Yu Darvish did not step up in the World Series, but he will still be a hotly-pursued free agent this winter.
To call the World Series a disaster for free-agent right-hander Yu Darvish is a bit of an understatement. After going 2-0 with two runs allowed in 11.1 innings in the first two rounds of the playoffs, Darvish was blasted for nine runs in 3.1 innings by the Houston Astros in two starts, including a miserable Game 7 loss.
Darvish did not strike out a single Astros hitter in the World Series and gave up two home runs, looking nothing like a four-time All-Star. In his first full season back from Tommy John surgery, Darvish went 10-12 with a 3.86 ERA for the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Dodgers. He made his first 22 starts of the year for the Rangers and did not look himself. Darvish showed flashes of his original dominant form in nine starts for the Dodgers, going 4-3 with a 3.44 ERA and striking out 11.1 per nine.
Even with the World Series flop attached to his name, Darvish is still the premier starting pitcher on the market this winter. Since returning from elbow surgery, he is 17-17 with a 3.70 ERA and 10.7 K/9. Home runs are up slightly for Darvish since his surgery, but the same can be said of almost every pitcher in the league. Advanced metrics still point to Darvish being one of the best pitchers in baseball, and he is still only 31.
Based on the numbers alone, Darvish is probably a $30-million-a-year pitcher. Unfortunately for him, he has already had UCL reconstruction, was pitching 200 innings a year at the age of 20 in Japan and blew up in the World Series. Even so, he is about to get paid handsomely. Darvish will no doubt top the record for biggest contract handed out to a pitcher with Tommy John. (Jordan Zimmermann’s $110 million is the current record.)
Not every team in the league will be able to afford his hefty price tag, but these five can and should all be in on the bidding for this offseason’s top pitcher.
5. Washington Nationals
Yu Darvish’s free agency is going to be wide open, and most big-market teams will at least put feelers out in the early days. The Washington Nationals have not let their big budget keep them from trying to make splashy signings the past two winters. They took shots at Jason Heyward, Yoenis Cespedes, Ben Zobrist, Justin Upton, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon. None of those attempts worked out, but look for the Nationals to continue trying to land the big one this offseason.
The Nationals came up short in the NLDS yet again and parted ways with Dusty Baker because of it. Dave Martinez is the new manager, and he inherits a team that has an easy path back to the postseason through the weak NL East. Winning the division doesn’t matter, though. This is the Nationals last chance to win a World Series before Bryce Harper hits the open market. But with a dominant rotation, the Nats can still hold onto their status as a contender without Harper and Darvish would help them do just that.