DEC. 24: The Rangers remain in contact with Wolfe, writes Wilson, who adds that Darvish hasn’t ruled out a reunion with the club. However, it’s up in the air whether Rangers ownership would pay the necessary amount to bring back Darvish, Wilson suggests.
DEC. 19, 10:35pm: Wilson reports that Darvish and Daniels are planning to have dinner this week, but Darvish’s agents will not be in attendance and the two do not plan to discuss business. The two are simply having dinner, per Wilson, adding that Daniels has continually maintained the stance that Texas will not play at the top of the free-agent market. The dinner was actually planned for November but was pushed back to this point. Darvish himself confirmed as much by quote-tweeting Wilson and adding the comment, “Tomorrow night!”
Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reports the same sentiment, noting that Daniels and Darvish never had much of a chance to have a conversation when Darvish was traded to the Dodgers. Grant likens the meeting to an “exit interview” and emphasizes that Darvish’s lead agent, Joel Wolfe, will not be present.
All of that said, it’s still a bit of an eyebrow-raiser to see Daniels, whose rotation is rife with uncertainty, meet with the top free-agent pitcher on the market under the guise that no business will be discussed.
6:41pm: Darvish is set to meet with the Rangers after he sits down with the Astros, a club source tells Jim Bowden of MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM (Twitter link). That seemingly runs counter to what GM Jon Daniels told Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram earlier today, as Wilson tweeted that Daniels said there was no meeting planned with Darvish at that point.
Obviously, the Rangers are more familiar with Darvish than any other club, and there’s certainly a need in their rotation. Texas has added Mike Minor as a potential starting option this winter and has also swung a trade for Matt Moore and signed Doug Fister. Still, there’s room for improvement among a shaky group of Texas starters.
What remains to be seen, though, is exactly how much payroll capacity the Rangers have remaining. Texas is reportedly aiming for its 2018 payroll to come in around the $155MM mark, and signing Darvish would almost certainly take them beyond that point, barring a heavily backloaded deal.
The Rangers could see a substantial amount of cash come off the books after the 2018 season, depending on Cole Hamels’ option and Elvis Andrus’ opt-out provision, but a long-term Darvish deal would likely mean boosting their commitments for 2020 season north of $85MM. Certainly, finding a taker for Shin-Soo Choo’s albatross contract would alleviate some of that crunch, though that’s a daunting proposition for the Texas front office.
5:00pm: One day after Yu Darvish reportedly met face-to-face with the Cubs, he’s sitting down for a similar meeting with the Astros, Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports reports. Houston joins the Cubs and Twins as teams that have now been prominently linked to Darvish, who topped MLBTR’s free agent rankings at the beginning of the offseason. The Rangers, Heyman writes, are “monitoring” the Darvish market.
The Astros, of course, got an up-close look at Darvish for years when he fronted the division-rival Rangers’ rotation and when they clobbered him in a pair of World Series starts. Though that rough pair of outings was obviously a sour note upon which to end an otherwise solid season, the tiny sample of two starts against a powerhouse offense isn’t likely to alter his perception much among big league teams. (Notably, one unnamed Astros player revealed to Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci that Darvish was tipping his pitches in both World Series outings.)
Houston isn’t exactly in dire need of a rotation upgrade, as their current group of Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers, Charlie Morton and Brad Peacock is already strong. Houston also still has Collin McHugh as an option for the back end of the rotation as well as a number of upper-level prospects (e.g. Francis Martes, David Paulino) that could eventually emerge as rotation options.
That said, adding Darvish to a rotation that already includes Verlander, Keuchel, McCullers and Morton would make for a potent starting five. Peacock thrived in a multi-inning relief role on multiple occasions in 2017 and could function in a similar capacity in 2018, should the ’Stros ultimately elect to add a significant arm to their rotation. Picking up Darvish could also bode well for the club in the long term, as both Keuchel and Morton are set to become free agents at the conclusion of the 2018 season.
From a pure payroll standpoint, Houston can certainly absorb a significant multi-year deal. The Astros do have just shy of $150MM committed to the 2017 payroll (including projected arbitration salaries), but that number plummets to $56MM on the books for 2019 when Keuchel, Morton, Evan Gattis, Tony Sipp and Marwin Gonzalez are all eligible for free agency.
The ’Stros will no doubt look to lock up Jose Altuve beyond the 2019 campaign, when their control over the 2017 AL MVP runs out, though, and they probably want to keep George Springer around beyond 2020 as well. Those will be considerations when deciding whether to offer a long-term deal to any high-priced free agent, though it’s worth pointing out that Houston only has $21.5MM committed to the 2020 roster at present and does not have a single guaranteed contract for the 2021 season on its current books.