Now that we Twins fans have had a few days to take in (and get over) the fact that Yu Darvish signed with the Cubs we can start thanking the Falvey and Levine brain-trust for saving the Pohlad dollars. It’s easy to say “Darvish was never going to come here” or “the Pohlads were never going to cough up what it takes to sign a real star” but let’s think about this for a moment… Not signing Darvish was the smart move.
C.C. Sabathia could be a good comparison to look at as a predictor for what to expect from Darvish over the life of his new $126 million contract. Six seasons ago, Sabathia was entering his age 31 season (Darvish will be 31 the majority of this season) and had thrown 2,135 professional innings, roughly 100 fewer than Darvish has to this point. He had just finished fourth in the Cy Young voting the season prior and was widely regarded as one of the best pitchers in the game. Sabathia went on to throw exactly 200 innings, went 15-6 and had a 3.38 ERA. His peripheral stats showed that he earned those marks as his FIP was a solid 3.34 and his SO/W rate was the second best of his career at 4.48. Okay, we can chalk that one up as a win. So what’s the point here? Well how about C.C.’s next five seasons. Sabathia has averaged 173 innings over the past five seasons. Not terrible, but a far cry from what you’d expect from your frontline horse who’s making $20+ million a year. His Average ERA of 4.48 and FIP of 4.46 are okay for your fourth of fifth guy in the rotation (especially for our Twins) but are you going to live with that from your biggest free agent signing of all time? In the last five years, C.C. has only bested his career K/9 rate once, in 2014, but he also saw his WHIP balloon to 1.48 that season too. So looking over Sabathia’s past six seasons, one of them was what you’d expect from your ace, and the rest showed more like a guy at the back end of a lousy rotation. Felix Hernandez, another long time ace, entered his 30 year old season with 2263 major league innings and had just wrapped up his eighth season in a row of 200+ innings. He’s thrown 153 and 86 innings respectively the past two season with career worst FIP’s of 4.63 and 5.02. Even Jon Lester, Darvish’s new teammate took a step back to a 180 inning, 4.10 FIP season last year. He entered last season with 2004 innings pitched.
There is something to be said about the usage of these players. It’s one the reasons why Jake Arrieta could be argued to be a better free agent option than Yu Darvish was (1669 professional innings pitched). Players break down eventually, and Darvish has already shown signs that his arm may be nearing the end of its effective pitching life. Let’s not forget he had Tommy John in 2016.
Okay fine, comparisons aside there has got to be more reasons why not signing Darvish was a great decision. Darvish is his own guy, Tommy John isn’t the career ender that it used to be and there were plenty of good stats to pull from Darvish’s 2017. Fine, I get that. I’ll even concede that I would have loved to have Darvish on the Twins…. For a three year deal, four at most. Yu Darvish will be 37 years old when this deal with the Cubs is over. Go ahead and tell me a current 37 year old starter in the league today that you’d pay $18 million…. I’ll wait…. Zach Greinke is 34, and a case could be made for him to be worth that number in three years. Justin Verlander is 35 and could also have a case made to be worth that as well. Those guys are also Cy Young award winners who have not had Tommy John. On top of that Verlander just married Kate Upton, and having her at the ballpark alone has to sell a few seats, further lifting his value.
Let’s finish this talking about the Twins payroll situation. The Twins currently sit with just under $100 million committed, so clearly there is room to spend money. Not only that, but it’s been a big talking point for the last 6 months that they only have $39 million committed for 2019 and nothing in 2020. That’s the flexibility that a General Manager and President of Baseball Operations would drool over, and I’m sure somewhere Falvey and Levine are doing just that. But there’s a problem underlying all of that payroll flexibility. The Twins have guys by the names of Buxton, Rosario, Kepler, Berrios, and Polanco that will all need to be signed to contracts as some point. That doesn’t even include Sano, who could very well be at the top of the expense list depending on the results of his investigation and where the Twins decide to go with him (that’s for another post). On top of that, a decision has to be made with Dozier, and if that decision is to sign him, he won’t be on the same, ultra team friendly contract he’s currently signed to. This is still Minnesota, the Market hasn’t changed just because we have a new front office. The owners are the same and unless I missed something there haven’t been any signs that prove they are truly willing to aggressively increase spending. Teams with spending limits can’t afford to sign a guy to a six year deal that sees them making $18 million in the last year of the deal, they just can’t. Never mind the fact that Darvish will be at the end of his career by the time his new deal expires. Look at Joe Mauer’s contract. Say what you want, but his $23 million a year deal crippled the Twins flexibility. His deal made the Phil Hughes contract extension, and the Nolasco deal hurt that much more. When a guy takes up 20% or more of your payroll, you better hope he lives up to that contract for its entirety, or you end up with what we watched for the last handful of seasons at Target field.
Maybe Falvey and Levine are kicking themselves for not getting Darvish. Maybe they’re thinking, “shoot, we should have given that guy 8 years and the key to the city”. If they are, then my bad for believing we should thank them for not making the deal, but the fact of the matter is we should be happy they didn’t over invest in a guy who will no doubt under perform his contract. The Twins have saved themselves the payroll flexibility everyone covets and can now go after other options and sign their own players. Will they make this team better with the money that didn’t go to Darvish? Only time will tell but for now, lets be happy that 6 year $126 million contract is property of the Chicago Cubs.