Yu Darvish instant trade analysis: Padres snag another ace, Cubs pivot without GM

The Padres continued to add to their star-studded pitching rotation on Monday by reportedly trading for Cubs right-hander Yu Darvish, a proven strikeout wizard coming off one of the best two-month stretches of his career.

Darvish’s favored catcher, Victor Caratini, is also headed to San Diego in the nearly completed transaction.

Because recently acquired left-hander Blake Snell is under a multi-year contract well below market value (three years, $39 million), the Padres felt comfortable adding a portion of Darvish’s $59 million in future earnings to their payroll. Chicago, currently operating without a general manager, netted right-hander Zach Davies and four prospects for a pitcher the club not too long ago thought was on the verge of becoming unmovable. It will reportedly send money to San Diego to cover part of Darvish’s remaining contract, though reports on that front are conflicted.

It’s a deal with significant ramifications for the 2021 NL West and NL Central playoff races, and one that keeps top free-agent hurler Trevor Bauer available for an organization other than the Padres to sign.

Below is a breakdown of the Darvish trade, including looks at what the Japanese ace still has in the tank, how the Padres’ rotation might shape up and whether the prospect haul for the Cubs moves the needle for the franchise’s future.

Is Yu Darvish still good?

It’s easier for the pitchers who rely on guile as much as power to make meaningful mid-career adjustments when their fastball fades, and few aces have been as tricky as Darvish since he entered MLB in 2012.

After 1 1/2 seasons in Chicago marred by injury and underwhelming performance, Darvish excelled in the second half of 2019, then got even better when he began throwing his cutter and curveball much more in 2020. The right-hander’s 12 regular season starts last campaign were incredible by almost any statistical benchmark. He posted a 2.01 ERA and struck out 11 batters per nine innings to just 1.7 walks. The advanced metrics were equally impressive — his 2.23 FIP led the league, and he finished in the 87th percentile in expected ERA, according to Baseball Savant.

At 34 years old, Darvish will face questions about his ability to sustain that level of success. Fair enough. But aside from Zack Greinke, another starter made great by his wicked deception, there might not be a pitch arsenal better equipped to withstand the mid-30s aging process.

And given the bolstered depth of San Diego’s rotation, the risk of a Darvish downfall does not carry season-ruining ramifications.

Yu Darvish contract details

Darvish is owed $22 million in 2021, $19 million in 2022 and $18 million in 2023. No player or club options are attached to his contract.

Who is in the Padres’ projected 2021 rotation?

2020 deadline acquisition Mike Clevinger is out of the picture following Tommy John surgery, but the list of 2021 rotation contenders is still sweet for Padres fans.

Blake Snell, Dinelson Lamet and Yu Darvish represent an ace trio, while at least five other qualified arms will duke it out for the final two spots. Top prospect Mackenzie Gore is the wild card here, potentially providing a midseason jolt if he impresses this spring. Ryan Weathers could also be in play.

Here are the top eight starters in San Diego right now:

Who are the prospects the Cubs received for Yu Darvish?

This is probably as high as the Cubs could have hoped to sell on Darvish. The deal might hinder their ability to win in 2021 — though Zach Davies is a solid rotation insert — but the dual benefits of payroll reduction and prospect addition will be looked upon favorably inside their front office. There is a future universe in which this trade is viewed as an absolute heist for Chicago, but that outcome is largely contingent on how the following minor league newcomers perform.

Santana is the elder statesman prospect of the bunch, and he’s just 20 years old. Caisse and Mena are 18. Preciado is 17. Each of the four players ranked among San Diego’s top 20 prospects, with Preciado the highest at No. 11. They are part of Chicago’s long-term vision and not expected to contribute at the big-league level soon.

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