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Further thoughts on the Yu Darvish/Zach Davies trade: Don’t panic!

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Yes, I know. You hate this trade. But hear me out.

Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

So, let’s see. Based on the poll results at this time, the vast majority of you either hate the trade that sent Yu Darvish to the Padres for Zach Davies and four prospects, or you’re “meh” on it.

Let’s step back for a moment and try to look at this trade with a bit less emotion, shall we? (Don’t look at Cubs Twitter, seriously, there’s nothing but overreaction and hyperventilation and some outright hatred there.)

I will grant this: This deal is mostly — and I say mostly for a reason, which will become obvious soon — a salary dump. So stipulated. The Cubs are sending $62 million of Darvish’s deal to San Diego, $23 million of which would have been paid in 2021, and the only impact to the MLB payroll next season will be (approximately) $7 million owed to Davies, who is arbitration-eligible and made $5.25 million in 2021. MLB Trade Rumors’ arb estimates for Davies are all over the place based on their three methods used; I’m using $7 million as my own guess as to what he’ll eventually sign for.

(Note: Most sources say Darvish is owed $59 million in the three years left on his deal. That’s before the $1 million escalator he got to all three years by finishing second in Cy Young voting for 2020. $62 million is correct.)

So the Cubs just lopped (about) $16 million off the 2021 payroll — and $20 million for 2022 and $19 million for 2023. A lot of that money could go for contract extensions for (say) Willson Contreras and Javier Baez, and I am reasonably certain that’s going to happen.

Further stipulated: Yu Darvish was one of the best pitchers in the major leagues in 2020, and also for the second half of 2019.

But, know what? Zach Davies is actually a pretty good pitcher. He was a 1.7 bWAR starter in the shortened 2020 season; that would be the equivalent of a 4.6 bWAR 162-game season. Davies had a 3 bWAR season in 2017 and 2.6 in 2019. He’s a really good No. 3 starter. Much has been made of the fact that he’s a soft-tosser and now the Cubs have three guys like that, including Kyle Hendricks and Alec Mills.

But, know what?

Davies was always tough on the Cubs when he was with the Brewers. He doesn’t walk guys (2.5 per nine innings, career) and keeps the ball in the park (1.0 HR per nine innings, career). Hopefully, he’ll do the same in a Cubs uniform.

Yes, I know. A contending team like the Cubs needs more than a No. 3 starter.

Or do they?

The NL Central in 2020 was pretty bad. The Pirates and Reds are likely going to be worse in 2021, and the Brewers haven’t done anything to improve. If the Cubs don’t make any further major changes — and I don’t think they will — they should be able to win this division with what they have.

Will that be enough to be a serious World Series contender in 2021? No, of course it won’t. But what it will do is keep the current string of contending seasons going and open up more money that could be spent on free agents next winter, when (hopefully) the pandemic has ended, fans are back in ballparks and baseball has returned to some semblance of pre-2020 normal.

About the four prospects the Cubs acquired, they are all very young. One of them, Owen Caissie, is only 18 years old and was a 2020 draft pick, meaning he hasn’t played in a professional game yet.

How many times have we seen, or heard, that the Cubs farm system has been in disarray and low-ranked over the last few years? This is a way of restocking the system so that by 2023 or 2024, it could graduate some more players to the major league squad.

It’s been said that it’s better to trade someone a year too early than a year too late. Would you rather have seen Darvish decline in 2021 and then no one would take him and the money left on his deal?

Let me give you just one example of a recent trade for “prospects you never heard of” that worked out pretty well for the team acquiring the prospects. In 2015, the Brewers sent Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers to the Astros for four prospects. Those young players, only one of whom had played above Double-A at the time: Josh Hader, Adrian Houser, Brett Phillips and Domingo Santana. I’d say that worked out pretty well for Milwaukee, no? And then they traded Phillips for Mike Moustakas, which helped them win a division title in 2018.

And so I believe it is far too early to declare this trade a failure. Ask me again in three years how I feel about it. Are the Cubs “tanking”? No, I do not believe they are. Are they suddenly going to start dealing every other good player on the roster? No, I do not believe they are.

Yes, I would have liked to see more MLB talent coming to the Cubs in this deal. Getting someone like Jake Cronenworth, who seems superfluous in San Diego after their reported signing of Korean star Ha-Seong Kim, would have been useful.

Could I be wrong about all this? Sure. Been wrong before, likely to be wrong again. But I do not think you can judge this deal until you see what other moves are made by Jed Hoyer and his team, not just this offseason, but through the 2021 season regarding contract extensions and/or other signings. If the savings on this trade aren’t spent on other players for 2021, or contract extensions beyond that... then, I’d have to say that the critics are correct. Until then, I am reserving judgment.

Sara Sanchez and I had a spirited discussion last night about this trade after the details were made public on Twitter. (It has not yet been announced officially by either the Cubs or the Padres.) She will have a different viewpoint on all this coming up at 10 a.m CT.