Six years and $126 million for a pitcher who lost all control in the World Series seems hefty at first, but Yu Darvish deserves it. The Japanese pitcher and the Chicago Cubs inked a deal with those terms and potentially more cash in incentives on Saturday afternoon, ending a long wait for the right free agency fit.
Darvish has been about as valuable as any pitcher in the big leagues during his six-year, five-season (Darvish missed all of 2015) career. His 56-42 record, 3.42 ERA, and 11 strikeouts per nine all scream of someone whose value will hold up throughout this six-year deal. Darvish was a Cy Young finalist with the Texas Rangers in 2013 and made four All-Star game appearances with the Rangers before a short stint with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Rangers, at the non-waiver traded deadline in August, shipped Darvish to L.A. for one promising prospect, power-hitting lefty Willie Calhoun. Joining Calhoun, a Triple-A All-Star in 2017 in the Rangers system, are minor-league prospects Brendon Davis and A.J. Alexy. Though Calhoun is projected to be a downright slugger at the major-league level, this trade is underwhelming in hindsight for the team in Arlington.
There are now just 11 pitchers in MLB whose yearly earnings top that of Darvish’s average annual value of $21 million. Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Felix Hernandez, and Zack Greinke highlight that crew — with Darvish there now, we’re talking about the true upper echelon of MLB pitchers. Though every one of the men above are now on longterm deals, to think Kershaw or Greinke, on an expiring contract like Darvish’s a year ago, would fetch just one true major league prospect is asinine.
That the Rangers sold their most valuable trade market asset for one player, essentially, was silly then, and worse now that we see what Darvish can attain on an open market. There is no conversion table for free agency money to prospect value, but a pitcher with past elbow issues getting $126 million from a big-spending contender shows that the said pitcher is worth more than a lone powerful 23-year-old hitter.
It’s worse when you account for the depleted Rangers farm system. From Triple-A to Single-A Short Season, Texas’s farm affiliates finished below .500 on the year. It was clear that Texas, no longer built for the long run as they were eight years back, needed to reinvigorate a once-loaded farm system.
They failed, opting for another player who fits the bill of Nomar Mazara, Joey Gallo, and Rougned Odor: MLB ready, but can’t perform at their ceiling because of the team around them. Calhoun joins a group that is designed to lose, which will stunt his development.
Alexy and Davis are far away from being MLB-caliber players, and perhaps never will be. The Rangers basically acquired one dude — and a great prospect at that, ranked as one of our ten breakout candidates in 2018, but still — for a pitcher making almost as much money as Scherzer, while striking out more batters than Kershaw.
Moving Darvish to the Dodgers was neccesary, but Texas probably wants a do-over in hindsight. After seeing what Yu can pull as a free agent (up to $150 million), the desperation move made by Jon Daniels and the 2016 American League West Division champs seems like a regrettably low sell.