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Cubs: Thoughts on the Yu Darvish Experiment

It’s been a few days since the Cubs officially inked Yu Darvish to the tune of $126 million over six years (plus incentives), yet I sit here still uncertain of my overall take. (Allow me to feel them out here.) My belief in the rotation pre-Darvish was bullish, in spite of the knowledge that Theo Epstein had publicly stated the Cubs were not done adding to the pitching staff throughout the winter.

Clearly there are myriad stories regarding the deal, what Darvish means to the Cubs, and analysis of his work. Because this news is easily the biggest story since Shohei Ohtani and Giancarlo Stanton, it’s one that will continue to permeate throughout the baseball world. So rather than bombard you with recycled factoids and not-so-hot takes, I’m going to take a different route with my analysis of Darvish.

First, the Cubs signed a player that, befitting of The Cubs Way (as they like to say), displays high character. One need not look any further back than the World Series, when Yuli Gurriel infamously made a racist gesture toward Darvish. Responding on Twitter in the aftermath, Darvish had this to say:

Responding with an almost empathetic tone when someone displayed one of the uglier elements of humanity is incredible. It takes someone with special character to turn this scenario on its head and create beauty, and Darvish did just that. For that reason alone, the Cubs can expect a presence and demeanor in the clubhouse that epitomizes what they are after in ballplayers.

Darvish also has an infectious personality (also seen on Twitter) that will play well in Chicago. This team is full of characters, from Javier Baez‘ endless energy to Carl Edwards‘ bullpen dancing, and adding another individual that seemingly radiates fun will only enhance the chemistry and camaraderie of this group.

During his press conference today both of those qualities showed in spades. While Theo Epstein expressed Darvish was the Cubs’ “top priority” heading into the off-season, Darvish himself expressed admiration for the Cubs as an organization. When pressed about the Cubs’ signing of (somewhat personal) catcher Chris Gimenez, Darvish responded, “I like Contreras better.”

Never mind the well publicized reality of Darvish tipping his pitches during the World Series. He absolutely dominated in his first two playoff starts prior to the Astros teeing him up, and his track record suggests that he can absolutely be a dominant force as a cog of what is now one of the best rotations in the National League – if not all of MLB.

To me, one thing stands out above everything else: the opt-out clause built into this six year contract. Should Darvish pitch at career levels in both 2018 and 2019, he’d be able to re-enter free agency at the age of 33 for a greater AAV than what this current contract offers. This also bodes well for the Cubs, who are pressing for another World Series sooner than later, and boast what is now envious starting pitching depth. Losing Darvish after two seasons would sting, sure, but if he does opt-out he’ll easily have surpassed the value of his $21 million AAV as a Cub. The bulk of the current rotation would still be in tact, Adbert Alzolay will likely have made an impact by then, and the experiment that is Drew Smyly will also have been realized. And should Darvish decide to remain a Cub? All the better.

Honestly, when news first hit that Darvish agreed with the Cubs I was leaning toward being upset. I wanted Montgomery to have his chance; I was leery of giving another established starter in his 30’s a long term deal; and, lastly, I just wasn’t convinced that Yu was the right fit with the Cubs. The more I process this reality, however, the more I feel as though this was yet another well-thought out, creative, and calculated move by this front office.

The Cubs are going all-out, not just in 2018, but for as long as the nucleus of this young team is in tact. It’s hard to be anything but excited right now.


Austin is the Lead Cubs Writer for The Loop Sports. He's a lifelong baseball junkie (due to his father) and as a former college pitcher has a particular affinity for the art of pitching. Austin loves to commute in Chicago on his bicycle, and enjoys camping and canoeing as often as possible. He attained his master's degree in Social Justice and Community Development from Loyola University Chicago in 2014.

4 comments on “Cubs: Thoughts on the Yu Darvish Experiment

  1. Glad you’ve come round, Austin. Another point few make is how this strengthens the bullpen. Montgomery is the multiple inning guy. Most of the pen are one inning guys. That may prove to be the difference between a NLDS and a ring. IMHO.

    • Austin Bloomberg

      Agreed – the bullpen is certainly solidified even more with Monty back in it, and could very well be one of the best in the game.

      Maddon has also stated (can’t remember where I read this) that they plan to carry 8 arms in the ‘pen — something that I anticipated — so it’ll be interesting to see how that plays out. Morrow/Edwards/Cishek/Strop/Wilson/Duensing/Montgomery are all virtual locks, so with only one slot open I expect Grimm to be cut unless he has a superlative spring.

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