The Padres acquired former Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell on Sunday evening and then decided to go out and get the 2020 NL Cy Young runner-up Yu Darvish from the Cubs on Monday, adding a pair of potential aces to a pitching staff that already had plenty of upside. The Cubs got a bunch of prospects we probably won't hear much about for at least two or three years plus starter Zach Davies, so the immediate impact of this trade is fairly obvious -- the Padres just got a lot better, and the Cubs just got a lot worse.
Are the ramifications quite so severe when we look at it from a Fantasy baseball perspective? That's less clear. When Darvish is at his best, his home park, lineup, defense and uniform don't really matter. Darvish can be an elite bat-misser with pinpoint control, and he's been at his best for quite some time now, finishing second in the Cy Young vote in 2020 and sporting a 3.06 ERA over his last 35 starts. And that isn't a fluke; he's backed it up with a 3.06 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 11.5 K/9, 1.5 BB/9 and elite swinging-strike rates to back it all up. If he keeps that up, it won't much matter which team he's pitching for because he's going to be an elite Fantasy option.
We discussed the Darvish trade on a breaking news episode of the Fantasy Baseball Today podcast Monday night. Subscribe via Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts here and listen to Chris Towers and Frank Stampfl break down the deal from every angle below:
Of course, Darvish probably does get a slight upgrade in context as a result of this. The Cubs were a very good defense in 2020, but the Padres weren't a bad one, and Petco Park is a better place to pitch than Wrigley Field. The one place Darvish is likely to lose is with the level of competition in the AL West being higher than in the NL Central, but even that is less of a concern with a normal schedule on the way in 2021. Darvish feasted on the dregs of MLB last season as he got to face the NL and AL Central divisions for every start, but you never should have expected him to post an ERA around 2.00 again anyway.
Darvish has a better chance of winning his good starts thanks to the better Padres supporting cast, and he'll benefit from playing half his games in the pitcher-friendly Petco, which should help him keep the ball in the yard and could help him avoid some of the bad starts. Darvish deserves to be drafted high no matter where he's pitching, and if you want to give him a slight upgrade as a result of this trade, that makes sense. However, he's already the No. 5 SP off the board in NFBC ADP right now, as the 18th player off the board overall, so there isn't much room for him to move up.
The truth is, Darvish might be being overdrafted just a bit as is, and this trade may only make that worse. As great as he was in 2020, he still had a 3.98 ERA in 2019 and hasn't thrown 190 innings in a season since 2013, so he's no lock for ace-level production. He benefited from a short season and a cake schedule in 2020, and you should expect some significant regression from there. Something like a low-to-mid-3.00s ERA, a great WHIP and a ton of strikeouts should be the expectation, with the chance for more wins now. That's great, but you should be expecting something similar from Aaron Nola (SP8, 24.1 ADP), Max Scherzer (SP9, 29.52), Jack Flaherty (SP10, 29.71) and Luis Castillo (SP11, 29.8), all going a round later or so.
Of course, if that's the worst thing you can say about Darvish, it's hard to argue he's a bad pick, and moving to San Diego won't change that. Just like moving to Chicago won't change Zach Davies' outlook much at all. Davies changed up his pitch mix to de-emphasize his sinker, and it resulted in a higher strikeout rate without having to sacrifice his great control or making him get hit harder, a win all around. The move to the more homer-friendly Wrigley is a concern because Davies' margin for error is pretty small given his middling-at-best strikeout rate, but with an ADP of 224.68, there's little downside here.
Here a few other notes on the trade, the fallout and the Padres rotation:
The Padres also acquired Victor Caratini, Darvish's personal catcher who can also fill in at first and third base but who doesn't have much Fantasy appeal.
The Cubs received prospects Owen Caissie, Ismael Mena, Reggie Preciado and Yeison Santana. Santana is the elder statement of the quartet at 20 years old, which should be a sign that the Cubs weren't necessarily looking for an immediate impact here. All four seem to have pretty impressive tools and came with big signing bonuses attached, but they're very early in their professional careers and only matter in deep Dynasty leagues.
Even with the additions of Snell and Davies, the Padres have a hole in the rotation, with Dinelson Lamet and Chris Paddack set to fill two spots. Adrian Morejon is probably the most likely of their pitching prospects to lock down that role since he got time in the majors in 2020, but they also have Mackenzie Gore, the top pitching prospect in baseball, and Ryan Weathers, their 2018 first-round pick, who could get the nod instead. They'll battle that one out in spring training and all three have sleeper potential for 2021, making it a battle to watch.
There's also at least a chance the Padres will have a second rotation spot open, depending on how Lamet responds to reported platelet-rich plasma therapy on his right elbow. Lamet has already had Tommy John surgery, though the San Diego Union-Tribune reported in October that Lamet has "no ligament issues" in the elbow. By all accounts, Lamet is progressing as expected and is expected to be ready for Opening Day, but it's something to keep an eye on when considering drafting the much-hyped Lamet, currently going off the board as SP24 with a sixth-round pick on average.