The New York Yankees are firmly and legitimately back in win-now mode.
They claim year after year to be ready to compete for a championship, but the truth is the last couple of seasons there were more questions than answers. However, courtesy of an extended 2017 postseason run and the addition of Giancarlo Stanton earlier in the offseason, the Yankees are a real threat now. If New York manages to land free agent right-hander Yu Darvish, they will be putting an exclamation point on this offseason, demonstrating they view themselves as a bonafide World Series contender.
While adding Darvish strengthens the current squad, there should be some wariness leading up to and after a potential signing.
It is explicitly clear that the Yankees are working to keep their payroll under the $197 million collective bargaining tax (CBT) threshold this season. At the moment, the Yankees sit approximately $20 million under the limit. They would like to maintain a cushion against the threshold to allow for potential midseason trades, so any deal for Darvish would have to be balanced by a trade of one large, or a couple of smaller contracts.
As for Darvish's desires, he's reportedly seeking a six or seven-year deal worth at least $20 million per season. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman believes the current free agency slog has throttled Darvish's market. Some have speculated that Darvish may be able to be signed for as little as five years and $80-85 million. Even at such a discounted salary, the Yankees would be required to shed salary to remain under the CBT threshold.
We can point to Jacoby Ellsbury all we want, but the truth of the matter is the likelihood of a trade of the outfielder continues to dwindle. Not many teams are interested in Ellsbury, even if the Yankees take on half his salary. One team that may have been a fit is seemingly no longer as the San Francisco Giants traded for Andrew McCutchen.
With an Ellsbury trade looking like a pipe dream, the Yankees may have to deal a player that can truly help the club in 2018. Brett Gardner ($11.5 million in 2018) and David Robertson ($13 million) come to mind because they maintain strong performance value for the contract cost. Others may be Adam Warren ($3.315 million) or Dellin Betances ($5.1 million), but those contracts are not as large and could leave the payroll situation tight when adding Darvish's salary.
Gardner and Robertson are inarguably important to the Yankees' prospective success in 2018. Without Gardner, the Yankees do not have a true leadoff hitter, and Robertson proved to be extremely valuable down the stretch in 2017. Warren is not flashy, but he is consistent and while Betances had a slew of issues last season, he can dominate at times, and is not far removed from being considered one of the best relievers in the game.
The Yankees will have to determine - barring a miracle trade of Ellsbury - if losing a strong component to the club is worth the commitment they will have to make for Darvish.
First, I do not believe Darvish's market value will drop to the area that Cashman hopes. In my opinion, if Cashman is eager to sign Darvish, he's going to have to fight for him - there are five other teams reportedly interested - and the average annual value is going to reach $20 million.
We've explained why the money is an "issue" for the Yankees, but beyond that there are potential pitfalls to inking Darvish to a long-term deal.
Darvish will pitch most of the 2018 season at age-31 (he turns 32 on August 16), meaning a five-year deal will see him pitching into the downward arc of the age-curve for starting pitchers. Additionally, he has a good deal of wear on his right arm (over 2,100 professional innings, which includes 1,268 1/3 frames in Japan) to go along with Tommy John surgery in March 2015, meaning some trepidation of how the contract might conclude is entirely reasonable.
Darvish did prove to be healthy in 2017, hurling 186 2/3 innings with a fairly respectable 3.86 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, and 209 strikeouts. He kept walks in line (2.4 BB/9), but he did allow 27 home runs. Darvish picked up steam after being traded to the Dodgers in July (3.44 ERA), and excelled in the first two series of the postseason (11 1/3 IP, 2 ER, 14 K).
However, Darvish threw two disastrous duds in the World Series (3 1/3 IP, 8 ER, 0 K). Whether he was tipping pitches or not in the World Series remains to be seen, but if he is to help put the Yankees over the top, his performance in big games will be incredibly important.
The Yankees may be encouraged by Darvish's health, and he is widely considered a pitcher possessing excellent stuff on the mound. It is plausible the Yankees believe they can manage Darvish's innings - courtesy of the strong depth of their bullpen and rotation - making the aging process less strenuous.
There are valid reasons to be high on Darvish, and the Yankees to add him makes absolute sense. However, coming to an agreement comes with the prerequisite of making a complementary move (before or after a deal), which has the potential to hurt the club in another area. Equally important to the decision, Darvish's age, injury history and mileage on his arm are concerns.
Ultimately, the Yankees will have to decide if Darvish's talent and abilities outweigh the presumed shortcomings, and bring them closer to a World Series title in the next two to three seasons, because after that his production might begin to drastically wane.