Timing is everything? Cubs will find out after landing Yu Darvish on second try
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MESA, Ariz. — If it seems as though reaching an agreement with Yu Darvish took a long time for the Cubs, maybe that’s because it was a deal six years in the making.
President Theo Epstein targeted Darvish the moment he was hired from the Red Sox to run the Cubs’ operation in the fall of 2011, when Darvish was a young star in Japan and about to become a U.S. free agent.
Darvish would have been the pitching centerpiece of Epstein’s Plan A for rebuilding the Cubs, with the team also targeting other young international free agents, such as Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes and South Korean left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu, those first two years. The objective would have been to open a competitive window more quickly.
So much for Plan A.
Instead, Epstein quickly learned he didn’t have the resources he expected in his first few years in Chicago because of the Cubs’ debt obligations. He bid on Darvish anyway, but the Rangers swamped the field with a $51.7 million posting bid before signing Darvish to a six-year, $60 million deal.
‘‘How often do you get a chance to sign a 25-year-old free agent?’’ Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said at the time.
Of course, Plan B has worked out well for the Cubs. Darvish pitched for the Rangers and Dodgers during his contract; the Cubs won more World Series than those two teams combined during that span.
And sometime Tuesday or Wednesday, the Cubs expect to make the six-year, $126 million signing of Darvish official in his second time in free agency. Perhaps he will be the centerpiece of the next phase of their championship plans.
‘‘We already have a really good rotation, and getting another ace in that rotation full of [No.] 1s and [No.] 2s is something that’s going to carry us through the season,’’ first baseman Anthony Rizzo told reporters after an informal workout at the Cubs’ spring complex Monday. ‘‘It speaks volumes of what we’re doing here and what we’re about that he chose to come here.’’
That Darvish accepted a lower annual value than he sought to get a sixth year on the contract enabled the Cubs to stay under the $197 million luxury-tax payroll threshold. In return, he got an opt-out clause after the second year of the deal that will allow him to seek a bigger annual payday on, say, a four-year deal at that point — provided the suppressed free-agent market this offseason proves to be an aberration.
Will he prove to be as good as or better than Jake Arrieta, the 2015 National League Cy Young Award winner he essentially is replacing in the Cubs’ rotation?
Nobody, including the Cubs, can be sure. In fact, the Cubs reportedly reached out to Arrieta in the final stages of negotiations with Darvish to see whether he would be willing to take a similar deal if the Darvish talks fell through. It was as much a courtesy to the most significant player in the recent franchise turnaround as it was another calculated Plan B.
Would the Cubs have been better off with Darvish and the resources to allow Epstein to execute his original rebuilding plan?
If they hadn’t lost 101 games in 2012, they probably wouldn’t have drafted second in 2013, where they found Kris Bryant. If they hadn’t continued to perform nearly as poorly in 2013, they wouldn’t have drafted fourth in 2014, where they got Kyle Schwarber.
Would they have traded former building block Jeff Samardzija in 2014 if Plan A had been humming along? If not, they wouldn’t have Addison Russell.
Would the 2016 World Series championship have happened at all? Would it have come sooner?
‘‘Just the fact we had some financial obstacles in the first couple of years ended up serving us really well,’’ Epstein said in the aftermath of the championship.
Now they’ll find out how well Darvish will serve them in this next phase of Plan B.
Follow me on Twitter @GDubCub.