Yu Darvish joined the Cubs in 2018 on a six-year, $126 million deal that included an opt-out after the second year, one it appeared there was no way he’d exercise after a disastrous debut campaign. But with the market thin for starters and Darvish pitching like an ace since regaining his confidence and his favorite pitch, the possibility that he’d choose to hit the market became much more of a reality. Amazing what can happen in less than a season, huh?
With $81 million remaining over four years, it’s conceivable that Darvish could make slightly more with another team. Or that he’d see another situation as enviable and would take less money to leave Chicago, the reverse of what we’ve seen from so many other free agents who have joined the Cubs over the last several seasons.
But Darvish credited the Cubs organization with getting him back on track after an elbow injury cost him most of the 2018 season and sapped his confidence. More than that, his long-undiagnosed stress reaction fueled the narrative that he was mentally weak, a flaming take onto which ESPN’s Alex Rodriguez sprayed accelerant when he said on air that Darvish was a divisive force in the clubhouse.
Even the most level-headed fans found themselves questioning the strikeout artist, or at least the Cubs’ decision to sign him after letting former Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta walk. That choice is looking better all the time, by the way. It didn’t look that way when the season started and Darvish was walking everything that, uh, walked, but then something clicked the boos turned into Yuuuuuuuus.
It was obvious in spring training that the pitcher had come out of his shell, eschewing his interpreter and opting to speak for himself while cracking jokes about peeing on his hand to help a blister. With his pitching back on par with his personality, Darvish achieved a level of comfort he might not be able to replicate elsewhere. So does that mean he’s going to stay? He believes so at this point.
“I haven’t decided yet,” Darvish told Jordan Bastian and other media members in St. Louis. “I have to talk to my family and agent, too. My kids and my wife love Chicago, especially the kids. They only care about the Cubbies. So, I don’t think [I will opt out].”
Whew, that’s a relief. The Cubs have enough retooling to do without having to replace the man who’s become their best pitcher, so Darvish staying makes the offseason that much simpler. Then again, adding that $21 million annual value to a payroll that isn’t going to see an influx of Marquee money would give the Cubs flexibility to pursue someone like Gerrit Cole. Or maybe they should have that kind of money regardless and they can just swap one Cole for another.
Darvish pitching the way he did in the second half represents a great fit for both player and team. He’s a front-line starter who can miss bats, something the Cubs desperately need, and his young family is comfortable in Chicago. Given how much that seems to have helped with his performance, you’d think sticking around would be an easy decision.
“This organization is perfect for me,” Darvish said with what seemed like more than lip service.
The Cubs proved this season that they’re far from perfect on the whole, though having Darvish anchoring the rotation puts them in position to be better next season. Who knows, maybe they’ll even be able to exceed PECOTA’s projections once more.