Cubs keep 'eye on the future' with Yu trade

Chicago adds Davies, 4 prospects in deal with Padres

December 30th, 2020

CHICAGO -- The Cubs still believe they can contend in a weakened National League Central in 2021, but one of the primary objectives for new president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer has been to begin planning and building the team's next core.

A major step in that process arrived Tuesday night, when the Cubs and Padres officially announced a seven-player trade, centered around Chicago ace . The North Siders received right-hander and four prospects in exchange for Darvish, his personal catcher, and $3 million in a blockbuster deal that helps Chicago shed payroll and add young, high-ceiling talent.

In a Zoom discussion with reporters on Wednesday, Hoyer made it clear that his focus needs to extend beyond the 2021 season.

"We're at that time right now," Hoyer said. "Are we going to be competitive? Absolutely. But are we going to have an eye on the future and try to make sure that we continue to bolster our farm system and make sure that we can build a future that is as bright as the last six years that we just went through? That's our goal."

Padres get:
RHP Yu Darvish, C Victor Caratini
Cubs get: RHP Zach Davies, SS Reginald Preciado, OF Owen Caissie, OF Ismael Mena, SS Yeison Santana

The package of prospects arriving in Chicago includes 17-year-old shortstop Reginald Preciado (Cubs' No. 10 prospect, per MLB Pipeline), 18-year-old outfielder Owen Caissie (No. 11), 18-year-old outfielder Ismael Mena (No. 16) and 20-year-old shortstop Yeison Santana (No. 17).

The youth of this group of prospects makes it clear that while no one around the Cubs has used the word "rebuild" to describe their current approach, the team has an eye firmly on its long-term plan. That was certainly the impression that Padres general manager A.J. Preller got from his negotiations with Hoyer as they constructed their prospect-laden transaction.

"You got a sense from the Cubs that there were a bunch of different directions they could go," Preller told reporters on Tuesday night. "They’re getting four really good young players to kind of kickstart that farm system. There were a lot of different scenarios that we discussed, but ultimately, that was the one that they landed on that we felt fit for us."

Hoyer cited the Yankees and Red Sox as recent examples of teams that were able to successfully navigate through a "reset" of sorts, while avoiding a massive rebuilding project that took several seasons. Hoyer does not want to undergo the kind of teardown that he and former Cubs executive Theo Epstein took on when they joined the organization prior to the 2012 season.

"I'm not going to run the same playbook that we ran in 2011 and '12," Hoyer said. "I think that would be foolish, and I think, frankly, that playbook's been copied so many times it doesn't work the same way anymore. So you know what? When I think about what we need to do, Theo talked a lot about threading that needle. We need to make moves with one eye on the future, but we also have a really competitive team."

The acquisition of Davies -- a six-year MLB veteran with the Brewers and Padres -- helps replace the big league innings lost with Darvish's departure. The Cubs were in need of rotation help even before this deal, so adding a starter helps avoid creating another hole in an already-depleted staff.

That is not to say that Davies can replace the kind of production turned in by Darvish, who was the National League Cy Young Award runner-up in 2020. Darvish had a 2.01 ERA in 76 innings last season, and he's logged a 2.40 ERA with 211 strikeouts against 21 walks in 157 2/3 innings over his last 25 starts dating back to the second half of 2019.

During that incredible run, Caratini emerged as Darvish's personal catcher. Caratini has caught more of Darvish's innings (196 1/3) than any catcher in the right-hander's career, and he has helped the ace to a 2.80 ERA with 248 strikeouts against 30 walks when paired together. Hoyer said the Padres pushed for Caratini to be included in the trade.

"He became part of the deal, in part, because of his great relationship with Yu," Hoyer said. "His ability to sort of potentially smooth Yu's transition to San Diego, I think, was a big part of the allure for [Preller]. So that was something that the Padres were pretty insistent upon during the deal."

Davies, 27, is eligible for arbitration this winter after having a $5.25 million base salary in 2020. Even with a raise, his cost will fall well below the $23 million that Darvish was set to earn in 2021. Davies is coming off a solid '20 campaign, in which the righty had a career-best 2.73 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 69 1/3 innings for the Padres.

"Zach Davies is an excellent Major League pitcher," Hoyer said. "He was fifth in ERA in the National League last year. Four of the last five years, he's been really good."

While Davies will be eligible for arbitration next offseason, Darvish has $62 million remaining on his contract across the 2021-23 seasons. The latest addition to San Diego's rotation earned a $1 million salary bump in each of the next three years after finishing second to Trevor Bauer in NL Cy Young Award balloting in '20.

Davies slots into a Cubs rotation led by right-hander Kyle Hendricks and also features righty Alec Mills. Pitching prospect Adbert Alzolay is a leading contender for one of the other vacancies, and Chicago has not ruled out trying to re-sign veteran lefty Jon Lester. The depth behind that group is thin, as José Quintana, Tyler Chatwood and Lester all became free agents this offseason.

Parting with Darvish -- signed to a six-year, $126 million deal prior to the 2018 season -- is the latest in a series of changes around the Cubs this offseason. Hoyer took over the front office's top job following Theo Epstein's decision to step down. Chicago also declined Lester's option and non-tendered outfielders Kyle Schwarber and Albert Almora Jr. Beyond that, the Cubs are grappling with the reality that Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javier Báez are on a trajectory for free agency next offseason.

Hoyer has maintained that his vision for the Cubs includes trying to defend the team's 2020 NL Central crown next year, and that might be possible given the division's current landscape. Chicago's new president of baseball operations has not denied that changes would be in the works with the team's long-term health in mind.

"We know that there are holes on our roster that we need to address," Hoyer said. "I'm not going to sit here and say, like, we're not going to make any more trades. If trades make sense to make, then we will do them. But those deals are going to be done with an eye on the future if we do them. It won't be about cost-cutting. I think we know we have to add players through free agency, and we'll be looking to do that."

The prospects acquired will each likely need multiple years of development before potentially impacting the Cubs. It is a cast defined by projectable tools and high upside, and landing four young players enhances the probability that Chicago will eventually have found something special in this blockbuster trade.

The switch-hitting Preciado was signed out of Panana on July 2, 2019, and is a "lean and athletic shortstop," per MLB Pipeline. The lefty-swinging Caissie was selected in the second round of the 2020 MLB Draft, profiles as a corner outfielder and projects to have plus raw power.

Signed out of the Dominican Republic on July 2, 2019, Mena is "big, athletic, wiry and full of potential," per MLB Pipeline. Another international signing from the D.R., Santana (inked in 2017) hit .346 with a .923 OPS in 41 games in Rookie ball in '19.

"We were able to acquire four really talented young players," Hoyer said. "It's hard to acquire that kind of depth in any trade, and that's something we're really excited about. As far as the return, I think that the future will tell us whether that was a good return or not. I think that judging that now is sort of a fool's errand."