Although the 2020 season was mostly a disappointing one for the Chicago Cubs, Yu Darvish’s performance was an inherent positive.
The 34-year-old had successfully proved his post-All-Star run in 2019 was far from a fluke. Darvish posted a career-best 1.7 walks per nine and allowed just five homers in 76 innings while also striking out 93 opponents.
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As a result, Darvish was named one of the three finalists for the 2020 National League Cy Young Award. He had firmly established his place as the ace of the Cubs’ staff.
Yet, for all his success and value to the club, Darvish might also be the team’s biggest trade asset this winter.
If the Cubs are indeed looking to cut payroll, they could likely find any number of suitors willing to take on Darvish’s three years and $59 million remaining on his contract. That value is pretty team-friendly given the year Darvish turned in, even if the contract runs through his age-36 season.
This is a far cry from trying to trade someone like Kris Bryant, who is coming off the worst year of his career and could make close to or north of $20 million in his final year of arbitration before becoming a free agent next winter.
But the Cubs will not simply deal Darvish, of all people, to slash payroll. He is the most irreplaceable player on the roster, given Chicago’s lack of starting depth and impact pitching prospects in the pipeline.
Some teams do not make sense as trade partners.
Joel Sherman of the New York Post suggested Darvish might be a trade target for the Mets. Sherman suggested new team owner Steve Cohen could be willing to swallow both Darvish’s and Craig Kimbrel’s contracts to lessen the prospects the Cubs would get back possibly. He also noted the Mets have depth in guys like J.D. Davis and Dominic Smith.
But there are issues with any framework you could construct.
Davis regressed at the plate and is a subpar defender, and he will also be entering his age-28 season. Smith had another big year at the plate and could play left field or spot Anthony Rizzo innings at first, but it remains to be seen if there would be a steady spot for him in the lineup depending on what happens with Kyle Schwarber.
There is also this element: Sherman is likely hypothesizing the Cubs would make this move to free up payroll and thus have more spending money to sign arms this winter.
However, the market for starting pitchers is fragile, and the free-agent market as a whole could be extremely volatile due to financial fallout from COVID-19. Perhaps most importantly, however, the Mets do not have the prospect capital the Cubs would desire.
Chicago needs to rebuild its farm, more than anything. This especially means stocking up on young arms, which the Mets are also lacking.
Perhaps Theo Epstein at least entertains offers for Darvish. But he is probably only going to sell him for a massive return on investment in the form of prospects rather than salary relief. This means the Mets are simply not a feasible landing spot.