It makes no sense for the Cubs to pursue a 30-year-old pitcher with a reconstructed elbow who’s possibly asking for $20 million a year over four or five years. Which is why they may turn to a 31-year-old pitcher with a reconstructed elbow who’s possibly asking for $25 million a year over five or six years. Wait, wow, it sounds really weird when you put it like that.
Things get a little different when you move beyond the generic facts and hypothetical salary figures and add the names Alex Cobb and Yu Darvish to the mix. Based on performance and talent alone, the latter would be the obvious choice of anyone but Cobb’s immediate family. And I’m betting that even they would go with Darvish if they were running a team.
Even so, it’s a little strange that Cobb’s reportedly prohibitive asking price at the Winter Meetings would push the Cubs to an even higher price, even if that means getting a better pitcher. In addition to what was originally predicted at $15 million AAV, a big part of Cobb’s appeal was the moderate contract length that would give the Cubs more flexibility down the road.
Not only would Darvish — who is expected to command fat stacks of cash over at least five years — be on the books longer, he’d put significant strain on the payroll this season. Though it was erroneously reported that the Cubs had exceeded the collective bargaining tax threshold in 2017, they were actually well below. And with what was expected (by some, at least) to be sort of a transition period this offseason, it figured that a good chunk of that money would remain unspent for bigger pursuits next winter.
I’m not even necessarily talking about Bryce Harper, but the free agent class as a whole is just much better heading into 2019. Then again, it could be even more expensive. And that’s really the only thing that makes sense when it comes to the Cubs’ reported interest in Darvish. Whether the Cubs are the “dominant candidate” or just kicking the tires on the Japanese righty, they’d have to see him as the best option to anchor the rotation for the long haul.
That actually goes beyond just Cobb’s asking price and extends to the acquisition costs for controlled starters like Danny Duffy and Fernando Rodney. No, wait, he just pantomimes that whole bow and arrow thing. Who’s the guy I’m thinking of? Oh yeah, Chris Archer. Anywho, a legitimate pursuit of Darvish signals that the Cubs believe even the considerable money and risk they’d commit to him is more worthwhile than trading away multiple players/prospects or waiting to play in next year’s market.
It’s a bird-in-hand kind of thing, paying a premium for the safety of having a No. 1 starter in place for the foreseeable future. We could get pedantic about who the top member of the rotation would really be, both immediately and in subsequent seasons, but Darvish would be the replacement for the man who now stands with him as the top free agent pitcher in the game. That’s Jake Arrieta, for those who aren’t picking up what I’m putting down.
And if you’re thinking, “Why not just give that jack to Jake?” I’m right there with you. Except that doing so assumes Arrieta actually wants to come back. I’ve got no direct conduit to the conversations that have been had and I’m not a fly on the office wall, but just listening to Arrieta’s rhetoric over the last two years has told me that he very much wanted out of Chicago. Or, perhaps more accurately, that he very much wanted to become a free agent and was made aware that the Cubs weren’t about to give him the money and years he was looking for.
Saying it that way almost makes it seem like sour grapes on the Cubs’ part if they were to give Darvish more money and years than they were comfortable giving Arrieta. Some will point to the former Cy Young winner being the older and more heavily used of the two, but Darvish is only five months younger and put in a ton of work in Japan prior to coming to America. While Darvish has fewer MLB innings, his 2,127.2 total innings over 12 pro seasons blows away the 1,669 Arrieta has tossed in 11 seasons.
Darvish also has question marks when it comes to his playoff performance, which was much maligned this past season. Arrieta, on the other hand, has come up big across the Cubs’ deep runs over the last three seasons. Where the scales tip, however, is on the subject of consistency. Darvish has a very clear advantage in terms of maintaining strong performance year after year. And when you’re talking about handing out big money, it’s very important to have confidence in the results you’ll get over time.
So, again, I can understand why the Cubs might be interested in Darvish as a means of securing the future of their rotation. You know what, though? There’s one other possibility that I’ve completely neglected here to this point, which is that the reported pursuit of Darvish is just a red herring to create a little more leverage in ongoing talks with Cobb’s camp.
Any way you slice it, there are tons of question marks with every one of these scenarios. Just viewing it as an interested third party who lacks all of the salient information, I’d actually prefer that the Cubs go way lower with a potential steal like Jhoulys Chacin or someone of that ilk. The only thing you can guarantee here is the money you’re spending, and I’m admittedly more conservative in that aspect given where the Cubs sit at this juncture.