Chicago Cubs: How the Yu Darvish signing came to fruition

Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) /

Over the course of the offseason, the Chicago Cubs’ plans changed multiple times, eventually leading to the addition of the best free agent starting pitcher.

Woo-boy. Since the news of the Chicago Cubs signing Yu Darvish broke, we’ve seen all kinds of hot takes. (I’m talking to you Facebook users). But, like it or not, the right-hander is going to play a critical role in Chicago’s pursuit of a second World Series title in the last three years.

When the offseason began, MLBTR predicted the signing – at a six-year, $160 million price tag ($26.67 million AAV). Theo Epstein, thanks to a dreadfully slow offseason, was able to shave nearly six million dollars off that annually, with a six-year, $126 million deal. More importantly, Chicago sits roughly $11 million under the luxury tax threshold.

That matters a great deal heading into the 2019 offseason, when Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and a bevy of other high-end players will hit the market. The new CBA levies significant tax burdens against teams that exceed the luxury tax in back-to-back years. So, in theory, the Cubs could still be big players next winter, as well.

The rest of the field

That same desire to stay under the luxury tax limit prevented teams like the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers from landing Darvish. Los Angeles, with whom Darvish spent the second half of 2017, reportedly made an offer for the right-hander – with some caveats.

In short, Los Angeles would have had to clear payroll in some form or another to sign Darvish. Whether in the form of infielder Logan Forsythe, outfielder Matt Kemp or starter Hyun-jin Ryu, the Dodgers needed to shed some serious cash. Forsythe and Ryu project as regular players for L.A. and unloading that Kemp contract is next-to-impossible at this point.

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So with the Dodgers out of the mix (and still putting up an offer south of what the Cubs extended), the other two teams most prevalently linked to Darvish were, as Heyman notes, Milwaukee and Minnesota.

Minnesota has always seemed like a long shot to me personally. The young talent is impressive, sure, but it just never made sense to me – at least not with Darvish. Milwaukee, meanwhile, has to prove to me they’re willing and capable to shell out $100-plus million on a starting pitcher before I’ll actually believe it.

Maintaining contact with Arrieta

Throughout the winter, Epstein kept in touch with another free agent in Jake Arrieta. The 2015 National League Cy Young Award winner is now all but guaranteed to move on from Chicago, where he revitalized his career and became an ace.

Arrieta is easily one of my all-time favorite Cubs. But when you really dig in, a six or even five-year deal for the right-hander made little sense for Chicago. We’re talking about a guy whose metrics aren’t encouraging, has seen his velocity decline of-late and who throws across his body. That last point might not trouble you now, but being able to maintain the core strength needed to execute it when you’re 37 or 38 is a whole different story.

Now, it’s likely Arrieta becomes priority one for teams like the Brewers and Twins. Alex Cobb, who once looked like a lock to join his former skipper in Chicago, also remains unsigned. Lance Lynn could also be a hot commodity in the weeks to come.

But what it all comes down to is this. In signing Darvish, the Cubs showed they’re capitalizing on this championship window. Someone like Cobb might have worked, but he and Darvish are not on the same level – suggesting otherwise is ludicrous.

Next: With loaded roster, Maddon eyes another title

Once again, Theo and Jed delivered – landing an impact talent, while avoiding the lopsided monster contracts that haunted the Cubs in years past. This isn’t a move just for 2018 – but for the better part of the next decade.