The Cubs had been in the market for a starting pitcher all offseason, even after signing Tyler Chatwood, and they landed the best available free agent in Darvish. Their looks something like this at the moment:
Pretty strong starting five with Montgomery a very good sixth starter option. Jake Arrieta and John Lackey, both of whom remain unsigned, and they did it with the best available free agent pitcher and .
The free agent market has been slow-moving all offseason, so while Darvish is now off the board, several quality starters are still on the open market. Arrieta, Alex Cobb, and Lance Lynn are the best available free agent starters right now. Here are their 2018 ZiPS projections:
The 2017 season was the first full season following Tommy John surgery for both Cobb and Lynn -- the same was true of Darvish -- and their recent injury history will absolutely be a factor in their eventual free agent contract. Generally speaking though, these are three quality pitchers who the objective ZiPS model expects good things from in 2018.
Darvish was, of course, the top free agent target for many teams, even if he didn't sign until the days before spring training. Among the teams connected to him this winter were the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees, Milwaukee Brewers, and Minnesota Twins. The Dodgers and Yankees didn't get Darvish because they're hamstring by their self-imposing payroll limit this coming season (the $197 million luxury tax threshold).
The Brewers and Twins have never won a nine-figure bidding war and they had to sell Darvish on the idea of joining an up-and-coming team, which wasn't going to be easy. The Cubs won the World Series two years ago and are on the short list of the most serious World Series contenders for 2018. The Twins and Brewers were both surprise contenders in 2017, and now they're trying to keep it going.
With the Yankees and Dodgers adhering to their luxury tax plans and Arrieta likely a non-option at his price -- the ZiPS projections may be similar, but Arrieta's earning potential is greater than Cobb's and Lynn's because of his track record and the fact he didn't have Tommy John surgery recently -- that sets the Twins and Brewers up to chase Lynn and Cobb.
Can other teams get involved? Of course. But the Twins and Brewers are looking for starters and Lynn and Cobb fit into their price range.
At the moment the Twins appear more desperate for a starter than the Brewers, especially after losing staff ace Ervin Santana . Minnesota's current rotation depth chart is set up like this when you consider healthy pitchers only:
That is ... not great. Help is on the way. Santana, Phil Hughes, and Trevor May are all expected to return in the first half of the season, and Michael Pineda could be an option in the second half. They don't help the Twins now though, and for Minnesota to have their best chance at returning to the postseason, they need rotation help as soon as possible. Heck, they needed rotation help before Santana got hurt.
The Brewers will be without Jimmy Nelson to start the season as he rehabs from shoulder surgery, though they have better rotation depth than the Twins at the moment, at least on paper. Not counting Nelson, Milwaukee can line up their rotation depth chart like so:
In theory, the Brewers are less desperate to add rotation help than the Twins. They're not competing against the Twins though. They're competing against the Cubs in the NL Central and teams like the Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, and St. Louis Cardinals in the NL wild-card race. After adding Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich, it only makes sense for the Brewers to go out and get the pitching help they need. And with Darvish off the board, they can shift focus to Cobb or Lynn.
Will the Darvish signing be the signing that opens the free agent floodgates? I sure hope so. We all expected the market to heat up after Shohei Ohtani signed, and after Giancarlo Stanton was traded, and after Cain signed and Yelich was traded, and we're still waiting. Perhaps the imminence of spring training will create a rush of signings -- you can be sure players and their families want to know where they're spending the next year -- including the Twins and Brewers getting the pitcher they've been seeking all winter.