Yu Darvish made some news this weekend with a playful tweet, leading some to project that the top available arm on the free-agent market might be getting closer to deciding where he'll play in 2018 and beyond.
Jacob Arrieta, the consensus No. 2 starting pitcher on the market, continues to be linked to more than a half-dozen teams, showing no signs of an imminent decision.
The next two starters available are Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb, both of whom could be fallback plans for teams that come up short in their bids for Darvish and Arrieta.
With that in mind, it's fair to ask: Are Lynn and Cobb essentially obliged to wait for Darvish and/or Arrieta to sign before they can land their own respective deals?
According to one longtime executive, while either starter would help a rotation, neither Lynn nor Cobb will make any club feel better about losing out on one of the top two.
"I see them both as No. 3 or 4 starters," the executive said. "Neither gets me excited, but I'd take them both on my team."
At a certain price, anyway. Reports have indicated that both Cobb and Lynn are seeking deals worth $15 million to $20 million annually over four, five or even six years. The contracts signed in recent years by Ian Kennedy (five years, $70 million), Wei-Yin Chen (five years, $80 million), Mike Leake (five years, $80 million) and Jeff Samardzija (five years, $90 million) would help make a case for Lynn and Cobb, but in this year's slow-moving market, it remains to be seen whether they'll get the deals they seek.
The executive pointed to the four-year, $50 million deal Matt Garza signed four years ago as the type of contract he would give either Lynn or Cobb, though he wouldn't be surprised to see either pitcher sign a deal similar to the three-year, $38 million pact the Cubs gave Tyler Chatwood in early December.
That feels a little light for both starters, especially Lynn, whose overall body of work is far deeper than Cobb's.
Lynn missed the entire 2016 season following Tommy John surgery, while Cobb was out for all of '15 and the first five months of '16 after undergoing the same procedure. But Lynn has topped 175 innings in all five of his full seasons, surpassing 200 twice. Cobb's 179 1/3 innings over 29 starts last season represented career highs in both categories.
To his benefit, Cobb is the youngest of the top four starters; he turns 31 in October, while Lynn turns 31 in May, Arrieta turns 32 in March and Darvish turns 32 in August.
"You can dream on a little more upside with Cobb," a Major League scout said. "But there's more risk, too."
The scout tabbed Lynn as "a solid No. 4 starter," so while he might not provide the front-line presence of Darvish or Arrieta, the former Cardinal would be an asset for a team seeking dependable rotation depth.
"He does it mostly with the variation of one pitch and clearly is capable of logging competitive innings," the scout said of Lynn. "His ability to pitch with the fastball -- sinker and cutter -- and ability to execute and induce weak contact are real."
The executive also noted Lynn's heavy reliance on his fastball -- he threw fastballs nearly 80 percent of the time in 2017, according to Statcast™ -- as a drawback, though one that would concern him less than Cobb's lengthy injury history.
Both pitchers rejected $17.4 million qualifying offers, meaning any team that signs them will be subject to the loss of one or more Draft picks, depending on their payroll and luxury-tax status.
The Cubs have been a popular prediction for Cobb, who has history with both manager Joe Maddon and pitching coach Jim Hickey from their time together with Tampa Bay. The Twins, Brewers, Rangers, Cardinals and Phillies have also been mentioned as possibilities.
As for Lynn, the same group of teams have largely been rumored as potential suitors. Not surprisingly, most of them have also been connected to Darvish and/or Arrieta, contributing to the belief that, like Cobb, Lynn is a realistic Plan B for many of them.
It's still conceivable that Lynn and/or Cobb will wind up in that Kennedy-Chen-Leake-Samardzija territory, as all it takes is two teams to begin bidding against each other to drive up the price. But like most other notable free agents, they'll have to continue to exercise patience. Until Darvish and Arrieta make their decisions, the starting-pitching market will likely continue to face its current logjam.