Imagine if the Tigers signed Yu Darvish. It’s crazy, right? The Tigers lost 98 games last season and just tore apart their roster. They have rid themselves of a few bad contracts, but still have a few more on the books that they would like to see disappear. Darvish has several teams lined up for his services, including a mystery team identified by the source himself. One assumes the unnamed team is also a contender, pining for Darvish to help solidify their rotation for a long playoff run.
What if it is the Tigers, though? We can squint to find reasons the signing would make some sense for them, even if they did just clear $100 million in payroll last season. There’s always the question of whether a free agent will sign at a discount later this offseason, and for some reason it seems teams don’t view Darvish like what he is — the best starting pitcher to hit the free agent market in recent memory.
Or maybe we’re just viewing my rapid descent into madness (hey, I’ve suggested worse). Let’s pretend it’s the former, at least, and dream of the impossible.
Signing Darvish might speed up the rebuild
While the Tigers have a bevy of talented pitching prospects at their disposal — their top four arms all appear on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 prospects list — there’s no guarantee that any of them develop into a true ace. Even Michael Fulmer, who has been a rock atop the Tigers rotation the past two seasons, might not ever be the Capital A Ace that Detroit enjoyed in Justin Verlander.
Darvish is that pitcher. He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2015, but has been just fine since then, with a 3.57 FIP and 29 percent strikeout rate in 287 innings. He ranks 18th among all pitchers with 19.0 fWAR since his arrival in the majors in 2012 — and that’s with missing all of the 2015 season and throwing upwards of 400 fewer innings than others on that list. He’s second in strikeout rate, sixth in K-BB%, and 11th in ERA- (minimum 500 innings). And with his ridiculous arsenal, one imagines he will age relatively well.
Putting that quality of pitcher atop any rotation is going to make it a lot better. That goes doubly so for the Tigers, who have some interesting names but lack proven production behind Fulmer. Adding Darvish gives them a one-two punch almost as good as any in the American League for years to come, and puts pressure on division rivals to extend their current windows (the Indians, especially). It also reduces the pressure on the young prospects to arrive and produce immediately. Plus, it might help the Tigers game their service time a little more effectively, further extending their own future window of contention. Or, if things go really well, it could create another trade chip for them to use to acquire a premium position player.
Unfortunately, the timing is all wrong for the Tigers
The decision to sign Darvish isn’t a bad one (depending on the contract terms), but it would make little sense for the Tigers right now. They still have a couple of bad contracts on their payroll they would like to be rid of before inking another high-priced free agent, and one imagines Darvish’s deal will eventually fall into that category.
There’s also a question of whether Detroit would be a competitive ballclub before Darvish starts to decline. They would be all but wasting his first two or three years with the team before finally returning to contention, instead spending upwards of $25 million for a slight uptick in jersey and ticket sales. A free agent’s best years are usually the first couple after he signs — these are mostly veteran players, remember — and those would be spent pitching in front of teams of middling quality at best.
Ultimately, Darvish won’t sign with Detroit
I can’t imagine a world where the Tigers are interested in adding yet another nine-figure contract to their books right now, especially when they have all but written off the 2018 and 2019 seasons in order to build a more sustainable winner. It would be reckless for them to spend all that money right now when another free agent of similar caliber will probably become available in two or three years. Darvish himself likely won’t want to enter a rebuild when he can sign with another contender immediately. The memory of losing Game Seven is probably gnawing at him, and he won’t be able to scratch that itch for a few years in Detroit.
It’s a cool idea, and one worth hoping on for a few minutes amid such a boring offseason. But it won’t happen.