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Exploring the Starting Pitching Trade Market: Yu Darvish (CHC)

We’ve talked a lot about the Yankees committing to spend this offseason when many other teams in baseball are looking for “bargain” deals. As this happens though, players on more expensive deals could much more easily be traded below their standard value to open up a few bucks on the back end. Is Yu Darvish a pitcher in this type of scenario?

Who Is Yu Darvish?

Yu Darvish was drafted out of High School in 2004 by the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters after coming out of a very competitive high school baseball program in Japan. Interestingly, some MLB scouts (Dodgers, Mets) were interested in him out of High School, but Darvish insisted on playing in the NPB first. He was officially signed on December 17th to a 15M yen salary (~$150K) and a 100M yen (~$1M) signing bonus.

With a small minor league system, Yu Darvish would make his professional debut in 2005, even after starting the season late after a small violation for gambling and smoking underage. As an 18 year-old rookie, he would pitch to a 5-5 record with a 3.53 ERA. He would improve greatly as a 19 year-old in 2006 as he went 12-5 with a 2.89 ERA while winning the Japan Series, and legitimately only get better with each passing year. In 2007, Darvish had a 15-5 record with a 1.82 ERA en route to a Mitsui Golden Glove, Eiji Sawamura Award and his first Pacific League MVP. In 2008, Darvish had a 16-4 record with a 1.88 ERA, the first time in his career his ERA went up from the following season. Obviously, he was a lost cause so in 2009 Darvish pitched to a 15-5 record again while bringing an ERA of 1.73 and would take home his second Pacific League MVP. While he corrected his mistakes that season, his 2010 ERA would balloon up to 1.78 with a 12-8 record, which obviously meant he was nearing the end of his peak…so going into 2011, Darvish fixed his craft and pitched to a 1.44 ERA with an 18-6 record. If it wasn’t obvious, Darvish was damn good and teams in the MLB were clamoring for his talents.

He was posted in November of 2011 and the Texas Rangers would end up winning the bidding process under the old posting system. The two sides worked out a 6-Year/$60M deal just minutes before the deadline to sign and Darvish was headed over to the MLB. We’ll get into his MLB career statistics in a minute, but Darvish did come in strong during his rookie MLB season as he was an AL All-Star, was 3rd in the AL Rookie of the Year behind Mike Trout (and Yoenis Cespedes), and 9th in the AL Cy Young. In 2013, Darvish would lead the AL in strikeouts to a 2nd place finish in the AL Cy Young (although he was arguably better than Scherzer) and his 2nd All-Star Game. He took a small step-back in 2014 as he battled multiple injuries that ultimately ended his season in August and meant Tommy John surgery that would cause him to miss all of 2015 as well.

Upon his return in 2016, it was clear Darvish was a different pitcher than his first few years in the MLB and had a knack for missing time as he ended up on the DL two separate times. In 2017, Darvish would be traded at the deadline to the Los Angeles Dodgers and again had a small stint on the DL. He would become a free agent and sign late in 2018 before the season with the Chicago Cubs on a 6-Year/$126M deal. He would have a short 2018 season after multiple DL stints, but pitch back to normal in 2019, and have one of the best seasons in baseball in 2020, while placing 2nd in the NL Cy Young. With 3-years and $59M remaining at an AAV of $21M Darvish is the 2nd-highest paid player on the Chicago Cubs, a team that is looking to clear payroll, which has brought a lot of trade interest.

The Stats of Yu Darvish (2012-2020 and 2021 Projections):

Over his 8-year career in the MLB, Yu Darvish has pitched to a 71-56 record with a 3.47 ERA over 182 starts and 1127.0 innings. When looking at more advanced stats, he has a career 3.43 FIP, a 125 ERA+, and a 1.160 WHIP, all of which are very good (and eerily close to Aaron Nola from yesterday). However, which such a long career it’s important to look at his more recent splits over his Cubs tenure since 2018. With an injury-shortened 2018 that was uncharacteristic of Darvish’s MLB success and a great comeback year in 2020, I am hoping these numbers look about right:

2018-2020: 15-14 record, 3.60 ERA (121 ERA+), 294.2 innings, 3.77 FIP, 1.106 WHIP, 371 strikeouts (11.3 K/9)

Obviously, this tells a tale that Darvish is a good pitcher. However, there are some important notes to highlight with his abundant injury history and his going into his age-34 season in 2021 which is past a traditional peak. It’d be a risky move for a team to take on Darvish on the surface.

What should be expected of him in 2021? Maybe this can spark some comfort as a player to trade for. Baseball Reference has him projected from a 3.80 ERA over 180.0 innings, a 1.178 WHIP, and 211 strikeouts at a 10.6 K/9 rate. On the other side though, Fangraphs projects a moderately better season with a 3.72 ERA (3.61 FIP) over 189.0 innings, a 1.17 WHIP, and 227 strikeouts at a 10.8 K/9 rate. Overall, this would be a solid #3 man for any rotation.

What Would it Take to Get Darvish?

If you’ve read any of the other articles this week, you’ll know that we’re going to my favorite silly tool on the internet:

Interestingly, even with a big contract left, his age, and his injury background, Darvish is not a negatively-ranked player in terms of MTV. He’s not a high commodity, but at +20.1 MTV that does surprise me a little. Even so, I wouldn’t consider a trade for Darvish to come easy.

While slashing payroll is a big concern for many teams, the NL Central is almost completely open for a team to take- especially with the 2nd place playoff berth- which could lead the Cubs to really attempt one more push with their core of Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo before each may leave in free agency. This would mean the Cubs would almost require an MLB-ready starting pitcher in return.

This plays favorably for the Yankees as they have a number of MLB-ready pitchers/prospects:

Deivi Garcia = 31.1

Jordan Montgomery = 29.6

Clarke Schmidt = 22.3

Domingo German = 13.7

However, it’d be unlikely for the Yankees to want to overpay for a pitcher in Darvish’s situation with taking on payroll, so unless the MLB-ready pitcher was Domingo German, there would be a high likelyhood of prospect being added on both sides to even out a deal. For me, I’m going to consider a trade with Clarke Schmidt as the main piece.

For the Cubs, I have decided on the following players alongside Yu Darvish:

Cole Roederer (Cubs #5; +6.1) – Left-Handed Outfielder who was exposed early in the minors. Did find his swing late, however. The Yankees need another high-LHH OF prospect and he’s a perfect high-end piece to take some pressure off of Florial.

Total Cubs traded value: 26.40.

For the Yankees, I have decided on the following players alongside Clarke Schmidt:

Albert Abreu (Yankees #12, +2.4) – High-Lottery Arm for the bullpen who I may learn to regret trading, but value-wise makes sense in a deal.

Josh Smith (Yankees #18; +2.4) – Nice hitting all-around shortstop who is closer to the MLB than people think. Scouts think he is destined for 2B, but he’s another player who could contribute soon without many major flaws to correct now which should help him rise quick.

Total Yankees traded value: 27.10

All-in, I think this is a good move for the Cubs and a decent move for the Yankees. I’d like the push towards getting another good arm for the rotation, but the injury history on Darvish does concern me (as much as I’d want him). However, I am highly interested in Roederer so if there was an option to get him alongside Darvish in a deal that would be a positive for me.

It’s definitely not perfect, but it’s a deal I’d be comfortable with making all things considered.


Article By: Ethan Semendinger

Date Published: December 24th, 2020


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