When the Chicago Cubs agreed to terms with free agent right-hander Yu Darvish to a six-year deal worth $126 million, did they made a great move?
After all, they added a pitcher pending a physical that is considered to be the top hurler on the free agent market - and one considered a No. 1 pitcher - for less than projected in November. They also didn’t have to give up a draft pick. When Darvish was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in July, that meant he could not be made a qualifying offer to turn down.
There were predictions as free agency began that Darvish would get a six-year deal in the $140-160 million range, maybe even more. This column projected his value for the next six years - even factoring in declining performance later in the deal - at $154.7 million.
Of course, we didn’t know then the market would be so slow-moving or that so many players would still be available as spring training is set to begin. But the Cubs got Darvish for an average annual value of $21 million. Among starting pitchers according to Spotrac.com, Darvish ranks 13th in average annual value. That is the amount we get by dividing the total dollar value of the contract by the length of it.
The top four pitchers in average annual value are Zack Greinke at $34.4 million per season, followed by David Price at $31 million, Clayton Kershaw at $30.7 million and Max Scherzer at $30 million.
Others that top Darvish are Justin Verlander, Jon Lester, Felix Hernandez, Stephen Strasburg, Cole Hamels, Masahiro Tanaka, Jordan Zimmermann and Johnny Cueto.
When you look at those salaries, maybe the Cubs made a great deal here. On the other hand, how many of these big contracts don’t work out? Plus, Darvish will be 32 in August, has just one 200-inning season in his career (and that was in 2013) and had Tommy John surgery in 2015.
Beyond that, Darvish was a dud for the Dodgers in the World Series against Houston. He gave up eight runs and two homers over 3 1/3 innings and that covered two starts. He took losses in Game 3 and Game 7. Not only did Darvish not pitch Los Angeles to a World Series win, he was a big reason they lost.
In terms of his Cubs deal, it should be pointed out that reports have indicated the contract contains escalators and/or incentives that could increase the total value to $150 million. But very little specifics have been reported about that part of his deal and one or two reports characterized these escalators as difficult to reach. For instance, extra dollars each time he wins the Cy Young Award.
So if Darvish gets $21 million per year, what would that mean for two pitchers that might be on the Orioles’ radar in Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb? Do they then get $14-15 million per season in average annual value? Do they get less?
Back in early November, MLBTradeRumors.com predicted that Lynn would get a four-year deal for $56 million and Cobb would get four years for $48 million. If Darvish only got 75 percent of his predicted amount, will the same apply to this pair, and does that mean they settle for three year deals and not four?
We will see if the Darvish signing opens the floodgates or if the signings continue to come slowly. The time to get players before spring training has about passed. Camps are now set to open.
As a strange winter begins to turn into a brand new spring, the Cubs may have made a great signing. Or a terrible one.
For even more on Yu: MLB Network’s Brian Kenny takes a look at the Darvish deal as he put the pitcher through “The Shredder.”