Padres Give Up Prospects for Yu Darvish While Cubs Give Up by Craig Edwards December 28, 2020 After trading for Blake Snell on Sunday, it was fair to wonder just how far away the Padres are from the World Series-winning Dodgers in the NL West. That gap has narrowed even more if not closed entirely after their latest blockbuster, with Yu Darvish going from Chicago to San Diego on Monday night in a seven-player deal. As for the Cubs, the self-inflicted wounds continue as they cut salary and get worse heading into the final years of team control for the core members of the 2016 championship team. As reported by The Athletic’s Sahadev Sharma: Padres Receive: Yu Darvish Victor Caratini Cubs Receive: Zach Davies Reginald Preciado Owen Caissie Yeison Santana Ismael Mena Darvish is the clear headliner, though Caratini should be a decent backup. Davies has posted average peripherals and an above-average ERA the last few seasons. The four prospects are all 20 years old or younger, far away from the majors; Eric Longenhagen will have a separate piece coming out on the quartet heading to the lower levels of the Cubs’ organization, but you can find his preseason write-ups on them (aside from Caissie, a second-round pick in June) in his 2020 Padres list. Now 34 years old, Darvish has three years left on his deal at a total of $59 million. His tenure with the Cubs got off to a rough start, as he threw just 40 innings in 2018 after dealing with arm issues and struggled in the first half of ’19, too. But since the All-Star break that year, he has been one of the best pitchers in baseball, and while Trevor Bauer won NL Cy Young honors last season, Darvish had an arguably better season facing more difficult opponents. Best Pitchers Since 2019 All-Star Break Name IP ERA FIP WAR Jacob deGrom 162 1.83 2.18 6.5 Shane Bieber 179.1 2.46 2.75 5.9 Gerrit Cole 168.2 2.24 2.92 5.5 Yu Darvish 157.2 2.4 2.54 5.4 Jack Flaherty 139.2 2.06 2.76 4.7 Zack Greinke 153.2 3.57 3.08 4.4 Lance Lynn 177.1 3.35 3.72 4.4 Mike Clevinger 143.1 2.51 3.02 4.3 Luis Castillo 154.2 4.07 3.24 4.2 Zack Wheeler 147.1 2.87 3.21 4.0 Despite Darvish’s age, his projections look fantastic for next season, with his 4.2 WAR ranking fifth among all pitchers in Steamer; ZiPS sees a similar performance on a rate basis. Adding Caratini, meanwhile, solidifies San Diego’s catching at the major league level with a quality big-league backup after Preller dealt away Francisco Mejía as part of the Snell trade. The Padres stood right around 40 wins on our depth charts after picking up Snell, about four behind Los Angeles, and while Darvish might not put them ahead of the defending world champions, it’s close enough to be a wash at this point. The Dodgers certainly aren’t done with their offseason, but it’s hard to say they are clearly better than the Padres on paper, and we’re talking about probably the best team in baseball. The Darvish trade also takes San Diego, which has historically spent at a lower level than the rest of the league, to a new tier financially. With Snell and the $11.1 million owed to him in 2021 added to the roster, the Padres were looking at a payroll of roughly $141 million. Tacking on Darvish and his $22 million salary for next season would spike that to around $163 million. That figure will come down some with Davies’ salary — MLB Trade Rumors projects him to make somewhere between $6–11 million in ’21, his third arbitration year — heading to Chicago (and the Cubs eating a portion of what’s left on Darvish’s deal), though that subtraction will probably be canceled out by San Diego’s other big move of the day, signing KBO infielder Ha-seong Kim to as-of-yet-undisclosed financial terms. Either way, anything north of $160 million would give the Padres the third-highest payroll in baseball. That might seem like a lot, but that figure is right around where they projected to be on Opening Day last year. Also, in letting Garrett Richards, Kirby Yates, and Jurickson Profar hit free agency (as well as finally reaching the end of Hector Olivera’s contract), the Padres are shedding about $30 million in payroll from last season — a figure more or less offset by Snell and Darvish. Long-term, it looks like San Diego will need to run a payroll at or near similar levels in 2022: Tommy Pham is the only meaningful contract coming off the books at the end of this season, while Fernando Tatis Jr. and Chris Paddack will reach their first year of arbitration. But things will get less expensive after that. Another $30 million will fall off the payroll after 2022, when Wil Myers’s contract runs out and Eric Hosmer’s salary dips by $7 million, and after 2023, Snell, Darvish, and Drew Pomeranz will all hit free agency, representing a savings of $45 million. Despite the cost both in terms of money and prospects of these win-now moves, the Padres have set themselves up with a clear multi-year window to contend, bought their farm system time to recover from these trades (and kept No. 1 prospect MacKenzie Gore), and still left themselves with considerable financial flexibility as their young stars get more expensive. Neither Snell nor Darvish should prevent a potential mega-extension for Tatis Jr., if the Padres are so inclined. The Cubs are heading in the opposite direction. Darvish was their best player last year and likely would have been again in 2021. With Jon Lester and Jose Quintana both free agents, the current rotation consists of Kyle Hendricks, Davies, Alec Mills, Adbert Alzolay, and Colin Rea, with only Hendricks and Davies projecting as above average. None of the rest of the players acquired figure to be of significant help to the Cubs in the next three years. It is tough to understand the direction the Cubs are going. Coming off their 2016 title, they went all in for another, trading for Quintana and Cole Hamels, signing Darvish (and Tyler Chatwood), and holding on to their pending free agents as well as Kyle Schwarber, a popular name in trade rumors. That plan mostly worked in 2017 and ’18, when they won 92 and 95 games, respectively, though they failed to get back to the World Series. But while the Cubs had three years of team control remaining for Kris Bryant, Javier Báez, and Anthony Rizzo after that ’18 campaign, as well as two more of Hendricks, Lester and Quintana (with Darvish in tow for the long haul), they also had a payroll of over $200 million and a farm system low on impact and depth. Inaction at that point meant fewer wins in both the present and the future. Instead, Chicago did nothing that offseason to supplement a win-now team (aside from extending Hendricks) or work toward building a sustainable winner in the future. A predictably disappointing 2019 followed, and despite a winter full of talk of change on the North Side, the Cubs’ only notable move was replacing Joe Maddon with David Ross at manager. They still won the division, thanks in part to a great performance by Darvish, who produced a whopping 44% of the team’s total pitching WAR, only to get knocked out of the playoffs by the Marlins in the first round. And while even a Darvish-less Chicago should still contend in a weak NL Central, there are only two players on the roster under team control beyond next season who project to be worth more than two wins: Hendricks, who turned 31 last week, and Ian Happ. The Cubs’ payroll for next season has now dropped below $140 million with no signs that ownership plans on increasing it; if there is another championship window on the horizon, it’s unclear when it will open. The Cubs are a win-now team not trying to win now, potentially sacrificing a last title run for another potential one many years into the future. And after this year, they won’t be one future star or free agent away from winning: Consider that it took multiple top draft picks, two phenomenal trades, and several big hits in free agency just to make the 2016 championship happen. Sustainability means little when the level you are hoping to sustain is not all that close to reality. It’s possible the Cubs just received a future star in this deal — the Padres spent nearly $5 million in total signing bonuses on them — but that won’t be clear for another few years. That’s of no help to Rizzo, Bryant, Báez, Hendricks, or even Happ, who will be a free agent after the 2023 season. With minimal investment, the Cubs could have made themselves clear NL Central favorites and stayed well below the competitive balance tax if they wanted to. They chose instead to cut costs under the guise of building a sustainable winner. San Diego’s payroll projects to exceed Chicago’s by quite a bit right now, and that says a lot more about what the Cubs are trying to do than the Padres.