Given the expectation that new Mets owner Steve Cohen will really open the pocketbook this offseason, and given the expectation that the Cubs will be doing the opposite of that, I half-joked in the Bullets that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer would be sprinting to the phone to talk to the Mets.
It’s only a half joke because, I mean, yeah, they might find a trade fit. Not that you’ll always enjoy hearing about the possibilities.
To that end, Joel Sherman writes today at the New York Post about some trades the Mets should consider making in a market where they could pick up quality players from teams looking to avoid their contracts.
The top player mentioned is Francisco Lindor, a guy everyone everywhere knows is as good as gone from Cleveland. Sensible. But the second guy?
It’s Yu Darvish:
A sense persists that the Cubs want to dramatically lower payroll. Darvish (three years, $59 million) is the most expensive piece. They do not have a strong farm system, plus core positional pieces Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber are all free agents after the 2021 season. The Mets could take Darvish’s whole contract, plus they have a deep reservoir of cost-effective positional pieces such as [Amed] Rosario, J.D. Davis, Jeff McNeil and Dom Smith that the Cubs could peruse. Like Price in the Red Sox-Dodgers trade, Cohen could even absorb the $17 million owed the faded Craig Kimbrel to lower the prospect return.
Darvish, 34, is coming off a Cy-Young-caliber season (with another half season before that of dominance), and has three years and just $59 million left on his deal with the Cubs. If he wins the Cy Young this year, that contract escalates to $65 million, by the way, thanks to bonuses in his deal. Not a minor consideration. Also not a minor consideration? Darvish has at least limited no-trade rights in his deal, and you can bet the Mets would be put on his list of teams at this point, even if only to buy himself some leverage. (When there was interest in Darvish last year – he had full no-trade rights at the time – he reportedly had no interest in waiving his no-trade rights. So this might all be entirely academic.)
I certainly understand the suggestion from Sherman at a superficial level. The Cubs are cutting payroll (fact), Darvish has one of the larger contracts on the books (fact), Darvish is worth more than his contract (likely a fact even in this market), and the Mets will have the wherewithal to just add guys like this.
But where it becomes a much more challenging is in ascertaining how the move would work for the Cubs, a club that doesn’t necessarily have designs on bowing out of the playoff race already for 2021, but that almost certainly is looking to cut payroll significantly. I don’t think anyone wants to see the Cubs dumping one of their best starting pitchers – one of the best starting pitchers in the league – just to save some short-term money.
Still, because you consider everything, and because I don’t want to fall into the trap where you say, “Ah, they can’t trade that guy, he’s too good!” (you can only get impact value for guys who are good!), I will acknowledge that if the Mets wanted to have this conversation with the Cubs, they’d have to consider it. If the Mets are gonna be nuts and want to send the Cubs a massive return for Darvish, well, OK, maybe you take a look and see where it leaves you.
That said, if the Cubs were to deal Darvish now, they would almost certainly have to start looking at 2021 as a reset year. I’d much rather the Cubs acted in a comprehensive way this offseason, in one direction or the other. There was a time when I was on board with the idea of resetting things – back, perhaps, before last season and the pandemic, when there was actual value to be procured. If it happens now, I’m really not sure how much organization-shaping value the Cubs can get in trade for their tradable pieces outside of Darvish. Obviously a guy like Willson Contreras has huge value, but he’s under control for two more years. And the one-year guys, as much as Theo Epstein might hype the value of short team control, just don’t strike me as having much trade value post-pandemic.
So where are you left, then, if you deal Darvish? Is it even possible to net a return that builds you up for the future without crushing you in 2021? Well, it becomes more possible if you repurpose some of that salary immediately in a depressed market! Just sayin’! Otherwise, I guess maybe you get the Mets to include a positional guy or two, and sufficient quality prospects to make it worthwhile? But would the Mets actually trade away that much value if their real aim was to “help” the Cubs offload salary?
On the whole, I really doubt this becomes more than a mere suggestion out of New York. I think the Cubs aren’t going to be super inclined to tank in 2021, and without Darvish, they have a rotation of Kyle Hendricks plus ? ? ? ? Yeah, they’ve got arms, but none of them are going to come close to doing what we’d project Darvish to do for the Cubs in 2021. Moreover, while the Cubs do want to reduce payroll, they’ve got other, less painful avenues available than trading away Darvish for mere salary relief.
But, yes, if the Mets came calling with some obscene offer, you’d have to consider it. Even for Darvish. I just don’t expect that to happen.