Free agent starting pitcher Yu Darvish signed a six-year deal worth $126 million with the Chicago Cubs on Saturday, Feb. 10.
Darvish posted a 3.86 ERA in 2017 with the Texas Rangers and the Los Angeles Dodgers, and his diverse arsenal of pitches allowed him to post a K/9 of 10.08.
Though he struggled mightily in his two 2017 World Series starts with the Dodgers, clubs did not view those blemishes as reason for any long-term concern. Darvish’s dynamic stuff and proven record bolster a Cubs pitching staff that collectively posted a 3.95 ERA in 2017.
The Cubs will certainly be a favorite to win the NL Central for the third-straight season, as their starting rotation already featured three pitchers who combined for 9.1 fWAR last season in Jon Lester, Jose Quintana and Kyle Hendricks. Add Darvish to the equation, and that figure jumps to 12.6 fWAR in 2017.
The 2016 World Series champions also return Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, two young stars entering the prime of their respective careers.
The ripples of this deal will be felt throughout the MLB, especially during an offseason marred by free agent stagnation and threats of a player strike. Though no flurry of deals followed the signing, the Darvish contract changed the complexion of the 2018 free agent market.
Specifically, free agent pitcher Jake Arrieta, who played the last four and a half seasons with the Cubs, will now almost certainly find himself in a different uniform in 2018.
Arrieta could receive a contract like the one that Darvish was able to secure, as the two posted similar numbers in 2018, and both are 31-year-olds who appear to have already experienced the primes of their careers.
Unfortunately for Arrieta, the decision by the Cubs to sign Darvish instead of re-signing their in-house option with comparable numbers could signal that Cubs executives feared significant regression from Arrieta in 2018.
Alternatively, Arrieta’s agent, the infamous Scott Boras, could have forced the Cubs to move a different direction, as Boras is a notoriously difficult negotiator.
Boras represents several of the remaining top MLB free agents and has been bombarded with vitriol from media pundits, as some feel that his no-nonsense, money-first approach has prevented his clients from inking deals before the start of Spring Training.
Outfielder J.D. Martinez and third baseman Eric Hosmer, both Boras clients as well, remained unsigned despite having posted above-average to elite numbers in 2017. Traditionally, both of these two players would have been aggressively pursued at the beginning of the winter, but neither appears too close to joining a new club at Spring Training next week.
There is no doubt that the philosophy surrounding player acquisition has changed across all MLB front offices, as the “eye test” approach to player evaluation has given way to a combination of traditional scouting and advanced statistics, and with this shift, a healthy fear of overpaying for aging, overrated “stars” has found its way into all 30 MLB front offices.
Eventually the remaining free agents will find their homes, but the fallout of this historically slow 2018 offseason could be felt for years, as clubs will likely continue to heavily favor cheap, young players with years of team control over expensive veterans.