Why Trading Yu Darvish Was The Right Move

The Cubs sent some shockwaves across baseball on Monday when they sent Yu Darvish and Victor Caratini to the Padres for Zach Davies, Reginald Preciado, Yeison Santana, Owen Caissie and Ismael Mena.

So far I’ve heard almost nothing but negative feedback from the Cubs fanbase, but I think a lot of that comes from an incomplete understanding of the trade. I’m very optimistic about this deal as it is really a deal that could benefit both sides.

First, the Cubs need to step back and assess where the team is at. They haven’t won a playoff game since 2017 (Yep, zero playoff wins the entire time that Darvish has been a Cub). Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez all have contracts expiring after next season and Willson Contreras a year after that.

Yu Darvish is a 35-year old pitcher set to make $22 million next year, $19 million in 2022 and $18 million in 2023. He had his best season as a cub last year, which means his trade value will never be higher. He’s had some injuries in the past and there’s no guarantee he’ll be as good as he was last season, especially as a pitcher getting up there in age. Even with his very impressive 2020 season, the Cubs got swept by the Marlins in the first round of the postseason.

Let’s say we hold on to him for another year, now we have the same problem with everyone becoming free agents and Darvish’s trade value will have dropped (we don’t know how much it will, but it will). There’s no way his value gets any higher than it is now.

The Cubs needed to shake things up and they did just that. They also needed to find some money to use in the near future and they’ve done that and replenished the farm system with some young talent in the process.

The Return

The Cubs received five players in return for Darvish and Caratini. I’ll start off with the only one we’ll see this this year: Zach Davies.

Zach Davies (SP)27 years old

The only name here that most Cubs fans are familiar with. He spent his first five major league seasons pitching for the Brewers before signing with the Padres before last season. He’s been referred to as a poor man’s Kyle Hendricks. He doesn’t throw hard (average fastball below 90 mph) and relies on location and a good changeup. He’s coming off his best season with an ERA of 2.73. He’s generally relied more on ground balls, but last year he saw a spike in strikeout rate due to his increase in changeup usage. The changeup is his most effective pitch and when he began using it more (up to 41.3% last year), he saw his best season yet. He only has one season left on his contract, so he will be a part of the rotation in 2021, but will become a free agent after that.

Yeison Santana (SS) – 20 years old

Already looks to be a clean defensive fit at shortstop. He has a really good feel for contact and hasn’t even played above Rookie ball yet. He hit .346/.429/.494 in rookie ball last year. With that feel for contact already there, Santana stands a good chance to hit for some power as he grows into it and can still stay at short. For those who were angry that Jake Cronenworth wasn’t in the deal- Santana was ranked ahead of him among Padres prospects on Fangraphs only a year ago- and Cronenworth is already 27 years-old.

Reginald Preciado (3B) – 17 years old

Here’s a quote from Fangraphs’ Eric Longenhagen just a year ago “Preciado is a strapping 6-foot-4 and has infield hands, feet, and actions, which means he may grow into huge power as that frame fills out, but remain agile enough to stay at short, which would make him a superstar”. Although that’s not the most likely outcome, and he may move to third, there’s still many other very good outcomes if he doesn’t reach that superstar threshold. What an excited possibility this guy could be though, and he switch hits which adds even more possibilities. He needs to work on balance in his stance and really just needs reps, but he is a really exciting young prospect. He hasn’t even played any games in the minors yet either.

Ismael Mena (CF) – 18 years old

He’s a plus runner with a great chance to stay in center field. His bat-to-ball skills are promising and he’s shown the ability to cover the whole plate, use the opposite field and work counts. He hasn’t played a minor league season yet either, but has played in instructional league. He could be a leadoff type hitter, but once again is very young and getting more reps is essential as it is for all young prospects.

Owen Caissie (OF) – 18 years old

A 2nd-round pick in this year’s MLB draft out of High School in Ontario, Canada. He has very quick bat and possesses the ability to hit for both average and power. A lefty who has a 6’4 frame, big raw power, a handsy swing. Caissie was one of the youngest players taken in this years draft, but is another exciting young prospect who’s yet to player a minor league game.

Yu Darvish was incredible last year and he’ll be missed by Cubs fans, but there’s no way you can convince me that keeping him for three more years (already 35-years old) will get the Cubs to go any farther in the playoffs. Not only did we open up $14.9 million this year (after Davies’ salary tradeoff), we open up $19 million next year and $18 million the year after that. His value will never be higher than now, and we cashed in on some promising, but very young prospects. Now we have money to use if we want to give it to Rizzo, Bryant, Baez, Contreras or make other moves. We may still need to make more moves, but we knew this was going to happen when theses guys came to the end of their deals.

One thing I’ve seen on social media that might be the biggest misunderstanding about the Cubs return is that they didn’t get anything good in return or the “they didn’t even get any of the top 10 Padres prospects”. What isn’t understood is that NONE of the four prospects have even played above Rookie ball and three of the four have not even played a minor league game of any sort. Prospects move up the rankings by performing at different levels along the way. They don’t just start as a Top 10 prospect when they sign at age 17. As an example, Eloy Jimenez wasn’t a top 10 prospect in the Cubs system until after he played a full season in High-A ball, even though they had him in the system before that. When we look at these promising prospects, none have even played low-A ball so obviously none are top ranked prospects, they’re all too young.

The other misconception is that they are rebuilding. They’re not. They’re at a spot where they have expiring contracts and tough decisions need to be made. You can’t resign everyone and still keep an open mind about new additions that push the team forward, that’s why Jed Hoyer’s got such a tough job. People are going to be mad at him no matter what he does. This move shows the Cubs are not just looking to the future, but improving the system/future while also doing what they can to extend the window without sacrificing the future.

Jed Hoyer is making some tough decisions to move money, but it needs to be done and he’s been able to do that while also replenishing a lot of young talent in the system. That’s his job and he’s been transparent with the fans that this isn’t the same direction as the rebuild. The Cubs aren’t going “all-in” in 2021 and that’s fine with me because the teams who have proved to be competitive over really long periods of time (Rays, Cardinals, Yankees, Dodgers etc.) don’t sell off their farm system to go all-in for a few years, they consistently have some of the best farm systems in baseball. They just try to compete every year, and that’s the direction I believe the Cubs are trying to go to now.

Published by Will McClaughry

Sports fan, data enthusiast and former division 3 college basketball player

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