The Case for Yu Darvish, Seattle Mariner
Seattle Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto, has been awfully busy in the early stages of the off-season. He has completed 3 trades, including finding his first baseman in 2018, Ryon Healy. Could a big splash be next?
The biggest need, by a country mile for the 2018 Seattle Mariners, is impact starting pitching. While most Mariners fans, and baseball fans in general, stare at the shiny prize of Shohei Ohtani, it is dangerous to build an entire off-season around the hope of signing a 23-year-old phenom.
Really, most of free agency is dangerous, especially when talking about pitchers. Aside from Ohtani, there is an obvious, clear-cut #1 free agent starter this year, and it is Yu Darvish. Mariners fans should be familiar with Darvish, as he pitched for the Rangers from 2012 until 2017 before being traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Darvish famously failed in his 2 World Series starts for the Dodgers, but fans should not let that color the opinion of Darvish. From 2012-2014, Darvish was a true “Ace”, posting a 3.27 ERA and an outstanding 11.2 K/9.
Unfortunately for Darvish, he was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery, and lost his entire 2015 and half of his 2016 seasons in the process. Darvish has not quite regained his “Ace” status, but is still an extremely effective pitcher.
In 2016 and 2017, Darvish posted a 3.70 ERA with a still impressive 10.7 K/9. As impressive as Darvish’s strikeout totals are, he rarely gives free passes. Since his return, Darvish has averaged just 2.8 BB/9.
The combination of missed bats and low walks is exactly what Dipoto wants. It is also what the Mariners need.
Of course there is risk associated with Darvish. He is entering his age 31 season. There is a history of injuries. Darvish will require a massive contract, and the Mariners will have to outbid teams like the Cubs, Yankees, and possible the Dodgers.
However; the Mariners cannot afford to sit this one out. Seattle has not made the playoffs in 16 seasons. The core is rapidly aging. The farm system is shallow, and trading for a young ace is not an option. Simply put, Darvish is their best bet.
The Mariners need a co-ace to pair with James Paxton, who is fantastic when healthy. Signing Darvish allows the team to slide Felix Hernandez lower in the rotation, and be less reliant on him going deep into ball games.
A Darvish-Paxton-Hernandez-Leake rotation is not elite, but can compete with any rotation in the American League. Darvish is also the only “big name” starter who will not cost the Mariners a draft pick, which should be considered a major plus for a team who needs as many picks as they can get.
Looking ahead to the 2019 free agent class, the options don’t get much better. The risk in signing Darvish is that he will get hurt, and the Mariners will be stuck with another Felix Hernandez type of contract.
There are ways of mitigating these risk. Opt-outs are becoming increasingly popular among players and teams, as it provides potential insurance to both the team and player. It is also important to note that the contract of Felix Hernandez will expire after the 2019 season, thus lifting $27 million off the Mariners payroll.
Adding Yu Darvish will likely cost the Mariners an average of $25 million a year for the length of the contract. But not adding him could blow the last chance the Mariners have to add an impact arm to its rotation before the window slams shut.
Next: The Official Off-Season Plan
Of course, the Mariners must have a shut down point. They should not spend money just to spend it. But if the Mariners want a pitching staff that is built on more than hope, adding Darvish is the most logical choice.