At first glance, and thanks to Jon Daniels’ repeated insistence, the Texas Rangers’ starting rotation looks to be all set. Behind incumbent lefties Cole Hamels and Martin Perez, the Rangers signed two free agent pitchers – Doug Fister and Mike Minor – and traded for a Comeback Player of the Year candidate in Matt Moore. That’s five.
JD has continued to say that the team will not be involved in the higher end free agents that are still left on the board – Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn, Alex Cobb and our subject today, Yu Darvish. Perhaps the most telling sign is Daniels telling the media on Tuesday that the team would not be “all-in” for 2018 and would not be spending a lot of money or prospects on a big ticket acquisition.
But that makes you wonder – what good general manager just has the upcoming season in mind when making decisions?
Would You or Wouldn’t You: Sign Starting Pitcher Yu Darvish?
Darvish, who will be entering his age-31 season, spent five and a half years with Texas Rangers gear in his possession. That last half year, spent with the Los Angeles Dodgers, took him to the World Series. The result wasn’t pretty, but Darvish still got to be showcased on the grandest stage of them all for Major League Baseball.
Undoubtedly, the righty from Osaka will be looking for a return to the stage. He’ll be going into his second full season returned from Tommy John surgery in 2015, having made 31 starts last season between the two clubs. A four-time All-Star and two-time top-ten Cy Young vote-earner, Yu Darvish is still looking for a home.
Why You Would: It’s no surprise, but in order to have a shot in the postseason, you first need to get to the postseason. That requires regular season success, and Yu Darvish is a regular season success. Posting up a career .571 winning percentage (56-42) and a 3.42 ERA, Darvish can be a difference-maker for a team.
The Rangers’ especially, could utilize some of their more flexible signings and lengthen their rotation. Doug Fister, and more notably, Mike Minor, could be shifted to the bullpen. In fact, it was the bullpen where Minor thrived with the Royals last year. Even though the Rangers brought him on to be a starter, sometimes, things change.
Darvish has topped 200 strikeouts and 10 K/9 in each of his full seasons in MLB, and even in his Tommy John-shortened seasons, he was well on his way to those numbers. Those kinds of numbers are starting pitcher stats that Texas has been desperately lacking in its general history.
Even those who make the argument that he is home run prone, he has a career 1.0 HR/9, and last year was his worst in that category – Yu gave up a whopping 1.3 HR/9. In fact, Darvish’s last half-season with Texas was statistically his worst. Then, he went to the Dodgers, fixed up a couple of things with his delivery and mechanics and got himself right again.
Familiarity is another reason to bring back Darvish. You’ve heard all of the non-baseball reasons – he lives here, has family here, trains here, loves the area, the lack of state income tax, etc. But Darvish knows Daniels and manager Jeff Banister and how they operate and look to the future.
Even if 2018 isn’t an “all-in” year for Texas, that’s not to say that Darvish’s value is solely for 2018. Look at it this way, if the Rangers were in a full on rebuild, they wouldn’t have signed Mike Minor to a 3-year deal; nor would Minor have likely agreed to such terms. They wouldn’t have traded for Matt Moore – why would they, when non-tendered Nick Martinez and A.J. Griffin would have sufficed?
They would have actively explored a trade of Adrian Beltre – there are a handful of teams that could still utilize the type of player that Beltre is. Sure, they have some difficult contracts to move, but complete and total dedication to playing young pieces on your Major League team means opening up as many spots as possible, and Texas’ moves don’t say that. 2018 seems more like half measures.
No, Texas might not be all in for 2018, but with a shiny new stadium on the horizon, the Rangers could be looking to allocate chips for the 2019 and 2020 seasons. That’s where Darvish could play. There’s money coming off of the books after 2018 – most notably, Adrian Beltre, and not-as-notably, Elvis Andrus, who can, and likely will opt-out.
At that point, the player that costs you the most is Cole Hamels – IF you pick up the option, which actually costs $3 million less than his contract for 2018. You can tell Yu Darvish that he’s getting pieces of that pie, or that he can share that with a new core of players.
Why You Wouldn’t: After the regular season and after a postseason berth, what then? Yu Darvish’s postseason performances leave a LOT to be desired. In playoff games, Darvish sports an unsightly 5.81 ERA and 9.2 hits per nine innings. In a sport of “What have you done for me lately,” Darvish’s last appearance on a Major League Baseball mind was terrible. In two games, including a decisive Game 7, Darvish gave up 9 runs, 9 hits, and DID NOT record a strikeout, pitching in only 3.1 innings. In short, he got shelled.
Obviously, the World Series and two games is a small sample size, but when Yu Darvish was acquired solely for the purpose of performing on the biggest stage, that sample size sticks out like a sore thumb.
How long until your window opens again? If you’re conceding a division title solely for 2018, then bringing Darvish aboard to lead a team into 2019 might make sense. If you’re thinking you won’t be competing until Globe Life Field opens, then maybe wasting Darvish for two years at the money it costs doesn’t make a lot of sense, no matter how much money you think ownership has.
Speaking of money, Darvish is looking to be paid “Ace” money. Despite all of the aforementioned stats, and despite the undeniable fact that Darvish has the stuff to front a rotation, he’s still not there. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not buying into the “Ace Stuff, but not Ace Tough” tagline, but it hasn’t showcased itself on a consistent basis. At the very least, it hasn’t showcased itself consistently on a $30 million per year level.
Will it get there? There’s no reason to think it wouldn’t. But unless you’re in the business of opt-outs and buyouts in order to restructure a deal (not that awful an idea), you’re talking about what you’re willing to pay for 4-6 years, starting in 2018. If Darvish is still looking for $30 million, that has to take you out of the race.
However, it's January 17 – a month before pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training – and Darvish hasn't signed in an offseason unlike any in recent memory where the Hot Stove is in a deep freeze. With each day that passes without a deal for Darvish, his price might come down enough where a return to Texas begins to make more sense for the Rangers.
What would I do? I WOULD sign Yu Darvish – at the right price point. I am of the mindset that Jon Daniels isn’t just thinking about 2018. I am also of the mindset that Jon Daniels is a little more creative than just a straightforward X-years/Y-Dollars contract.
Not only for the Rangers, but for Darvish as well, an opt-out or several options make a lot of sense. Furthermore, while I believe that contracts should be front-loaded instead of back-loaded, in order to maximize a winning window for a particular player, a back-loaded contract for Darvish makes sense if you buy that the Rangers are going to be looking to be all-in later rather than sooner.
But if Darvish is sticking to a commitment and price point of more than 6 years and/or more than $25 million per year, then I wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors.
So, should the Rangers bring back Yu Darvish or should they just sit this one out? Share your take with Matt on Twitter @FisherWritesMLB.