The offseason was a strange one for Major League Baseball. Spring training for the 2018 season is underway, but, surprisingly, as pitchers and catchers reported to training, some high-profile free agents were still available.
Usually, the best players get snatched up shortly after free agency begins. This year that hasn’t been the case. That is why the Chicago Cubs were able to make a huge free agent splash recently by signing Yu Darvish.
Darvish was considered a game-changing acquisition for the Dodgers last season. But then he had two horrendous outings for the Dodgers in the World Series. So, regardless of how well he played during the regular season, fans in Los Angeles were not too eager to have him back.
Not that fan sentiment has anything to do with player moves the Dodgers make, of course, but the Cubs were the ones that made him the offer he couldn’t refuse, six years, $126 million.
Many have wondered if it is money well spent. Yes, Darvish has been one of the best pitchers in baseball since he made the move from Japan back in 2012. But he was terrible when it mattered most—in the World Series.
So— how much can he help the Cubs in their ultimate goal of returning to the World Series? Will adding him at least get the Cubs back to the forefront of the World Series conversation?
To answer that question, it helps to understand what went wrong last year.
The 2017 Season
The Cubs had the fourth best offense last season and the seventh best staff ERA despite getting off to such a slow start—and it was slow. At the end of April, they were only 13-11. By the time May came to a close, they were 25-27. You can blame the offense (22 games with 3 runs or less scored including five shutouts) just as much as the pitching (26 games with 5+ runs allowed).
So, while they ended the season with one of the better offenses and pitching staffs in baseball, they didn’t start that way. But how you start doesn’t matter, it’s all about how you finish.
After going 43-45 before the All-Star break, the Cubs were nowhere near the World Series conversation in the second half of the season last year. But then they came on strong, won their division, and found themselves back in the NLCS—where they were promptly destroyed by the Dodgers in five by a composite score of 28-8.
Once again, just like the start of the season, the issue wasn’t one or the other. It was both, the offense and the pitching.
Clearly, the Cubs are an excellent team. They must be to make it to the NLCS in three consecutive seasons. But the ‘good’ teams are not the ones that make it to the World Series. The best teams do. Obviously, the Cubs were not the best team in the National League last season. But how do they become the best in 2018?
Some would say that if it isn’t broke, you don’t need to fix it. But that would mean working under the assumption that the Dodgers got lucky. Winning one game can be attributed to luck. But getting dominated in four? No way.
Now about Darvish….
Darvish will help them win more regular season games which will make fans happy. But can he help them win in the postseason when it matters most?
Dodgers fans will point to the World Series and say no. While his two World Series disasters were on a larger stage, he pitched very well in the NLCS (against the Cubs; 6.1 innings, one hit – a home run- one earned run, one walk, and seven strikeouts). His NLDS game was impressive as well (five innings, two hits – one home run – one earned run, no walks, and seven strikeouts).
The player that flopped in the World Series is not who Darvish is. Many will try to say it is or that it doesn’t matter how great he is during the regular season if he can’t win the big games. But if postseason play is what defines a pitcher, the Dodgers never should have signed Clayton Kershaw to his massive deal.
When the Dodgers signed Kershaw to a seven-year, $215 million contract in 2014, he had yet to develop his awful postseason reputation. But in 2013, he went 2-2 in postseason play. While he was very good in three of the games, in the fourth he gave up ten hits and seven earned runs in four innings.
But rather than make a snap judgment based on a couple of postseason games, the Dodgers gave him a massive new contract. Why? Easy– because they knew they had one of the great ones on their roster. Even though he has cost the Dodgers in the postseason, no one has ever said the Dodgers made a mistake in signing him.
So, it wasn’t a mistake to sign Darvish. But does he make them a bigger contender to win the World Series in 2018?
Their odds were already decent at 8-1. But after signing Darvish, they bumped up to 7-1. Signing him also caused the odds for the St. Louis Cardinals, their hated rivals, to go from 18-1 to 20-1. Their total win projection moved from 93.5 games to 94.
It’s always exciting when a team signs an impact player in free agency. While a single great player can make an impact, it takes more than one to make a team championship material. Darvish will make them more competitive, but he doesn’t make the Cubs a bigger contender. They already were one.