Yu Darvish has a case as the top free-agent pitcher available this offseason, and it seems that his list of possible employers for 2018 has narrowed.That revelation came on Wednesday, when the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported five finalists for his services -- the Astros, Cubs, Rangers, Twins and Yankees --
Yu Darvish has a case as the top free-agent pitcher available this offseason, and it seems that his list of possible employers for 2018 has narrowed.
That revelation came on Wednesday, when the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported five finalists for his services -- the Astros, Cubs, Rangers, Twins and Yankees -- and Darvish himself added in a tweet that "one more team is in."
Clearly, any club could benefit from adding an ultra-talented pitcher with a 3.42 career ERA and the highest strikeout rate (29.7 percent) in history for a starter with at least 500 innings. But which of the known contenders for Darvish has the most to gain from signing him? And how does this mystery team factor into the race?
Here is a look at the finalists:
It's clear that Minnesota must do something to address a rotation that had the American League's sixth-highest ERA (4.73) and FIP (4.85) last year, trailing well behind the AL's four other postseason clubs. Plenty of other free-agent starting pitchers remain available, such as Jacob Arrieta, Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn. But Darvish in particular would bring much-needed bat-missing ability to a unit that ranked 26th in the Majors in strikeout rate and last in whiffs per swing.
Ervin Santana and Jose Berrios already give the Twins a solid one-two punch, with the 23-year-old Berrios coming off a breakout season. But the rest of the rotation comes with significant question marks. By signing Darvish, Minnesota wouldn't have to turn a job over to an unproven prospect or count on veteran Phil Hughes to return successfully from surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome.
Texas obviously has a high comfort level with Darvish, who had spent the entirety of his MLB career there until being dealt to the Dodgers at the non-waiver Trade Deadline in July. And even with Darvish starting 22 games for the Rangers in 2017, the team's rotation produced the third-lowest strikeout-to-walk ratio (1.93) and fourth-highest FIP (5.04) in the Majors.
Including Darvish, pitchers who are no longer with the organization made a combined 99 starts for the Rangers last year, and lefty Martin Perez is expected to miss the beginning of the season while recovering from a broken bone in his right elbow. Texas has added Doug Fister and Matt Moore to back up Cole Hamels and Perez, but that still leaves 2017 relievers Mike Minor (zero MLB starts since 2014) and Matt Bush (zero career starts) to fill the last spot.
Even with Arrieta a free agent, Chicago features a top three that many teams would love to have -- Jonathan Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana. The club also signed Tyler Chatwood, a talented 28-year-old righty who could flourish after spending his past five seasons in Colorado.
But keep in mind, an addition such as Darvish wouldn't be replacing one of those pitchers -- he'd be replacing the current No. 5 starter. There's certainly room for improvement there, with the Cubs preferring to keep Mike Montgomery in a relief/swingman role, and Eddie Butler posting a 28-to-24 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 54 2/3 innings last season.
Not long ago, it seemed the Yankees might be facing a severe starting-pitcher shortage this offseason. But then in 2017, Luis Severino broke out, finishing third in the AL Cy Young Award race. Jordan Montgomery emerged in a stellar rookie campaign, Sonny Gray was acquired at the non-waiver Trade Deadline, Masahiro Tanaka elected not to opt out of his contract and free agent Carsten Sabathia re-signed.
Suddenly, New York has a full and competent rotation to go with its powerful lineup. That doesn't mean there's no reason to add -- the saying goes that a club can never have too much pitching depth -- but the urgency isn't the same. Barring an injury to another starter, Darvish likely would be replacing Montgomery, who posted the 12th-best ERA+ (117) among AL pitchers with at least 150 innings last year.
The defending World Series champions are bringing back all of last year's starters, with the exception of Mike Fiers, and they should get a full season out of Justin Verlander. Combine the club's postseason hero with Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers, Charlie Morton and Collin McHugh, and you have an enviable group. That doesn't even count Brad Peacock, who produced a 3.00 ERA and 11 K/9 while splitting 2017 between the rotation and bullpen.
That's at least six good options, but there are enough durability concerns among them that a big addition still makes some sense. It's apparent that Houston is thinking this way, not just in relation to Darvish, but also given the club's reported interest in trading for Pirates righty Gerrit Cole.
Here are five clubs that would make sense in this role, given their needs:
Dodgers: Darvish's most recent team has both talent and depth returning, but also no shortage of injury-related question marks. Besides Clayton Kershaw, no Dodgers pitcher topped 25 starts or 152 2/3 innings in 2017.
Mariners: Every additional victory looms large as Seattle tries to overcome significant competition and snap baseball's longest postseason drought. Darvish could replace Marco Gonzales or another unproven commodity in the rotation while protecting Seattle against more injuries to James Paxton or Felix Hernandez (40 combined starts in 2017).
Brewers: A team on the rise, Milwaukee improved from 73 to 86 wins last year, nearly advancing to the postseason. Signing Jhoulys Chacin and Yovani Gallardo enhanced the Brew Crew's depth, but with Jimmy Nelson (shoulder) slated to miss a significant portion of 2018, Darvish would fit nicely atop the rotation.
Cardinals: Trying to rebound from a two-year postseason absence, St. Louis has a lot riding on veteran Adam Wainwright (4.81 ERA since 2016), free agent acquisition Miles Mikolas (spent 2015-17 in Japan) and a handful of talented prospects. Darvish would be a safer bet, with more upside.
Phillies: After a rebuilding period, Philly appears to be gearing up to contend, adding the likes of Carlos Santana to its collection of young talent. Signing Darvish would be an expensive way to try to accelerate that process, but he would represent a massive upgrade over the club's current pool of inexperienced rotation candidates.
Andrew Simon is a research analyst for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.