In win-now mode, Cubs do the right thing with Yu Darvish signing
The message in the Cubs’ signing of Yu Darvish is everything: We’re going for it now. Not next year. Now. We’re not waiting for the Great Free-Agent Bonanza of 2019. Tomorrow isn’t promised, and all that.
It’s why they gave Darvish a six-year contract, a lengthier deal than they might have deemed prudent but one that secured the pitcher they needed if winning another World Series is the goal.
So a tip of the cap to a franchise that realizes that with massive profits comes a responsibility to go for it in a big way every season. That’s all any of us who had been ‘‘nudging’’ the Cubs last week were saying: For the love of God, do something already! If a six-year contract worth $126 million is what it takes to get the best free-agent pitcher on the market, you do it. You do it if you have reason to think you’re a serious contender.
There is no guarantee the Cubs will land Nationals slugger Bryce Harper when he becomes a free agent after this season. He might blow out his knee. He might want to play somewhere else besides the North Side — no, really! You never know what might happen.
What the Cubs did know was that they were missing a starter. They know that Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell, Javy Baez and Willson Contreras are moving into the heart of their careers. They knew that if they signed Darvish, a World Series in 2018 was very doable.
So why waste time fretting about the possibility of exceeding the luxury tax in 2019 for the second year in a row, which would bring penalties affecting draft position? If the Cubs win a championship this season and, through some perfect aligning of planets, still can sign Harper, who cares if their ability to draft would be adversely affected? Harper will be 26 in October and heading into the best part of a long career. And you’re worried about draft position?
The Cubs said they would spend money when they became successful, and that’s what they’re doing. If they make another deep playoff run this season, we’ll expect them to spend more next year. The club has become incredibly wealthy, which is to say it has become wealthy off its fans’ money.
You go for it when you can. If there’s one tenet in sports, it’s that. Anything can happen later. It’s now that matters.
By the same token, Darvish’s elbow might explode in his first start for the Cubs. The signing is a risk on many levels. Jake Arrieta might rediscover his control and fastball for another team. He might rediscover his control and fastball for someone in the Cubs’ division. But all signings are risky. I happen to think Darvish is less of a risk than Arrieta. I might be wrong. So might the Cubs. But they might end up being very right, and that’s the whole idea here. To swing for the fences.
They’re banking on Darvish staying healthy. They’re betting on him making life miserable for opposing teams every fifth day, the way Arrieta used to do.
Bringing back a player for sentimental reasons is the type of thing that has brought down many teams in many sports. I don’t know if Cubs president Theo Epstein thinks Arrieta is on the downside of his career. But Epstein doesn’t have a sentimental bone in his body when it comes to big decisions, even if it concerns a former Cy Young winner. We’ll forgive him his soft spot for David Ross, a lesser star.
The Cubs don’t want to end up being the 1985 Bears, a one-and-done proposition. They don’t want to end up being the Braves of the 1990s. They want to win more than a single championship. Having built through the draft and through trades, they’re now in the business of maintaining their excellence. That phase requires money.
Criticize them all you want if you think they overspent for Darvish. But rich teams such as the Cubs can’t, by definition, overspend. They indeed can make mistakes. They also can make up for those mistakes by spending more money. It’s good to be the king.
For all the talk about the Cubs’ championship window being open for the next several years, they have to take advantage of the season that’s in front of them now. Take the one-game-at-a-time cliché and broaden it. Concentrate on this one season and worry about next season later.
If Darvish is the pitcher the Cubs hope he is, next season won’t have many worries. Only celebrations.
Follow me on Twitter @MorrisseyCST.