There has been speculation all winter that the Milwaukee Brewers would jump in at some point on one of the top free-agent starting pitchers, and apparently they finally decided to do so with Yu Darvish.
Reports out of both Japan and the United States on Sunday indicated the Brewers made an offer to Darvish, considered one of the top starters on the free-agent market. The club's policy is not to comment on specific reports on free agents or trade speculation and general manager David Stearns did not respond to inquiries.
Darvish tweeted a link to the Yahoo Japan story that needed to be translated to English.
That report stated that the Brewers had made an offer to Darvish and were one of six teams in the hunt, joining the Minnesota Twins, New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs, Houston Astros (presumably out since trading for Gerrit Cole) and Texas Rangers. Before being traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers for the playoff push last season, Darvish had pitched his entire career in the majors with the Rangers.
Later in the day, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic tweeted that a source told him the same thing.
Even later came confirmation from Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports of the Brewers' offer.
There has been ongoing speculation that the Brewers would make a move on a premier free agent pitcher for two reasons: 1. They have financial flexibility after operating with a payroll below $60 million last season. 2. They need starting pitching help, especially with right-hander Jimmy Nelson recovering from shoulder surgery and expected to miss "a chunk" of the first half of the 2018 season.
Until this point, the Brewers had been shopping at the other end of the pitching market, signing Jhoulys Chacin to a two-year, $15.5 million deal and former Milwaukee starter Yovani Gallardo to a non-guaranteed, $2 million contract for 2018. But, with the free-agent market moving at a historically slow pace, the Brewers might have decided Darvish would have to take less money than desired.
At the outset of the winter, Darvish was projected to get a six-year deal for about $150 million, and it would be surprising if the Brewers jumped in at that level. They are in the midst of a large-scale rebuilding program and general manager David Stearns repeatedly has said the team needs to develop players from within its system, including pitchers.
The Brewers took an unexpected leap forward in 2017, winning 86 games and finishing just one victory short of the second wild-card berth in the National League. With that backdrop and some financial flexibility, they apparently decided they could make a substantial offer to Darvish.
The Brewers have only one big contract on the books. Left fielder Ryan Braun has three years and approximately $57 million remaining on what was a five-year, $105-million extension. Making an even bigger commitment to Darvish would be a gamble for the Brewers considering he is 31 years old and likely has his best years behind him.
Time will tell whether the Brewers' offer is enough to push aside the other teams showing interest and get him to come to Milwaukee, or if there will be further negotiations. Darvish and Jake Arrieta are considered the top starters on the market and the Brewers were linked speculatively more to Arrieta than Darvish until this point.
Over the course of this unusually slow "hot stove" season, the Brewers also were believed to have interest in free-agent pitchers Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn, who are on a lower tier than Darvish and Arrieta. One advantage of signing Darvish instead of Arrieta is that the Brewers would not have to surrender a draft pick to the Dodgers, who were not allowed to make a qualifying offer.
Splitting last season between the Rangers and Dodgers, Darvish went 10-12 with a 3.86 earned run average. He made solid starts for Los Angeles in the first two rounds of the postseason but was hammered twice by Houston in the World Series, including his Game 7 start, pitching a total of only 3 1/3 innings while allowing nine hits and eight runs (21.60 ERA).
Afterward, the Astros indicated in a report that Darvish had been tipping his pitches, which seemed quite possible considering the results.
Darvish missed the entire 2015 season and nearly half of 2016 while recovering from Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery. But he pitched 186 2/3 innings last season, allowing only 159 hits with 58 walks and 209 strikeouts.
Darvish has been a huge strikeout pitcher since leaving Japan to sign with the Rangers, including a major-league best of 277 in 2013. In 832 1/3 innings in the majors, he has recorded 1,021 strikeouts while yielding only 674 hits and 307 walks. His record is 56-42 with a 3.42 ERA in 131 career starts.
Until Nelson returns, the top starters in the Brewers' rotation are Chase Anderson, Zach Davies and Chacin. Others in the mix to start include Gallardo, lefty Brent Suter and rookies Brandon Woodruff and Aaron Wilkerson. Left-hander Josh Hader, a starter in the minors, likely will reprise the bullpen role from his rookie year.
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