Trading Yu Darvish would be a painful, but potentially smart move for the Cubs.
Four critical position players for the Chicago Cubs hit free agency after the 2021 season. Trading any of them right now, though, is difficult as all four are coming off subpar performances in the abbreviated 60-game slate this summer.
Still, Theo Epstein risks watching all four walk without getting anything in return if he rolls the dice and hopes that, miraculously, this core can put it all together and overcome glaring issues that have become a staple of the offense over the last three years.
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I’d like to think he won’t let that happen. Assuming he departs next winter when his contract expired, it’s hard to envisioning him dropping that mess in the lap of his heir apparent, current Cubs GM Jed Hoyer.
He’ll likely wait to dangle some combination of Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Anthony Rizzo until next summer, ahead of the trade deadline. But if those guys start slowly again next year, their trade value wouldn’t be near what we’ve all perceived it to be in recent years.
The contention window is barely cracked at this point. Sure, the Cubs won the NL Central in 2020. But that was more a result of the lackluster competition in the division than anything else. This club is a far cry from a legitimate championship-quality club.
There’s one move, though, that could help usher in the next era on the North Side. It would hurt. It would be unpopular. But it could also bring back a haul of young talent. Trading NL Cy Young candidate Yu Darvish.
The 34-year-old right-hander is coming off an absolutely dominant season in which he tied for the league lead with eight wins to go along with a 2.01 ERA and NL-best 2.23 FIP. Last year, despite a strong second half, Darvish allowed 1.7 homers per nine. This time around, he slashed that number to 0.6, while anchoring the Chicago rotation.
His 4.7 percent walk rate ranked among the top eight percent of pitchers. He displayed a stunning mix of pitches that kept hitters off-balance, throwing his cutter more than ever before in his career (43.7 percent). In no uncertain terms, he made it perfectly clear: he’s a legitimate ace.
There are three years remaining on his deal with the Cubs, in which he earns $22, $19 and $18 million, respectively. Assuming baseball gets back on track at some point next year with fans in attendance and all the normalcy the world currently lacks, that’s a palatable sum to a team in need of a stud atop the rotation.
Given he’s in his mid-30s, Darvish’s stock will never be higher than it is right now. He has a real shot to win the league’s top pitching honors and Epstein could pitch him as an alternative to teams not looking to go after Trevor Bauer this winter in free agency.
Besides Bauer, this winter’s free agent class doesn’t have many top-of-the-rotation options, which means trade may be the only card left for clubs who lose in the free agent sweepstakes. Enter the Cubs, who could finally decide to close the door on one chapter and open the door on another by trading their most valuable player in Darvish.