Adding to what already has been an offseason of turnover and change, the Cubs are trading ace Yu Darvish and catcher Victor Caratini to the Padres for right-hander Zach Davies and four prospects, according to multiple reports.
Darvish, 34, the National League Cy Young runner-up after going 8-3 with a 2.01 ERA in 2020, had drawn significant trade interest and was the Cubs’ most valuable asset based on his ability and relatively reasonable contract.
When Jed Hoyer took over as team president in November, he didn’t hide from the fact that tough decisions were coming. But few would have predicted those decisions would include not just position players approaching free agency, but also the Cubs’ best starting pitcher.
“In this job, you always have one eye on the present and one eye on the future,” Hoyer said last month. “And the truth is that, given the service-time realities . . . I think that eye might be a little bit more focused toward the future than usual.”
The Padres had been pushing hard for a catcher in the deal and got their man in Caratini, who became Darvish’s personal catcher in 2019. Darvish has a career 2.80 ERA in 31 games with Caratini.
The four prospects headed to the Cubs are shortstops Reginald Preciado and Yeison Santana and outfielders Owen Caissie and Ismael Mena, according to reports.
Trading Darvish is the Cubs’ first major move under Hoyer after they non-tendered outfielders Kyle Schwarber and Albert Almora Jr. earlier this offseason. The trade will take a significant amount of salary off the Cubs’ books — a necessity for them. Darvish is owed $62 million over the next three seasons as part of the six-year, $126 million deal he signed with the Cubs before the 2018 season.
Since Memorial Day 2019, Darvish has compiled a 2.84 ERA over 32 starts (199 ⅔ innings), averaging 11.5 strikeouts and 2.4 walks per nine innings.
The Cubs already had concerns about their starting pitching depth, and dealing their ace adds to that. Davies joins Kyle Hendricks, Alec Mills and Adbert Alzolay in the projected rotation. Mills and Alzolay have limited experience despite increased roles in 2020, having combined for just 152 ⅔ innings.
“We understand that if we’re planning for 162 [games] as it is right now, we’re going to have to have some pitching depth,” Cubs manager David Ross said.
With Darvish now traded, attention turns to infielders Kris Bryant and Javy Baez, who are both entering their final contract year before becoming free agents next winter. The NL Central appears up for grabs, but if the Cubs have decided to go in the direction of shedding top players and salary, a division title might be tougher to come by than in recent years.
“I think there’s always challenges in trying to do both, and that’s why you have to have your eye on both things,” Hoyer said. “You have to be opportunistic when decisions come up that allow you to do both.
“I think at some point, you do have to look at the bigger picture. We did win the division this year. We are really talented. And so I think we can do both. But it does probably mean being a little bit opportunistic at certain times.”