New year, new Padres?
San Diego made waves just a few days ago, landing Rays starter Blake Snell in a surprise move, further improving their rotation and filling the hole left by Mike Clevinger (out 2021 rehabbing from Tommy John surgery).
San Diego wasn’t done, landing now-former Cubs starter Yu Darvish on Monday in an epic, seven-player deal that sent Darvish, catcher Victor Caratini to the Padres in exchange for Zach Davies and four prospects.
The Padres are doing exactly what contending teams should be doing — getting better in the immediate to not only open the window, but take it off its frame and making sure it stays open.
Here’s how the trade breaks down:
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The Padres are doing exactly what a team with a loaded farm system should be doing: Dealing lottery tickets for surefire, proven, good baseball players right now. They did just that with the Blake Snell trade, and they did it once again by landing Darvish on Monday.
Since the second half of 2019, Darvish has been absolute money: He pitched to a 2.95 ERA over 88 innings the second half in 2019, solving his walk issues he had earlier that season and the year prior. In 2020, even in a shortened year, Darvish pitched to a 3.0 fWAR and landed second in Cy Young voting. That’s all great, even despite Darvish’s advancing age.
The Padres are operating from a position of strength. They have proven major leaguers ready to win now and are adding to their rotation, continuously, and not resting on their laurels, or throwing their hands up and saying “OH WELL!” after the loss of Clevinger to Tommy John surgery. Not only did they land Darvish, but secured Victor Caratini, Darvish’s personal catcher, making a great addition to the deal, too. It’s an exciting time to be a Dads fan.
More than anything, though, this is an exercise in how to get better as a team: There are far too many organizations in baseball that have not gone all-in on trying to win a title, instead stuck on a hamster wheel of prospect churning and hope that things will get better with a serviceable farm system. This, unfortunately, is not how things should work.
There are organizations who are tremendous at developing that young talent into impact performers (the Rays, the Blue Jays) and those who use that talent to flip for more talent (the Padres, the Yankees in years past). The Padres are currently leading the best of both worlds. They also didn’t have to deal any of their top-10 prospects in this deal, despite a few of them being originally reported, and none from MLB Pipeline’s top 100 either.
The Padres are currently orchestrating a masterclass in how to build a championship team in 2020. Now we’ll see if they can put paper to practice come 2021.
TRADE GRADES: Breaking down the Blake Snell deal
You may remember, the Cubs won the World Series 35 years ago, ending a championship drought tha- … Wait, the Cubs won the World Series in 2016? What the hell happened?
It seems like we are far, far removed from folks dancing on Addison Street and celebrating the Cubs finally breaking the Curse of the Billy Goat, right? It feels further now that Darvish is away, even if he wasn’t part of that championship squad. Dealing away the team’s best pitcher, letting Jon Lester walk, non-tendering Kyle Schwarber and other Cubs moves means they’re, essentially, not expecting another title to celebrate in Wrigleyville anytime soon.
But let’s talk this through and make it clear.
Yes, Chicago is shedding payroll. That’s a bad thing for a professional sports team from Chicago, especially a professional sports team from Chicago named the Cubs. They’ve already made a few cost-cutting measures this offseason, and others were rumored to be in the works for some time now. That’s not how you build or maintain a championship winner. They deserve all the venom spewed in their direction. There’s no debate from anyone on that point, which is what knocks their grade here down a fair amount.
But, if we’re trying to rationalize this, Yu Darvish is turning 35 next August, is still due a ton of money ($59 million for over three more seasons) and if the Cubs were going to continue to build through the farm and the draft and try and build sustainable success for the future, then trading Darvish might be the best route to take.
The prospects the Cubs got in return boast some upside, too:
If ifs and buts were candy and nuts then everyone would have a merry Christmas, right? But four prospects under age of 20 to an organization that has done well to develop prospects in years past gives Chicago some wiggle room for the future.
Not lost in the deal is landing Zach Davies, who is a good, solid rotation piece, especially so when you consider Davies is coming off his best season (albeit shortened) season in the majors, and at 27, could continue to improve.
Things go wrong, though. Players get hurt. They don’t develop as expected. They might not perform at the major league level, should they get there. That’s not to say that teams shouldn’t focus on the minors to build for the future — as long as there’s a concerted effort to win at the major-league level while still cultivating a farm system. Too often we see one way or the other, not a healthy mix. The Cubs still have a solid core at the major-league level but haven’t done much to add to that core since winning it all some years back.
Could the Cubs have gotten better prospects overall? Probably, even more so when you realize they are reportedly eating part of Darvish’s contract to move him. They got no pitching prospects or young pitchers in return for an organization that has lots and lots of young pitching prospects. But they got four high-caliber prospects in return, with a good starting pitcher who can help right away. Say what you will about their business practices in recent years (and they are not admirable or good), but this is about as best you can do for a pitcher on the back-9 of his career.
Again: The Cubs deserve to get wrecked for not wanting to win right now, especially after winning the NL Central in 2020. But it’s a solid enough deal if they’re looking to the future.
The Cubs will likely get excoriated — and rightfully so in some cases — for helping close the window on their championship run early. That could be true. The Cubs still boast a pretty talented lineup at this point in the offseason, and a Kyle Hendricks/Zach Davies 1-2 punch at the top isn’t the worst thing in the baseball world. Does getting rid of Darvish make the Cubs better in the immediate? No, probably not. Did the Cubs sell high on Darvish? No, probably not. But if the lottery tickets hit, then the Cubs could be sitting pretty — just not anytime soon.
There’s really not enough good things to say about the way the Padres have operated for the last few seasons. People trashed Manny Machado for signing in San Diego, but they’ve made good on their effort to continue to get better since then. Now, they’re looking like a legitimate World Series contender, as look as they shore up a few more areas of their squad.
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