Good things come to those who wait and for the Chicago Cubs, they know that all too well. When you’ve spent over a century waiting for a championship, a few extra months over the winter biding your time for a pitcher won’t seem like a big deal.
But just like their World Series drought, the wait for a big name starter ended this week with the acquisition of Yu Darvish. In an uncharacteristically quiet off season, a big move was made before pitchers and catchers reported as Chicago nailed down the rotation spot they needed to fill.
After the winter departures of Jake Arrieta and John Lackey, the 2016 world champions needed to recruit another strong arm for their rotation and take it from excellent to elite. An Arrieta return was mooted, as were moves for Alex Cobb and Darvish himself but in the end, a move to bring the Japanese right-hander to Wrigley Field for $126 million on a six-year deal was agreed.
It appears to be yet another excellent acquisition by Theo Epstein and co. who have gotten more right than wrong during their time on Chicago’s north side. Before the arrival of Darvish, the Cubs already had a formidable looking pitching line-up consisting of Jon Lester, Jose Quintana, Kyle Hendricks and Tyler Chatwood.
Darvish propels them into the heady heights of the third best starting staff in Major League Baseball with a projected 16.9 WAR putting them behind only the Dodgers (18.3) and the Astros (17.7). It also puts them comfortably ahead of their closest NL Central divisional rivals the St Louis Cardinals who are ranked seventh overall and propels them into the discussion for serious contenders to get their hands back on the Commissioner’s Trophy.
Having made his debut on American shores in 2012, the former Texas Ranger has proven himself one of the game’s best pitchers during his time in the big leagues. A 3.9 WAR is expected of him from Fangraphs for the coming season and throughout his six years in MLB, that particular category has never fallen below the 3.5 mark.
His signing gives the Cubs the kind of standout talent they had on their roster in 2016 when they won it at all again at last after a lengthy wait. The consistency and class of Darvish will complement the grizzly win at all costs attitude of Lester, the quiet yet effective Quintana, perennially underrated Hendricks and intriguing winter pick up of Chatwood in the rotation.
It brings a sense of assurance to the Cubs starting pitching staff once more, something that was missing as they chased the repeat last year.
Experimenting on the likes of Brett Anderson and Eddie Butler didn’t go as planned, while age appeared to get the better of Lackey as he gave up long balls at an alarming late and former Cy Young winner Arrieta suffered with mechanical issues and never quite looked like himself throughout the season.
Change was needed and it has arrived, with the front office acting to bring in the kind of elite pitcher who can bolster a rotation and help bring the club back to the promised land of the World Series.
Ah, the World Series. Something which critics of Darvish may use as a stick to beat him with after his efforts in the Fall Classic with the Los Angeles Dodgers last year.
Whether it was pitch-tipping as one unnamed Houston Astros player suggested or something else, there’s no doubt that the 31-year-old didn’t enjoy the best outings of his career in his two starts.
Darvish, who features an arsenal of up to seven pitches, lost games three and seven, lasting a total of three and one third innings, surrendering nine hits, eight earned runs and two home runs during that time.
Those who were unwilling to sign him due to their hesitancy at those failures, which were still fresh in the minds of so many, may live to regret it. Their loss could be the gain of the Cubs because for too long, Darvish’s ability and quality has not been in question.
To judge him on the extremely small sample size of two post season games (although admittedly his 5.81 post season ERA is a little high) is folly, particularly as he had performed well for the Dodgers in their run to that back and forth battle with the Astros.
If that was a reason for many clubs’ anxiety in offering a deal to Darvish, particularly at the money he was initially expected to command, then it may prove the wrong decision. When you consider that a six-year deal worth $168m was the projection at the start of winter, the Cubs are not only getting a high class pitcher, they are getting him on a cut price deal that could prove to be a bargain, particularly if he gains a measure of World Series revenge in October, something the Illinois outfit’s hierarchy are backing him to do and his struggles last year aren’t offering any lingering concern for Epstein.
“There were a lot of reasons for what happened,” Epstein explained at the new man’s unveiling on Tuesday.
“There was the possibility of tipping pitches, the issues with the baseballs and also, the Astros were red hot and won the World Series for a reason.
“We wouldn’t make any evaluation based on a two-game sample and has been here for over six years, proving himself as an elite pitcher.”
It is hard to argue with those statistics with his overall career numbers making for impressive reading and placing him among some of baseball’s best in recent years with a 10.1 K/9 rate and 1.18 WHIP along with a 3.42 ERA.
The addition of Darvish may not make the Cubs the best rotation in baseball but it certainly makes them a force to be reckoned with once more.
Whether it is enough for another lengthy October run, Yu never know (I’m sorry, I couldn’t help myself sneaking one in at the end).