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Elephant Rumblings: Padres acquire Yu Darvish from Cubs

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Chicago Cubs v Chicago White Sox Photo by Ron Vesely/Getty Images

Good morning afternoon, Athletics Nation!

The San Diego Padres are not messing around this winter. After a breakout 2020 campaign that saw them reach the NLDS, they’re doubling down and making blockbuster moves to further enhance their roster.

After agreeing to a trade on Sunday for ace pitcher Blake Snell of the Tampa Bay Rays, the Padres struck again on Monday. San Diego is set to acquire Yu Darvish from the Chicago Cubs in a seven-player deal, reports insider Mark Feinsand. The deal is pending medical reviews.

The Padres will also receive catcher Victor Caratini, who worked as Darvish’s personal catcher in Chicago (not a bad idea for a pitcher with around 48 different pitches in his arsenal ... I think that’s an exaggeration but I’m not certain).

The Cubs get back five players. One is Zach Davies, a veteran starter to take Darvish’s spot in their rotation. He’s been a consistent 2-3 WAR performer over the last five seasons, and he posted career-best ERA and FIP marks in the short 2020 (at age 27).

The other four are prospects with little to no pro experience, who all rank between Nos. 11-16 on MLB Pipeline’s Padres list (which still includes the prospects involved in the Snell trade). One of them, SS Yeison Santana, was No. 8 on FanGraphs’ pre-2020 version of San Diego’s system. The others, including their ranks on MLB Pipeline and FanGraphs: SS Reginald Preciado (11th MLB, 15 FG), 2nd-round draft pick OF Owen Caissie (13th MLB), and OF Ismael Mena (15th MLB, 26th FG).

For the Padres, this is another major addition to a growing roster of stars, as they make a significant push toward championship contention. Darvish finished runner-up for Cy Young in 2020, and he’ll join Snell (2018 AL Cy Young) and Dinelson Lamet (4th-place for NL Cy this year) atop a fearsome rotation, to say nothing of their stud lineup. And there are still more impact prospects on their farm.

For Chicago, this is a salary dump after a tough financial year. Darvish was due around $60 million over the next three seasons for ages 34-36, so they shed that hefty salary at a sell-high moment, sending only a “minor portion” of cash in the swap. However, they didn’t completely tank their 2021 roster, getting back Davies for their rotation on a one-year commitment (final year of arbitration, maybe around $8 million). And they also netted four decent prospects.

In terms of value, Baseball Trade Values suggests it would be around even if the Cubs sent $13 million (of the $60 million owed to Darvish). It’s not yet clear how much cash they will actually send.

As for local fan reactions, Sara Sanchez of Bleed Cubbie Blue is not happy about what she sees as an impending fire sale, with Cubs ownership prioritizing profit over product. Al Yellon has a different viewpoint and sees merit to the deal, which saves tons of money but with Davies offsetting the present-day on-field loss and a bunch of prospects to strengthen a notoriously weak farm.

Hot takes: I like the deal for both sides. The Padres make another power move as they try to challenge the Dodgers, adding a major star who was great last season. The Cubs get out of the second half of a mega-contract for a pitcher in his mid-30s without creating a new hole in their still-contending 2021 roster.

I tend to think Darvish is slightly overrated, with the talent of an ace but the track record of a No. 2 starter and a not insignificant injury history as he enters age 34, and I never liked his Cubs contract to begin with. I simultaneously think the Cubs are wise to get out of it while they can, and that the Padres clearly improved themselves using short-term money they apparently have available to burn on luxury upgrades. It’s what the Dodgers would do, and that’s who they’re trying to catch.

Padres strike again

San Diego wasn’t done. They also made a big move on the international free agent market, signing infielder Ha-Seong Kim out of the Korean Baseball Organization, reports Dennis Lin of The Athletic.

It’s a 4yr/$25m contract, and you can read more about it from Kevin Acee of the San Diego Tribune. It’s not yet clear what position Kim will play, but Acee notes that “there are no plans to move second baseman Jake Cronenworth to the outfield.”

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