The stove at the MLB Offseason Market has been lukewarm at best, which means that several of the biggest names and best performers are still available to sign with your favorite team. Yu Darvish is near the top of that list. He was worth 3.5 fWAR in 2017 and helped the Dodgers reach the World Series, achieving a tremendous 61:13 K/BB ratio once being traded by Texas to Los Angeles at the deadline. Steamer projects that Darvish will be worth 3.6 fWAR in 2016, and despite now clearing 30 years of age, he has shown the ability to stay relatively healthy following the Tommy John surgery that caused him to miss the entire 2015 season. It’s clear that given that information, Darvish would be a huge addition to any club with designs on contending for the playoffs. Publicly, the Cubs, Brewers, Twins, Dodgers, Rangers, and Yankees are said to have communicated with Darvish and his representatives from Wassermann. It is my belief that one of these NL Central competitors needs to ink arguably the market’s best pitcher to succeed in 2018 and beyond.
(Yu Darvish walks off the mound in Houston after being shelled in World Series Game 3)
Like many of you, I set out thinking that the answer to the query, “Amongst the teams known to be angling to sign Yu Darvish to a contract this offseason, who needs him the most?” would be the Cubs. Why not? They’ve been to three straight championship series’, and are a year removed from one of the greatest game sevens ever played in any sport, at the end of which they claimed their first World Series title in 108 years. Most importantly, they have a clear need—former Cy Young winners Arrieta and Lackey are free agents, and they signed Tyler Chatwood in December to fortify their rotation. That said, their rotation is solid otherwise with Lester, Hendricks, and Quintana. Additionally, they can expect Addison Russell, Heyward, Schwarber, Zobrist, and even Rizzo to contribute more in 2018 than they did in 2017. Their bullpen also improved this offseason, as they added Brandon Morrow to take the place of Wade Davis, and Steve Cishek. They should also benefit from a full season of 2017 trade deadline acquisition Justin Wilson. I say all of this to point out that they have the talent to win the division or one of the wild-card spots, and adding a top flight starter like Darvish, given all the money they currently have committed and will have to commit to their young core going forward, doesn’t readily appear to be a significantly better option than swinging a deal for more short-term pitching at the deadline.
The other NL Central team that has been rumored to be in discussions with Darvish is the Milwaukee Brewers, and it is my belief that the Brew Crew have the biggest need to sign a top end starter like Yu Darvish. The smaller market Brewers have truly announced their arrival as a contender this winter after deciding against making a big deal at the deadline last year for one of the available star pitchers to supplement their surprise club. Of course, the Brewers ultimately led the NL Central until the end of July and missed out on the NL Wild Card by one game. However, make no mistake—last year’s success has pried open Milwaukee’s contention window. Last week, the Brewers struck deals to reshape their outfield, adding affordable young star Christian Yelich via trade with the Marlins and signing Lorenzo Cain back to the organization with which he began his career. They also fortified their bullpen by signing Matt Albers and Boone Logan. These moves clearly state that the Brewers don’t simply expect to rest on the laurels of their surprise feelgood 2017. That said, Fangraphs projects the club to win shy of 80 games as they’re currently constructed. We can attribute this to a rotation that is rather uninspiring. Jimmy Nelson was nearly a 5-fWAR pitcher in 2017, but tore his labrum down the stretch and had surgery, which will keep him out until June if all goes well. Behind Nelson was Chase Anderson, who also had a very productive 2017 despite losing two months to an oblique injury, and displayed better approach to go with higher velocity than he had to this point in his career, turning in a sub 1.00 HR/9 and a career-best 3.58 FIP over 141.1 innings. Zach Davies also produced a solid season despite a lower strikeout rate and a higher walk rate and was a workhorse for the staff, throwing nearly 200 innings. The rest of the 2018 rotation is a little more suspect. Harvard-educated Brent Suter is an interesting option from the left side (seriously, look how hunched over he is as he releases the ball), but he throws his 86 mph fastball nearly ¾ of the time, and while it gets a lot of swing and miss due to its natural cut, he is likely a back of the rotation or LOOGY piece and has thrown just over 100 innings in his major league career.
(Noted hunchback Brent Suter faces Starling Marte of the Pirates at Miller Park in 2016)
Brandon Woodruff is also interesting in that his fastball can get up to 98, but Fangraphs lead prospect writer Eric Longenhagen writes that Woodruff lives in the low to mid 90s with a hard slider that he hasn’t yet commanded consistently enough to elicit swings and misses in the zone, and his changeup is fringy. That’s yet another back of the rotation guy. Jhoulys Chacin is a fascinating case in terms of his huge platoon splits, as lefties have dominated him, but he’s been well above average against righties. At 2 years for $16 million, it was a solid signing for the Brewers, as he has been worth about 2 fWAR a year over the past couple of seasons and he can provide depth for the rotation or be a long arm out of the pen for the club. These pitchers are solid, but they don’t really appear that they can make up the ground between the Brewers and their competition in the Central. This group also doesn’t appear reliable enough to be counted on to save the bullpen once every five days. That said, research shows that teams need approximately eight starters for extended stretches over a 162 game period, and the aforementioned pitchers can provide excellent depth.
That leads us to the value of installing a true ace to head up Milwaukee’s rotation. The Cain signing signaled that the Brewers don’t believe in half-measures. The club’s willingness to trade their top prospect in Lewis Brinson indicates that they believe that their time is now. On a win curve, the wins that usually approach playoff births and division titles are the most valuable, and those are the wins that Darvish represents for the Brewers. If all of the above is to be believed, the Brewers truly need to commit to a pitcher like Yu Darvish who can take the ball every five days and save the bullpen on a regular basis. Darvish has been that, and the alterations that he made in locating his cutter higher by changing his release point and burying his breaking balls more consistently against left-handed hitters once moving to Los Angeles indicate that he is willing to make changes in order to improve. That’s important to note given how much success the Brewers organization has had recently in getting better performance out of their pitchers. Darvish also serves as a valuable resource for a developing staff since he has pitched in two World Series’. Additionally, given that he’s never been the type of pitcher who needs to rely upon a high-velocity repertoire, and with eight unique pitch types in his arsenal depending on which classification system you use, Darvish has a better chance of being successful into his mid-30s than some other pitchers who will command huge dollars this year and going forward. Darvish’s ability, the Brewers’ current competitive position, and the role that a pitcher like Darvish can fulfill on the Brewers’ roster make it clear that this is a mutually beneficial opportunity for both the player and the club that could potentially pay huge dividends come October.
About Me: I am a veteran of two MLB front offices, a recipient of SABR’s Yoseloff Scholarship, and a 2016 graduate of Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. I enjoy watching baseball, being an unabashed Duke Basketball homer, and trying new brews. I am appreciative of this blog’s ability to keep me sharp as I search for my next opportunity.