If the Dodgers don’t make any other significant move this off-season, they’d still be favored to win the National League West and probably to repeat as National League champions. And while all signs point to them not making a big-time move, they are still keeping tabs on one big free agent: Yu Darvish.
Last week, I wrote a bit about Darvish and what it might take to bring him back, partly because of a tweet he sent out.
I know one more team is in. https://t.co/exxubGP7Qo
— ダルビッシュ有(Yu Darvish) (@faridyu) January 11, 2018
Well, it was confirmed by Jeff Wilson of the Fort-Worth Star Telegram that the Dodgers were that team.
— Jeff Wilson (@JeffWilson_FWST) January 15, 2018
Darvish retweeted it, if you needed further confirmation.
This is great. The Dodgers are at least somewhat interested in bringing back a premium free agent like Darvish. On paper, it makes a ton of sense.
“Say what you want about Darvish, but he’s a really good pitcher. If the Dodgers had more time with him, they might be able to maximize Darivsh’s potential — or at least get him back to the pitcher he was in his pre-2017 days with the Rangers. Yes, he pitched poorly in the World Series, but he isn’t the sole reason the Dodgers didn’t win. To get a pitcher of his stature back would be a definite boost to the pitching staff. It’d also help guard against the potential loss of Clayton Kershaw after the season (which I still don’t see happening). It’s going to take a large commitment and it isn’t out of the question, but there would have to be some other moving parts.”
That last bit — about Kershaw — stands out a bit, especially when you consider this was posted on Darvish’s Instagram account just the other night.
Now, that isn’t Darvish in the photo with Kershaw. It’s Tomohiro Anraku, a 22-year-old pitcher for the Rakuten Golden Eagles of Nippon Professional Baseball. Still, Darvish and Kershaw are offseason workout buddies as both live in the North Texas area. Just the fact that the two are working out, coupled with the Dodgers’ meeting with Darvish, gives some hope to a reunion.
With that said, actually getting across the finish line would still be complicated.
Eric Stephen recently worked up the Dodgers’ current payroll situation — both overall and for luxury/competitive balance tax purposes — following all the arbitration deals.
“That gives us a current total of $179.6 million, just over $17 million shy of the 2018 threshold.”
“That $17+ million the Dodgers have left under the CBT threshold isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. They likely have to budget $10-12 million for bonuses and midseason deals, which leaves them just $5-7 million for further additions this offseason. That means they have to be creative, and any bigger ticket items — like Yu Darvish returning, for instance — would require a Herculean effort in even moving more salary, which makes those type of deals all the more unlikely.”
What a fantastic breakdown. Also, it’s crazy to see how $17+ million can go down to $5-7 million just like that.
Last season, the Dodgers added around $8 million in midseason deals, but I’d be surprised if they needed that much for in-season trades if they were to bring back Darvish. For fun, let’s set aside just $4 million, giving the Dodgers $9-11 million to play with. Even with that amount set aside, it would still require the Dodgers to clear money to make Darvish fit into the payroll while also not go over the $197 million mark.
Exactly how much room the Dodgers would need then becomes key, and perhaps it’s not as much as the speculated range of six years and $150 million.
“Two sources on Saturday night said Cashman’s interest in signing Darvish, which he essentially made public during a WFAN interview on Thursday, is very real, largely because he believes this stalled free-agent market gives the Yankees a chance to get the Japanese star pitcher at a ‘reasonable’ price. What’s reasonable? Not seven years and $160 million, which sources say the Yankees never offered to Darvish, contrary to what Michael Kay said on his ESPN radio show on Thursday. That might be Darvish’s asking price, but with teams throughout baseball determined to limit the length of long-term contracts, and the righthander coming off that poor World Series performance, the Yankees seem to think it’s possible they could get him for five years, $80-90 million.”
While I don’t believe for a second Darvish is going to sign for that cheap, even his price dropping from the assumed $25 million AAV down to a $20 million AAV would help the Dodgers out significantly.
Regardless of what Darvish gets in free agency, we know the Dodgers would have to move players to make things work. When I looked at making Darvish fit on the Dodgers last week, I identified Matt Kemp as the main candidate to be moved. And basically, to get out from any of his $20 million competitive balance tax number, the Dodgers would have to attach a significant prospect or two. I still think the White Sox or Royals would be the best landing spots, with the Dodgers likely having to include a prospect like Yadier Alvarez, Yusniel Diaz, Keibert Ruiz or Alex Verdugo for a trade to make sense.
The other trade candidates are Yasmani Grandal ($7.9 million) and Logan Forsythe ($8.5 million). Grandal is more valuable, but he’s also valuable to the Dodgers, especially if you’re not completely sold on Austin Barnes (I am, though). Josh Harrison being available and wanting to be traded could infringe on Forsythe’s trade value, so Grandal would seem to make the most sense. The Dodgers would then have to ask and answer this question: Are they a better team with Grandal as a part-time player and Hyun-Jin Ryu in the rotation or Kyle Farmer as the backup and Darvish in the rotation? Seems kinda obvious to me. And I bring up Ryu because if the Dodgers were indeed serious about bringing Darvish back, Ryu should also be a trade candidate. He’s in the final year of his deal and making $7.83 million ($6 million for CBT purposes), so packaging him and one of Joc Pederson ($2.6 million), Josh Fields ($2.2 million) or Pedro Baez ($1.5 million) would be enough to get Darvish and stay under the $197 million mark. Plus, the return from said trade could also have some value to the farm system and/or depth.
The Twins have been linked to Darvish all winter. They also just spent $16.75 million for two years of Addison Reed, so I’m not sure they’re still in on Darvish. If they want a cheaper (and, admittedly, not as good) option, Ryu might fit that bill. They had interest in him at some point last year, and while they might not have a need for Pederson, the addition of a solid reliever like Fields or Baez could help make that pitching staff even stronger. I’m just throwing that out as an example, but if the Dodgers made Ryu available, there would probably be a handful of teams that would want to take a chance on him, especially since he has a 120-plus innings under his belt after shoulder and elbow surgery that cost him basically two seasons.
One of the reasons the Dodgers want to remain financially flexible is to be able to add players midseason, but I would argue that if you add Darvish now, you wouldn’t need to add at the deadline. At least, not the best starting pitcher on the market like they have in 2016 and 2017. Yes, injuries happen and it might be more prudent to wait until then, but if they want to take a measured risk on a pitcher they’re familiar with, why not have it be Darvish?
This offseason has been boring for most everybody. However, considering all the moving parts that would be needed to make bringing Darvish back to the Dodgers work, his return could give a defibrillator-like boost to an otherwise near-flatliner offseason and to the Dodgers’ World Series hopes in 2018.