January 2018 finds the top free agent pitcher in this year’s class still on the outside looking in. Yu Darvish has met with the Cubs, reportedly will meet with the Astros and Rangers, and has been linked to the Twins, Phillies, Brewers, and Mariners. Darvish, at 31 and with a history of injury, still has the stuff and the projections still like him.
David Schoenfield of ESPN speculates that Darvish would want a contract of six years, $160 million, $26.6 million per year, similar to what Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariner’s makes per year. This would represent a significant increase over his current salary of $11 million per year. Many have speculated that Darvish’s World Series meltdown might bring his price down; however, his throwing partner this offseason, Clayton Kershaw, has said:
“That World Series was tough, but nobody remembers the start against the Diamondbacks, or that start against the Cubs that got us to the World Series. I mean he was dominant for us. He made 12 or 13 starts for us in the regular season to get us to that point. Everybody remembers that last start, and I understand that, but Yu is unbelievable.”
Kershaw affirms what everyone believes and that is that Darvish is an elite pitcher who has plenty of invaluable experience being a dominant pitcher in both the regular season and the postseason.
Darvish entered the 2017 season having to prove he could handle a full season workload after missing all of 2015 with Tommy John surgery. He posted the following line with both the Rangers and the Dodgers: 31 starts, 186.2 IP, 3.86 ERA, 3.83 FIP, 27.3% SO rate, 7.6% BB rate, 3.5% HR rate, 3.9 WAR. His velocity remained elite in 2017, averaging 94.2 mph with his fastball and touching 98 when he cranked it up. He averaged 11 strikeouts per nine innings across five big league seasons. Darvish has struck out an astonishing 1,021 batters in just 832.1 MLB innings throughout his regular-season career. He posted a 19 fWAR between 2012 and 2017 which makes him 18th among pitchers, which is even more impressive since he missed the entire 2015 season and part of the 2016 season after Tommy John surgery
Evan Altman of Cubs Insider speculates that the Cubs would be willing to go five years for around $135 million, $27 million per year, which would land his contract squarely between Hernandez and Justin Verlander‘s $28 million per year. In his age 31 season and given his injury history, Darvish still carries enough risk to perhaps limit both the years and the average annual value he will receive from whomever he signs with.
Darvish can carry a staff for stretches during the regular season, as he often showed with the Rangers and when he was traded to the Dodgers, he went 4-3 and posted a 3.44 ERA and 3.38 FIP in 49.2 innings. As Kershaw said above, Darvish was dominant in the postseason against the Diamondbacks and Cubs. Kershaw’s word is gold, so despite that World Series’ performance, Darvish remains an ace and someone is going to pay him like an ace.