End of an era for Cubs, Jake Arrieta as Yu Darvish arrives for spring training

MESA, Ariz. — The introduction of Yu Darvish on Tuesday marked the start of the next era of competitive pitching for the Cubs, and the final closing of the door on the Jake Arrieta era in Chicago.

“None of us have rings without Jake Arrieta,” team president Theo Epstein said of the 2015 Cy Young Award winner who helped launch the three-year October wave the Cubs are riding into this season. “He was as instrumental as anybody in the turnaround of this franchise.

“He helped lift the culture with the way he approached things and won a ton of big games for us.”

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Jake Arrieta

Before the Darvish deal was finalized, Epstein reached out to the Arrieta camp as a sign of respect, letting their former ace know a deal was close but also measuring Arrieta’s appetite for a similar deal if Darvish fell through.

The Cubs never seriously engaged in negotiations with Arrieta this winter, in part because of a high asking price relative to their budget plans. They didn’t expect to be in a realistic mix for Darvish when the winter started, either.

Epstein wouldn’t talk about those issues or the recent contact with Arrieta, saying only that the Cubs wish him well.

“Whichever team lands him in free agency is going to be getting a great pitcher and a great representative of their organization,” he said. “We’re very appreciative of everything that he’s done for us.”

The Q factor

Almost forgotten in the hype and analysis of the Darvish signing is the impact last July’s trade for starter Jose Quintana had on the Cubs’ payroll flexibility. He makes $8.85 million this year with club options for $10.5 million each of the next two on an especially team-friendly contract.

“We almost felt like we were acquiring 1½ pitchers in that deal because it would go halfway towards acquiring someone else,” Epstein said, reiterating a point that he raised then. “I think today is that day, when you bring in a Yu Darvish.”

Montgomery’s sixth sense

Left-hander Mike Montgomery, who made headlines in December when he spoke out about wanting out of his hybrid role, got bumped right back into that sixth-starter, long-relief role with the Darvish signing. He hasn’t changed his views since then.

“At the end of the day I just want to compete for the job,” said Montgomery, who looks at his “crazy” role as a long-term health issue. “If I don’t earn it, I don’t earn it; I’m fine with that.”

Montgomery doesn’t plan to make waves, and he already has had conversations with new pitching coach Jim Hickey and the front office about where he stands. Manager Joe Maddon said Tuesday he’s not concerned about Montgomery’s attitude becoming an issue.

Epstein went as far as saying, “We’re approaching spring training as if we have a six-man starting staff, and Mike Montgomery is part of that. If everyone stays healthy and we decide looking at the schedule that we want to go with five, then we’ll whittle it down to five, and Mike will join the bullpen. As of right now he’s a starting pitcher. I’m not saying we’re going with a six-man rotation. But for spring training, he’s part of that starting group.”

Montgomery has drawn increased trade interest since the Darvish move, but he’s too important for their starting depth.

Follow me on Twitter @GDubCub.

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com