Yu Darvish? This is How...

In what I believe is one of the more remarkable stories this winter, it seems that Yu Darvish and the Yankees just might come together on a deal.  The Yu Darvish talk is real and it's hot.

Yu Darvish to the Yankees news is all over the place. 

It seems the Yankees covet this ace pitcher. In fact, it was reported that the Yankees had offered Yu Darvish a $160 million dollar deal that he rejected.  That might have been a costly mistake on Darvish's part.

In this (very) slow market, it is very hard to predict what kind of deal any Free Agent will settle for.  It seems that the closer we get to Spring Training, the more likely it is that salaries will drop in two areas - length and yearly cost.  I don't think anyone knows how this will play out with Darvish or any free agent.  Might Darvish have overplayed his hand?  Might his salary drop to an even more reasonable rate for the Yankees?

It seems very apparent that the Yankees sincerely feel that they need one more top of the rotation starting pitcher.  Almost all of the Yankees news over the last few weeks (and weeks and weeks) seems to be about their quest to land a pitcher (read Gerrit Cole, but there were others).  This trade route has not seemed to work.  Other teams may be trying to hold their pitchers for a king's ransom and I don't think the Yankees are buying.  It seems like the Yankees are determined to not over pay (in prospects) for a pitcher.  

In order for Darvish to become a Yankee, it seems an almost certainty that his salary would have to fit under the Yankees' luxury tax threshold.  This can happen in one of two ways. 

First, the final deal could be low enough that it doesn't raise the Yankees rate past that peak.  That would be a dream scenario.  I also do not see this scenario as very likely.  But with the market seemingly falling, it still remains a possibility.

Second, the Yankees could trade away a player to make more room under the tax threshold.  The most obvious choice here is Jacoby Ellsbury.  If the Yankees were able to shed Ellsbury's salary, they would have the financial flexibility to sign Darvish.  The problem, as has been discussed all winter, is that Jacoby Ellsbury has a No-Trade Clause and his salary is so high that it is not one that other teams seem willing to take.  (In December we looked at the possibilities of the Yankees just swapping Ellsbury's salary for another team's bad contract - and even that scenario doesn't seem likely.  See Here: Ellsbury Part 1, Ellsbury Part 2.)

Besides Ellsbury, what other Yankees have contracts that are taking away from their financial flexibility?  Might one of these players be traded?  Let's take a look.

Per Cot's Baseball Contracts, here are the Yankees most expensive players:

  • Giancarlo Stanton (2018 salary = $25M) - He's not going anywhere
  • Masahiro Tanaka ($22M) - The Yankees are looking to add starting pitching, he's staying.
  • Jacoby Ellsbury ($21.1.M) - We know this story.
  • Aroldis Chapman ($15M, full no trade clause) - Interesting....
  • David Robertson ($13M) - Also interesting.
  • Brett Gardner ($11M) - The Yankees do have a glut of outfielders.
  • CC Sabathia ($10M) - See Tanaka.  He's staying.
  • Didi Gregorius ($??) - Arbitration eligible.  He earned 5.1M in 2017.  He won't break the bank nor will any of the rest of the players on the roster.

Wow.  The first thing that jumps out at me as I scan this list is how few players the "Evil Empire" has with huge salaries.  Once one gets to Didi, the salaries are all very reasonable in this market.  Brian Cashman has done an amazing job rebuilding this franchise.  The Yankees just don't have a glut big salaries to shed in order to make a big deal with Darvish work.  

Two players from that list who might be expendable are Aroldis Chapman and David Robertson.  The Yankees bullpen is an area of particular strength, might they feel they have enough strength there to trade one of these players?  This, to me at least, would be a game changer.  The strength of the bullpen, with a seemingly limitless collection of outstanding pitchers, is what will make the Yankees exceptionally strong in 2018.  This is their particular strength.  I don't think the Yankees will do anything to weaken the bullpen.  The bullpen may not get the attention the home runs will receive in 2018, but it may be the single aspect of the team that makes the Yankees great.  I think the Yankees value this bullpen (and pitching in general) far too much to send away one of their two best relief pitchers.

Which then forces one to look at Brett Gardner...

Trading Brett Gardner looks like the possible move. Gardner is a veteran presence on the Yankees.  He provides a spark, still hits for power, and his defense is still a plus.  He seems to fill an important role on this team. 

BUT...might Brian Cashman be asking, "Who will be more valuable for the Yankees in 2018 and beyond, Brett Gardner or Yu Darvish?"  That's a very tough question to answer.  Brett Gardner is a very valuable piece who is coming off one of his best seasons.  But, might the Yankees feel that it is unlikely that they'll see that Brett Gardner again?

Baseball Reference gives the following projections for Gardner and Ellsbury for 2018:

  • Brett Gardner:  .257/.343./.402 - 15 HR, 16 SB (604 at bats)
  • Jacoby Ellsbury   .255/.327/.381 - 9 HR, 17 SB (467 at bats)

Their projections are much closer than most people realize.  Given a full season, might Jacoby Ellsbury perform at Brett Gardner's rate?  

Or, what about looking at the scenario this way:

  • Brett Gardner WAR (2017) = 4.9
  • Jacoby Ellsbury + Yu Darvish WAR (2017): 1.7 + 3.9 = 5.6

Are the Yankees asking, "Is Brett Gardner that much better than Jacoby Ellsbury that we should let him prevent us from acquiring Yu Darvish?"  

As a fan, I'd hate to see Brett Gardner go, but in his best year (2017), he was not more valuable that Jacoby Ellsbury (in his worst year) plus Yu Darvish.

As such, it seems that the path to Darvish is through the outfield.  If Jacoby Ellsbury can't be traded, we might be seeing the end of the Brett Gardner era.