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The slow moving free agent market finally got a boost on Saturday.
As The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal first reported, the Chicago Cubs reached a six-year, $126 million agreement with free agent right-hander Yu Darvish. The deal includes several incentives that could bring Darvish’s total up to $150 million. More importantly to the Cubs and their fans though, it puts them in a much better position to win another World Series championship.
Darvish, 31, didn’t end his 2017 season on the highest note. The last memory baseball fans have of him are his two disastrous starts that probably cost the Los Angeles Dodgers the World Series. Many have used those two outings as evidence that Darvish is overrated, or at least not worth the massive contract he was sure to receive in free agency.
The Cubs obviously weren’t buying that. They saw firsthand in the NLCS what Darvish is capable of, and they know that with a few tweaks he’ll likely return to the dominant form that’s defined his healthy years in MLB. Assuming that’s the case, the Cubs starting rotation will be in excellent shape. Darvish will slide into the spot vacated by Jake Arrieta, joining Jon Lester, Jose Quintana, Kyle Hendricks and Tyler Chatwood, who essentially replaces John Lackey.
Darvish signing with the Cubs has also led to a bigger question that both fans and writers have been asking. Is there starting to become a larger gap between MLB’s elite teams — meaning the Cubs, Astros, Yankees and Dodgers — and the rest of the league? The comparison being what we’ve seen in recent years in the NBA, where the league always seems to revolve around the same three or four teams.
It’s an interesting time to talk about it considering the NBA trade deadline just passed. Every year when that deadline passes there’s an array of veteran players who have their contracts bought out, making them mid-season free agents. And every year, those players seem to bolt for only the three or four best teams the league, leaving the rest of the league stuck in the mud or free to go about “tanking.”
It makes for a competitive imbalance that’s difficult to overcome. Only LeBron James or Kevin Durant changing teams can really shift that balance, but even Durant wanted to get on the Golden State Warriors bandwagon.
With the Cubs, Dodgers, Yankees and Astros all putting together powerhouse teams, it’s easy to understand why those concerns are growing among baseball fans. But the fact of the matter is, the list of teams that could compete with baseball’s elite in 2018 is no shorter than it was a few months ago. Granted, a lot would have to go wrong for those elite teams to miss the playoffs, but there are another dozen teams, maybe more, that wouldn’t need much to go right to overcome them.
Darvish definitely makes the Cubs better, just as Gerrit Cole makes the Astros better and Giancarlo Stanton makes the Yankees better. Maybe these teams have a better chance to sustain their success too based on the resources they have available, but by no means are they locks to run away and hide or rack up championships.
There are too many factors — injuries, regression, baseball’s knack for being unpredictable — involved for that to happen. Quite frankly, despite the growing list of rebuilding teams, there are too many talented teams for that to happen. Teams that just need an opening and a few good weeks in October to spoil the party.
The truth is, the landscape in MLB still provides an opportunity for those perceived second and third tier teams to not only compete, but to win the World Series. One or two offseasons hasn’t changed that. Another one or two won’t change it either.
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