First came the “bold prediction” from ESPN’s Jesse Rogers that Yu Darvish was more likely to be traded by Opening Day than Kris Bryant. Now comes speculation from MLB Network’s Jon Morosi that the Padres could be a good fit should the Cubs indeed be looking to move their ace.
“If he’s fairly priced to market, which I think he is, then the question is what would the return be,” Morosi said. “You’d at least, if you’re the Cubs, in addition to getting some salary relief, be hoping to get at least one or two high-level prospects for Yu Darvish. And one I would mention that I think makes a lot of sense: The San Diego Padres.”
What stands out here is that Morosi believes Darvish is “fairly priced to market,” whatever that means. Is it a matter of the Cubs being so intent on simply cutting payroll that they’d be willing to take a little less in return or does it mean they’ve set an understandably steep price for an elite pitcher who may still be getting better?
Either way, the connections to the Padres are not insignificant and date back to the start of Darvish’s career. San Diego GM A.J. Preller was in the Rangers front office when they landed Darvish prior to the 2012 season, so the two are familiar with one another. Preller is also in need of a frontline starter after losing Mike Clevinger for the season, and Morosi noted that the Padres’ system is still plenty deep even after trading for Clevinger.
“And of course not AJ Preller still looking for additional starting pitching possibilities, whether it’s (Trevor) Bauer, whether it’s (Tomoyuki) Sugano via the posting system,” Morosi said. “Yu Darvish to the Padres, to me, makes a ton of sense.
“They have the kind of high-level pitching the Cubs would want in return. They have a tremendous prospect base to trade from even after getting (Steve) Clevinger in that deal last year. So I would say of all the possibilities, and we’ll see what else happens in trade markets, Yu Darvish to the Padres, to me, is the strongest option out there if the Cubs are somewhat motivated to trade — for money-savings reasons — a Cy Young finalist.”
Everything hinges on that last line, since moving Darvish with three years remaining on his contract would be a sign that the Cubs aren’t actually trying to compete for at least the next two seasons. That would be incredibly disappointing given the way the Reds are looking to tank again and other NL Central teams seem to be dialing back the competitiveness as well.
The Cubs are already sitting around $50 million below their 2020 payroll obligations and don’t figure to be in the market for any significant free agents, so they could easily keep both Darvish and Bryant while still cutting costs. A lot of folks might try to frame a potential Darvish deal as being similar to the strategy Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer employed early in their rebuild, but those previous deals were short-term flips.
They managed to parlay bounceback seasons from guys like Paul Maholm and Scott Feldman into prospects and MLB-ready talent. The Jeff Samardzija deal likewise helped them in their quest for the World Series. But the key factors in those transactions were limited control over the pitchers in question and a team that knew it wasn’t going to be ready to compete in the immediate future doing business with organizations that needed one more piece for a playoff push.
What I’m driving at here is that the only way a Darvish trade to the Padres, or any team for that matter, makes sense is if the Cubs get the kind of return the White Sox got for José Quintana. That means the Pads would need to part with two out of a group of top prospects that includes LHP MacKenzie Gore, SS CJ Abrams, RHP Luis Patino, and OF Robert Hassell. I didn’t include Luis Campusano because he’s a catcher and the Cubs are doing okay there.
I really don’t know whether San Diego would pull the trigger on such a deal, but they’re clearly in what is by all accounts a wide-open competitive window and could use three years of potential ace-level production. Then again, that’s sort of what the Cubs thought about the aforementioned trade for Quintana. Darvish is a much better pitcher with much higher expectations, but he’s also on a much bigger contract.
As much as I hate the idea of trading Darvish, both because he’s one of the Cubs’ most exciting players and because of what it means for their success, there sure are a lot of signs indicating it’s a strong possibility. If that does happen, Hoyer had better make damn sure he gets at least “fair” value because flubbing such a big move at the outset of his presidency would be a tremendous misstep.