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Padres acquire RHP Yu Darvish in blockbuster trade with Cubs

Jay Cohen
Associated Press

Chicago — San Diego Padres general manager A.J. Preller reunited with an old friend in another blockbuster move Tuesday night.

The aggressive Padres got Yu Darvish in a trade with the Chicago Cubs, adding another ace to their rotation after announcing a deal for Blake Snell earlier in the day. During his time in Texas’ front office, Preller scouted Darvish before the Rangers acquired the Japanese right-hander in 2012.

“His last season and a half has been as productive as anybody in the game. He’s a force,” Preller said Tuesday night. “So I think getting back on the phone with him, catching up for a few minutes, really looking forward to being around him every single day again.”

In this Oct. 2 photo, Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Yu Darvish throws during the first inning in Game 2 of the team's NL wild-card series against the Miami Marlins in Chicago.

The Padres got Darvish, catcher Victor Caratini and $3 million from the Cubs for right-hander Zach Davies and four young minor leaguers. The switch-hitting Caratini caught Darvish in Chicago and batted .241 with 16 RBIs last season.

“We’ve had interest in Victor for a few years now,” Preller said. “I think he’s been a guy that, just on his own, we feel like is a quality catching option for us.”

Davies went 7-4 with a 2.73 ERA in 12 starts for San Diego this year. The package of prospects headed to Chicago includes Owen Caissie, an 18-year-old outfielder who was selected by the Padres in the second round of this year’s amateur draft.

The 34-year-old Darvish was 8-3 with a 2.01 ERA in 12 starts for Chicago during the pandemic-shortened season, finishing second in the NL Cy Young Award race. He has three years and $59 million left on the $126 million, six-year deal he signed with the Cubs before the 2018 season.

Chicago will send San Diego payments of $500,000 on the first day of each month from April through September in 2021, offsetting a portion of Darvish’s $22 million salary. He is owed $19 million in 2022 and $18 million in 2023.

San Diego also completed a big trade with Tampa Bay for Snell. The 2018 AL Cy Young Award winner was sent from the Rays to the Padres for a package of four players: right-handers Luis Patiño and Cole Wilcox, and catchers Francisco Mejía and Blake Hunt — all well-regarded youngsters from a San Diego system that’s been stocking the farm for years.

The Padres made the playoffs this year for the first time since 2006, but their injury-depleted rotation was in shambles when the postseason arrived. They beat St. Louis in the first round before getting swept in three Division Series games by their NL West rivals, the World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers.

Mike Clevinger, acquired from Cleveland in August, isn’t expected back from Tommy John surgery until 2022, but the Padres have other quality starters in Dinelson Lamet and Chris Paddack. Left-hander MacKenzie Gore is one of baseball’s top pitching prospects.

“Pretty much every trade conversation usually starts with MacKenzie Gore,” Preller said. “But again, I think we’re looking forward to Mack coming to camp and competing and being part of the organization here for a long time.”

Darvish is in the middle of a career renaissance after struggling upon arrival in Chicago. He was limited to eight starts and 40 innings in 2018 because of injuries. He started to regain his form in 2019, posting a 2.76 ERA with 118 strikeouts in 81⅔ innings over his final 13 starts.

He picked up this year right where he left off, helping the Cubs to the NL Central title. The right-hander attributed some of his turnaround to going back to a more deliberate style that he employed when he was a star pitcher in Japan. He also has developed a rapport with Caratini that should help his transition to San Diego.

Four years after a historic World Series championship, Chicago is retooling under Jed Hoyer, who was promoted to president of baseball operations after Theo Epstein stepped down in November. Veteran outfielders Kyle Schwarber and Albert Almora Jr. were let go on Dec. 2, but the Darvish deal is the team’s biggest move since Hoyer took over.

There could be more trades on the horizon. All-Star sluggers Kris Bryant, Javier Báez and Anthony Rizzo are eligible for free agency after next season. But the Cubs still might be able to contend while Hoyer reworks the roster due to the cost-cutting atmosphere around the NL Central.

Minor league infielders Reginald Preciado, 17, and Yeison Santana, 20, and outfielder Ismael Mena, 18, also were acquired by the Cubs in the Darvish trade.