He was a free agent, bound to no team, and of all the teams, he chose that one. As offseason developments go, it's certainly headline-worthy.
But for Fantasy Baseball purposes, I'm more interested in the other side of the coin: The Cubs chose Darvish. They had more obvious connections to others, but they chose him, presumably the costliest of this offseason's free agent pitchers.
Which tells us a couple things:
- They thought the cost difference was worth it.
- They considered starting pitching a major need..
Which tells us a couple more things:
Yes, the dual aces from their World Series championship just a couple years ago fell on hard times last year, as aces are bound to do. In cases like Zack Greinke's or Dallas Keuchel's 2016, it's easy enough to write off, but in the case of Arrieta's and Lester's 2017, I have my concerns.
Both were purportedly of sound body and mind. Both didn't just suffer from diminished production but also diminished stuff, each losing at least a mile per hour off his average fastball velocity to establish a new career low. Both saw a reduction in strikeout rate and one (Arrieta) in swinging strike rate. They weren't as effective, for seemingly no good reason other than they were a year older, a year further away from 30.
And Darvish? He's fine. A couple bad starts in the playoffs, sure, but he was himself all year, with his usual velocity and swinging strike rate. In fact, the Dodgers helped him straighten out a mechanical issue, which led to a 3.44 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings in nine regular-season starts with them. He'll still be pitching in a more or less neutral park with a championship-caliber lineup backing him. Nothing much changes there.
But the optics here for those other two aren't great. The Cubs knew what they had in Arrieta, knew he had a special place in fans' hearts after his Cy Young-winning 2015 (something Darvish himself hasn't done) and knew they could have him for less. Yet they chose Darvish. The Cubs knew what they had in Lester, the hefty investment already made in him and they hefty price -- their top two prospects, including one of the best in the game -- for what was supposed to be his complement at top of the rotation, Jose Quintana. Yet they chose Darvish, abandoning their flirtation with Alex Cobb because going cheap here wouldn't have been good enough.
And I agree. It wouldn't have.
I already ranked Arrieta and Lester 18th and 27th, respectively, among starting pitchers -- a decision I wasn't totally comfortable with because, well, just as recently as a year ago, both ranked ahead of even Darvish. But the warning signs are evident and now industry-backed (not to mention Theo-backed). Arrieta was at least able to rally for a low (albeit likely unsustainable) ERA in the second half, emphasizing his ground-ball tendencies in place of missing bats. Lester didn't offer much reason for optimism and isas a result.
But Darvish? He's fine. He's 13th among starting pitchers for me, and he's better than the Cubs had last year.