, posting a 3.45 ERA, a 3.73 FIP, and a 3.88 xFIP this year – numbers evocative of a very good starter, but not necessarily a front-of-the-rotation type. Darvish’s strikeout rate is down this year, his walk rate is up, his hard contact is up, his soft contact is down, and so on. None of the increases/declines are stark, but in the aggregate, they paint the picture of a guy who is simply not quite as effective as he once was when he was a must-watch starter every time he took the mound.
Don’t get me wrong: the guy is still good. His 2.5 WAR is 8th best in the AL, and the 3.45 ERA is 9th best. Remember: the game is different today than it was just a couple years ago.
The Cubs have been loosely connected to Darvish before, but the broader question is whether the Cubs are the right team to go big on a pricey rental starter right now.
Trading a huge prospect package for Jose Quintana made all the sense in the world for the Cubs, given their need not only this year, but in the coming years when he’s still under control. But a guy for the second half and (hopefully) playoffs only? At the cost of what precious little upper tier prospect currency the Cubs have left?
I once again return to this delicately-discussed idea that, last year, when it was obvious that the Cubs were going to make the postseason and they had a 15% chance of ending the 108 year drought, going hard for a rental who can lock down specific innings in the playoffs made total sense. This year, the Cubs are not the same lock to make the postseason (though adding a guy like Darvish would certainly help), and they are faced with a 0 year drought. That doesn’t mean you don’t go for it, and it doesn’t mean that winning back-to-back titles wouldn’t be incredible special. It just feels like the urgency calculation, when you consider everything, is different this year.
Adding Darvish would undoubtedly improve the Cubs, but I question whether they will be sufficiently aggressive in pursuing him that they could beat out all the many, many other teams that will want him.
Like his upcoming free agency, this bears following.