Yu Darvish is coming off his second quality season with the Padres, with his 2022 campaign representing a step beyond his solid 2021 numbers. This season, Darvish posted a 3.10 ERA, an above-average 25.6% strikeout rate and an outstanding 4.8% walk rate over 194 2/3 innings, while continuing to post one of the best fastball spin rates of any pitcher in baseball. Yesterday, the right-hander stepped up big in Game One of the NL Wild Card Series, allowing one run in seven innings in San Diego’s 7-1 win over the Mets.
Though Darvish turned 36 in August, the Padres have already seen enough to want to explore a contract extension with Darvish this offseason, according to Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune. Darvish is entering the final year of his current deal — the six-year, $126MM free agent pact he signed with the Cubs prior to the 2018 season.
When triceps tendinitis limited Darvish to only 40 innings (of 4.95 ERA pitching) in 2018, there was already some concern in Wrigleyville that the signing could be a bust. However, Darvish rebounded to post a 3.98 ERA over 178 2/3 innings in 2019, and his 2.01 ERA over 76 innings in the shortened 2020 season earned the righty a second-place finish in NL Cy Young Award voting. As the Cubs were entering a rebuild period, they traded Darvish and catcher Victor Caratini to the Padres for a five-player package and some significant salary relief.
Other than the hip and back problems that resulted in a pair of brief IL stints late in the 2021 season, Darvish has been pretty healthy since that abbreviated 2018 campaign. Only 10 pitchers threw more than 194 2/3 frames in 2022, and that total was also the second-highest innings count of Darvish’s 10 Major League seasons. Of course, Darvish’s career workload doesn’t just include MLB, as he tossed 1268 1/3 innings in Nippon Professional Baseball before coming to North America and tossing 1488 regular-season innings.
It’s probably safe to assume that the Padres aren’t looking for another long-term pact for Darvish, and Acee notes that Darvish hasn’t given any indication about how much longer he wishes to keep playing. However, adding another season (or even two) may fit into the club’s interest if they’re confident Darvish can keep producing into his late 30’s. Mike Clevinger, Sean Manaea, and Nick Martinez are free agents this winter, but the Padres kept one major arm off the market when they inked Joe Musgrove to a five-year, $100MM extension back in August. Musgrove, Darvish, and Blake Snell project as San Diego’s top three starters heading into 2023, though Darvish and Snell are both only under contract through next season.
Extending Darvish would give the Padres a bit more rotation security going forward, even if a new deal covered only 2024 or 2025. San Diego exceeded the luxury tax threshold in both 2021 and 2022, but quite a bit of money will be off the books after the 2023 season, which is presumably when a Darvish extension would begin. If a new deal overwrote the final year of Darvish’s current contract, that could give the Padres some more immediate luxury tax breathing room for 2023. Darvish is owed $18MM in 2023 but his tax number is $21MM, the average of $126MM divided over six seasons.