Darvish 'shocked' by trade to Padres

December 31st, 2020

's professional baseball career has spanned 16 years, five teams and two continents. There’s not much that surprises the 34-year-old ace anymore.

Still, when Darvish signed a six-year contract with the Cubs after the 2017 season, he thought there was a decent chance he'd retire in Chicago. When Darvish's phone started ringing on Monday afternoon and he quickly learned -- via Twitter -- that he'd been dealt to the Padres, he said he was "shocked."

"Shocked," Darvish clarified quickly, "in a good way."

The deal became official a day later, and the right-hander was introduced by the Padres in a video conference on Thursday afternoon. He spoke glowingly about both his former club and his new one.

"I think this is one of the best teams in baseball right now," Darvish said through a Japanese interpreter. "I actually wanted to throw against the Padres last season, just to see how good I was. So I'm very happy to join a team that's as strong as the Padres."

Nonetheless, Darvish made it clear he has fond memories of his time with the Cubs. At one point, when thanked by a member of the Chicago media for his professionalism there, Darvish began tearing up.

He signed with the Cubs months after his ill-fated start for the Dodgers in Game 7 of the 2017 World Series, and his tenure in Chicago began inauspiciously. Darvish missed most of the 2018 season after sustaining a stress reaction in his pitching elbow. He struggled early in '19, too, before reinventing himself midseason.

Darvish significantly cut down his walk rate, started redefining his pitch mix and began inducing much weaker contact. Despite his slow start, Darvish posted a 3.60 ERA during his tenure with the Cubs, including a 2.01 mark in 2020, when he finished second in National League Cy Young Award voting.

"What we witnessed was really pretty spectacular and admirable," said Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer. "When he came here, it was obviously on the heels of what happened in the World Series in 2017, and sort of nothing was smooth in that first year.

"He really struggled probably acclimating. I think he struggled physically that first year. And then, he came out, he came back in 2019 and those struggles continued. For him to be able to turn things around, I think it's really a testament to his character, honestly."

Padres general manager A.J. Preller harbored few doubts that Darvish would bounce back. The two have been close since Preller's stint in Texas, during which he pushed for the Rangers to sign a 25-year-old Darvish out of Japan.

On Monday afternoon, Preller had a FaceTime call with Darvish, and the two spent a few minutes catching up. Darvish said Preller's message was to simply “be yourself” in San Diego. For good reason, Preller added.

“It’s as good a combination of power, finesse, multiple pitches as anybody in the game,” Preller said. “His last season and a half has been as productive as anybody in the game. He's a force."

Darvish is a force joining a Padres rotation that is also a force. His arrival comes on the heels of Preller's trade with Tampa Bay for left-hander . It marked the first time in history that, within a single offseason, any team has acquired two pitchers who finished top two in Cy Young Award voting within the past three seasons.

Darvish and Snell join a staff that already features right-handers and , with set to return in 2022 from Tommy John surgery and MLB Pipeline's top pitching prospect, , waiting in the wings.

"I just want to study a lot from the guys in this rotation," Darvish said Thursday. "There's a lot of great pitchers -- better pitchers than myself. I want to be able to watch their bullpens, watch their numbers throughout the season. That can help me grow into a better pitcher."

In the trade -- a certifiable blockbuster that saw seven players moved -- Darvish also retained his personal catcher, . The two have grown close over the past three seasons, and Darvish spoke glowingly of their relationship. No backstop has caught more of his innings, and Darvish owns a 2.80 ERA when pitching to Caratini -- with an absurd 248 strikeouts to just 30 walks.

Caratini joins a Padres offense that ranked among the best in baseball last season and returns starters at every position. San Diego also landed free-agent infielder Ha-Seong Kim on a four-year deal this week.

To that end, Darvish says he has instructed his kids to watch YouTube videos of Padres hitters to help prepare for his new team. He added that he’s already dreaming of the run support.

As his video conference wrapped up, Darvish added one final recollection. When he entered the Majors years ago, he said his mother, Ikuyo, made a prediction that one day Darvish would pitch for the Padres. Sure, enough, nearly a decade into his big league career, that prediction proved prescient.

"This being a reality is great," Darvish said. "I'm excited to play for the Padres."

They're equally excited to have him.