The NL Central has seen the most activity as a league during the 2018 off-season, Yu Darvish was just the latest move in a three way chess match for dominance.
The final memory of the 2017 MLB season was forgettable for Yu Darvish. Two starts in the fall classic ended with Darvish setting new career lows in innings pitched per start. But the Chicago Cubs remembered Darvish a little differently, 6.1 innings pitched allowing 1 run while striking out 7. Darvish helped end the cubbies season, now he looks to be the final piece for a potential championship.
Saturday, the Cubs inked the All-Star starter to a 6year $126million contract, taking the number 1 rated free agent pitcher off the market. The Cubs effectively addressed their biggest concern leading into the 2018 season. After several down seasons the Cubs utilized draft picks to build a strong core of position players which allowed them to make the moves necessary to fill a pitching staff with hired guns. The Cubs rank dead last in innings pitched by “home grown” talent since 2012. Darvish will take the spot of departing free agent Jake Arrieta, presumably finalizing the 2018 rotation. Darvish will join Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana, and fellow newcomer Tyler Chatwood, forming the most complete rotation in the top heavy NL Central.
While the Cubs had an available spot in the rotation, this can be looked at as a reaction to the moves made by fellow NL Centrals rivals. The St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers made moves to bolster their offenses to catch up with the powerhouse NL Central Champs. The Cubs made the best counter move they could by bringing in Darvish. Questions still loom around the Cubs bullpen, can they replace All-World closer Wade Davis with Brandon Morrow or Steve Cishek? They also have to question the ability of long time ace Jon Lester, whom saw a nearly one run per game increase in ERA in 2017. Darvish will provide stability to the rotation, playing his first five season in the bigs in hitter friendly Ballpark in Arlington, Darvish should have no fear of fellow hitter friendly Wrigley Field.
The Cubs inability to build pitching has been the lone criticism of a team that has now made three straight playoff appearances as well as two straight NLCS appearance. But while the Cardinals and Brewers have to wait for young arms to develop, they Cubbies have been able to build a strong rotation that comes in immediately MLB ready. The length of the contact will also give GM Theo Epstein a chance to continue to build. If Lester is on his last leg and Kyle Hendricks comes back to the real world, Darvish will be able to fill in as the ace of a staff that will be competing for many years behind the great position player core.
While $126million sounds like a big number, in todays pitcher market Darvish comes in at a bargain price. The Cardinals and Brewers have just been put on notice. The Cubs have a grasp on the Central that they will not give up. With great free agents still on the market it is the Cardinals and Brewers move.