Comparing Yu Darvish’s Contract To The Biggest Deals In MLB History

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For some reason there are more than a few Chicago Cubs fans upset about the deal Yu Darvish received. The four-time MLB all-star has reportedly agreed to a six-year deal worth a guaranteed $126 million. The contract could be worth up to $150 million with incentives.

Darvish, 31, was projected to get at least $160 million, but after a stalemate between free agents and teams this offseason, Theo Epstein gave in with the extra years on the contract, while at the same time acquiring the No. 1 free agent starter for an average of $21 million a season. Yeah, $21 million is A LOT of money for you and I, but for the best free agent pitcher on the market? A steal for the Cubs.

Before we get into the bigger contract comparisons, the Cubs just had John Lackey on a two-year deal that payed him $32 million, $16 million a year. So, $5 million more on average for Darvish? I’ll take it.

Now, let’s take a look at how Darvish’s contract matches up with the biggest deals given to starting pitchers in recent years.

The first chart will list the nine biggest starting pitching contracts, as well as the average annual value, the length of the contract, age at the time of the first year of the deal and then accumulated fWAR in the five years leading up to the deal.

Pitcher Guaranteed $ AAV Years Age (1st year of contract) fWAR (prior 5 years)
Zack Greinke $206.5million $34.4 million 6 32  22.4
David Price $217 million $31 million 7 30  26.3
Clayton Kershaw $215 million $30.7 million 7 26  29.2
Max Scherzer $210 million $30 million 7 30 21.6
Justin Verlander $162 million $27 million 6 30  30.2
Jon Lester $155 million $25.8 million 6 31 19.1
Felix Hernandez $175 million $25 million 7 26  26.3
Stephen Strausburg $175 million $25 million 7 28  19.1
Cole Hamels $144 million $24 million 6 29 21.7

(spotrac)

The following chart will include Yu Darvish, along with contracts that are most similar to his deal with the Cubs.

Pitcher Guaranteed $ AAV Years Age (1st year of contract) fWAR (prior 5 years)
Masahiro Tanaka $155 million $22.1 million 7 25 n/a (pitched in Japan)
Jordan Zimmermann $110 million $22 million 5 29 18.7
Johnny Cueto $130 million $21.7 million 6 29 18.8
Yu Darvish $126 million $21 million 6 31  19

(spotrac)

Just look at the two pitchers above Darvish. Jordan Zimmermann and Johnny Cueto got the third and fourth biggest deals that offseason, behind Price and Greinke. The third and fourth biggest contracts only two years ago are still going to be more than this offseason’s biggest contract for a starting pitcher, Yu Darvish.

OK, let’s make the easy comparison. Jon Lester vs. Yu Darvish. Both pitching in year one of their contracts at age 31, while also agreeing to the same six years and having almost identical value in the previous five seasons, (19.1 fWAR, 19 fWAR). A couple different factors played into the signings. First, when the Cubs signed Lester, they needed to make a big move. The front office new the team was on the cusp and needed that one huge acquisition to get them to the next level. Also, Lester didn’t have any health concerns that Darvish has, so that’s why he got that extra guaranteed money.

All that being said, Darvish signed three years later and has maintained his success even after Tommy John surgery. Contracts are supposed increase. I guess the Cubs were lucky that all of a sudden teams were more cautious about spending, but still Darvish was projected to get $160 million guaranteed. The Cubs managed to sign Darvish for only $4 million more per year than Lester with the same goal. As long as the Cubs remain World Series contenders, the Darvish contract is worth it. No one is going to care what he’s making in the last few years of his contract just like we’re not going to care that Lester will make $25 million a season in the last few years of his contract.

If you look at the biggest contract, Zack Greinke, notice that he signed at 32, while compiling a 22.4 fWAR in the five seasons prior to signing. So, he was 0.68 fWAR better than Darvish a year during that five-year period, but he got $13 million more per year on his deal being one year older than Darvish at the time of the contract signing.

Of course there could be a downside to giving big contracts to pitchers who are in their 30s. Not every team is going to be able to max out their stars at a young age. Out of the 13 biggest contracts listed, seven were given before the pitcher was 30-years-old and only Masahiro Tanaka, Stephen Strausburg, Felix Hernandez and Clayton Kershaw were younger than 29.

So, the pitchers who were at least 29-years-old when getting the bags of money are Greinke, David Price, Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Lester, Cole Hamels, Jordan Zimmermann and Johnny Cueto. All of those pitchers are making more money per year on average than Darvish.

Yes, Scherzer is insane, Verlander was a machine in the second half last year, while Hamels and Lester have stayed consistent, but you can’t make the argument that the Cubs overpaid for Yu Darvish. That is simply false. The Cubs paid accordingly to what previous contracts have been and to some extent, looking at Lester’s deal, you can even say they got a bargain with Darvish.

More importantly, the Cubs stayed aggressive and signed the best man available. At the end of the day, who cares how much Yu Darvish is making. He makes the Cubs better and gives them a better chance to avoid being a Wild Card and once in the playoffs he gives the Cubs a better chance to win a World Series. I don’t care about what he did against the Houston Astros. He was tipping his pitches and that’s going to be fixed.

Fine, I get that you could be mad about not having Jake Arrieta back. He was a monster with the Cubs, having one of the most dominant runs this franchise has ever seen. His 2015 season may never be matched by another Cubs pitcher again. But, big but here, if Theo Epstein and the rest of the front office were on Yu Darvish and not Arrieta, I’ll go with their judgement on this signing. And again, the signing in a vacuum is a fucking steal for the Cubs.

Now get out of my face bitching about Yu Darvish making $21 million a year and get back to bitching about Jose Quintana, who might be the best pitcher on the team, while making peanuts, but some of you are just too dumb to realize how good he is.