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Yu Darvish is among the best free agent pitchers, could help the Mets in an alternate universe

The Mets won’t sign Yu Darvish, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t make sense.

World Series - Houston Astros v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Seven Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images

Let’s just get this out of the way up front: The New York Mets are not signing Yu Darvish in free agency. It’s very, very, very unlikely, at best. But that doesn’t a pursuit of him wouldn’t make sense in a universe where the team had a less restrictive budget.

The Mets, as you may have noticed, had a major problem with starting pitching in 2017, with some combination of poor performance and injuries torpedoing pretty much every starting pitcher on the team except for Jacob deGrom. That doesn’t necessarily mean that some of those guys can’t bounce back, but if the Mets don’t acquire any legitimate major league starting pitching, it’s hard to really expect amazing results from the staff next season.

Darvish is not a perfect pitcher, but he’s a good one—probably the best on this free agent market and definitely one of the top pitchers to hit free agency at all in recent years. He hasn’t been quite as dominant since returning from Tommy John surgery that knocked him out of the 2015 season, but he’s still been good. He had a 3.41 ERA and 3.09 FIP in 2016, albeit in just 100.1 innings, pitching for the Rangers with his typically outstanding strikeout and walk rates. And this year, he threw 186.2 innings with a 3.86 ERA and 3.83 FIP, numbers that aren’t quite as impressive but still reflect well upon him in a year that offense was up around the league. And unsurprisingly, his numbers were a bit better after getting traded from the Rangers to the Dodgers.

Putting his performance into context for the ballparks he played in and how the rest of the league pitched, Darvish was much better than average in both of the last two seasons. The biggest downside is probably that he’s only eclipsed the 200-inning mark once in his career, but he’s been healthier and better than your average Mets starting pitcher at this point.

The salary projections over at Fangraphs have Darvish netting roughly a five-year, $125 million contract in free agency. Even if absolutely everything breaks right for the Mets with their in-house starting pitchers, next season is the last one for which they control Matt Harvey. Anything is possible, but Harvey remaining a Met in the long run seems as unlikely as ever, and his future as a major league player isn’t guaranteed if he doesn’t pitch significantly better next year than he did this year.

And to the extent that Zack Wheeler is still considered a part of long-term starting pitching plans, he’s only under team control through 2019. There’s time for other pitchers to step up, but there are going to be gaps in the starting rotation over the next few seasons if the Mets do nothing. And on top of that, the Mets’ salary obligations are pretty minimal in the near-term future. David Wright’s contract, the grand majority of which will be covered by insurance if he doesn’t play, includes a big drop in salary in 2019 and 2020, and aside from paying Yoenis Cespedes in those seasons, the team’s only locked-in payroll commitment will be Juan Lagares’s last two guaranteed years of the extension he signed way back when.

Yu Darvish is 31 years old. He has a track record of success and would pretty clearly be one of the best number three pitchers in baseball, assuming he were to slot in behind Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard. That top three would look really nice for the long haul. There’s risk in signing pitchers to big contracts, but signing Darvish seems worth it. But don’t hold your breath.