A picture really is worth a thousand words.
The Cubs unequivocally got better in 2018 with the signing of Yu Darvish. The news has been incredibly for positive for the Cubs. They have landed the top free agent starter on the market for a 6 year $126 million guaranteed deal. The deal may become worth up to $150 million. That is incredibly team friendly team for the Cubs. The top free agent starting pitcher on the market landed a deal worth almost 30 million less than Jon Lester's deal three years ago.
I have to admit to a certain amount of giddiness over the deal. There is the fact that the Cubs added a pitcher with amazing stuff and statistically compares to Max Scherzer, John Smoltz, Jake Peavy, Kerry Wood, Ted Higuera, Johan Santana, and Zack Greinke according to Baseball Prospectus. It is also the fact that the Cubs front office has delivered my preferred target to the Cubs three years in a row. Yu Darvish was my preferred target if it wasn't clear from here or here. Beyond that is that the Cubs have pulled off the same feat twice in the past three years. In 2015, the Cardinals were the best team in the National League. The Cubs signed the best two free agents from the Cardinals in 2016. The Dodgers were the best team in the National League in 2017. The Cubs have signed the two most desirable free agents from the Dodgers in 2018. Also the Cubs have twice thwarted the Brewers in upgrading their starting staff by acquiring Jose Quintana and Yu Darvish.
The details are incredibly Cubs friendly so far. Here are the first tidbits we got on the deal.
Again: Darvish to #Cubs, six years, $126M, pending physical, sources tell The Athletic. Chance to get to $150M range through incentives.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) February 10, 2018
Sources: Chances of Darvish getting to $150M with #Cubs quite slim; would need to win multiple Cy Young awards. His guarantee is $126M over six years, making contract the longest and richest free-agent deal of off-season.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) February 10, 2018
So the news is that the Cubs got the best starting pitcher of the free agent class, and a pitcher with the stuff of a true top of the rotation pitcher for a $21 million per year guarantee. That number is incredibly important as the Cubs flirt with the competitive balance tax threshold. The deal only becomes worth $150 million if Darvish pitches at an incredibly high level. Essentially, Darvish has to pitch at a Randy Johnson level for the deal to become worth $5 million less than a deal Jon Lester signed three years ago. That is very team friendly.
Fangraphs has its own estimates of what a player would be worth on the free agent market. Yu Darvish has been worth $28 million every year he has pitched in the big leagues except for two. The first was when his arm blew up and he had to miss an entire season in 2015. The second was in 2016 when he only started 17 games. He was worth just $21 million in that season.
However, the deal isn't as simple as that.
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) February 10, 2018
The first point is that the front office's aversion to no trade clauses hasn't prevented them from operating at the top of the free agent market. The biggest deals the have negotiated have all involved them. This shows one of the strengths of this front office in not operating in a dogmatic fashion. They weigh the value of these things and make decisions that have successfully balanced long and short term needs at the proper time. The opt out on the other hand provided some additional wrinkles to the deal beyond the club's willingness to strike a balance to increase the odds of winning championships now and later.
Basically wonder if it is something like 50+ million in those 2 years and then lower salary afterwards. Might be a way for Cubs to game the tax threshold a little
— dabynsky (@dabynsky) February 10, 2018
This might be a way in which the Cubs are fully leveraging their current economic position. We will have to wait and see what the exact breakdown of the salary is, but early indications are that the opt out is after year 2.
— Jesse Rogers (@ESPNChiCubs) February 10, 2018
That makes sense given the crowded free agent market next year, and the fact that it will be more difficult to secure a large payday at age 34 then age 31. Age 33 might not be much better but there is a window of opportunity. The Dodgers were believed to be in the same ballpark as the Cubs by most reports, but before we celebrate another prized free agent turning down money to play for the Cubs the opt out needs to be considered. Specifically the amount of money offered up front prior to the opt out. My guess remains that the deal is front loaded with the AAV much closer or even over $25 million to start the deal. This gives Darvish a chance to make more over the course of the 6 years if he produces at pre-Tommy John levels in his two years with the Cubs. There is protection for the Cubs in that his actual cost will be much lower the remaining 4 years if he is just good or worse, and the Cubs have perhaps found a way to game the competitive balance tax threshold a bit with the additional years bringing the AAV down to just $21 million. That gives the Cubs over $11 million to work with this season to remain under the tax threshold ($10 million if you figure in Chris Gimenez's major league salary).
If you will allow me the indulgence of one last pat on the back here, the timing of the deal indicates that the Cubs front office does value that extra time for Darvish to be a Chicago Cub. If you want to believe that Darvish's World Series performance was a fluke due to tipping pitches, more time with Jim Hickey and Jim Benedict is a positive that is worth more than zero dollars. Yu Darvish by all reports is a player who valued familarity in these negotiations. The Cubs saw first hand last season how a player's performance suffered when trying to adjust midseason to a new environment in Justin Wilson. Allowing Darvish to join camp on a normal schedule after the Cubs "blinked" in offering a six year deal.
There is very little to feel bad about this deal from the Cubs perspective. Yu Darvish's arm could explode or he might become ineffective suddenly. That is the risk invovled in any large free agent deal, but the front office has continued to show a willingness to flex their muscle when the time is right. The time was right. So in conclusion:
Update: Just a reminder of what a healthy Yu Darvish is capable of doing with a baseball.
The greatest sports gif of all time. Yu Darvish's entire pitch arsenal, showcasing the consistently identical release point. pic.twitter.com/9u50hRDANE
— M@ (@MattSpiegel670) February 10, 2018