Cubs make bid and wonder: Who is Yu Darvish?


Cubs make bid and wonder: Who is Yu Darvish?

This is the question that no one in the baseball world really knows the answer to: Who is Yu Darvish?

Bobby Scales described Darvish as freakishly athletic, almost like Carlos Zambrano. The Japanese superstar liked to mess around with switch-hitting, and had an extra glove because he can also throw left-handed.

Scales didnt really know if this was a joke, because it came through an interpreter, but the 6-foot-5-inch pitcher said his favorite sport used to be ice hockey, until he outgrew playing goalie.

Micah Hoffpauir called Darvish a good dude. Darvish didnt speak much English, but understood the language, and could keep up with Hoffpauirs slow Texas drawl. The two played practical jokes by putting pine tar inside each others shoes.

These two ex-Cubs went overseas to play for the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters last season and got to see what the hype is all about. At the age of 25, Darvish is already rich and famous, but the next great challenge is in the United States.

A major-league official confirmed that the Cubs submitted a bid before Wednesdays deadline, though the amount and their true interest level was unclear. Another industry source with ties to Japan said that the Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays were among the most visible teams scouting Darvish last season.

Theo Epstein has promised that the Cubs will be aggressive in the international marketplace. But the president of baseball operations went through this process before with the Boston Red Sox. Between the posting fee and free-agent contract, it cost more than 100 million to import Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Darvish helped his country win the 2009 World Baseball Classic, and has dominated Japans Pacific League for years, going 18-6 with a 1.44 ERA and 276 strikeouts last season.

I have no idea if his talents will translate at the major-league level, said new Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine, who became a popular figure in Japan while leading the Chiba Lotte Marines. But hes a quality pitcher. He has size. He (has) velocity, breaking balls, very good hands. He makes the ball do a lot of crazy things on its way to the plate.

(Hes a) great competitor. If those things translate into another uniformwho knows?

Matsuzaka helped the Red Sox win the 2007 World Series during his first year in Boston, and went 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA the following season. But across the next three years, he barely reached 250 innings combined before being shut down for Tommy John surgery.

The New York Yankees made a 46 million investment in Kei Igawa and have watched him appear in 16 major-league games. He has spent most of the past five seasons in the shadows, pitching at Double- and Triple-A affiliates.

By association, there will be skepticism about Darvish. He has an Iranian father and a Japanese mother and must already know something about bridging cultures.

Hoffpauir who played parts of three seasons on the North Side and will return to Japan next year believes in Darvish.

Being around him and watching him go about his business, Hoffpauir said, I dont see any reason why the guy doesnt succeed in the States. You put him on a team like the Yankees, hes going to be a No. 2 or No. 3 guy.

You put him on a team like the Rangers, hes their No. 1 guy immediately. Hes got great stuff. Hes got a phenomenal work ethic.

Scales whos unsigned for next season and focused on getting another job with a major-league organization said the two games could not be more different, (even) down to the way they do laundry in the clubhouse.

Thats where all the projections can get hazy. Scales called Darvishs fastball arrow straight, but overall liked his velocity, athleticism and repertoire, the ability to keep hitters off-balance with sliders and forkballs.

Hoffpauir said Darvishs stuff is so good that he really only had to worry about the hitters batting third through sixth no one else in the lineup would be expected to do damage and hit for power.

Once he gets to the States, I think he will become a better pitcher, Hoffpauir said, because he will lock in for nine batters, as opposed to locking in for four, maybe five (against) a lineup in Japan.

Hoffpauir respected how Darvish seemed to have his own code, almost never leaving before the other starting pitcher. Japanese pitchers typically work on six days rest, but Hoffpauir said Darvish wouldnt wait that long between starts when the team needed it down the stretch last season.

The blind bidding is over for the right to negotiate with baseballs international man of mystery. If the highest bid is accepted, the winner would then get a 30-day exclusive window to agree on a contract. It will take years to figure out if Darvish is worth the money.

Hes going to have some growing pains, Hoffpauir said. Hes going to have some bumps and bruises when it comes to making adjustments. (But) hes smart enough and I think hell work hard enough that hell get that done.

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

MESA, Ariz. — The first thing Kyle Schwarber told his new hitting coach?

"His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.'"

The Cubs hired Chili Davis as the team's new hitting coach for myriad reasons. He's got a great track record from years working with the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics, and that .274/.360/.451 slash line during an illustrious 19-year big league career certainly helps.

But Davis' main immediate task in his new gig will be to help several of the Cubs' key hitters prove Schwarber's assessment correct.

Schwarber had a much-publicized tough go of things in 2017. After he set the world on fire with his rookie campaign in 2015 and returned from what was supposed to be a season-ending knee injury in time to be one of the Cubs' World Series heroes in 2016, he hit just .211 last season, getting sent down to Triple-A Iowa for a stint in the middle of the season. Schwarber still hit 30 home runs, but his 2017 campaign was seen as a failure by a lot of people.

Enter Davis, who now counts Schwarber as one of his most important pupils.

"He's a worker," Davis said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "Schwarbs, he knows he's a good player. His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.' He said last year was just a fluke year. He said, 'I've never failed in my life.' And he said, 'I'm going to get back to the player that I was.'

"I think he may have — and this is my thought, he didn't say this to me — I think it may have been, he had a big World Series, hit some homers, and I think he tried to focus on being more of a home run type guy as opposed to being a good hitter.

"His focus has changed. I had nothing to do with that, he came in here with that focus that he wants to be a good hitter first and let whatever happens happen. And he's worked on that. The main thing with Kyle is going to be is just maintaining focus."

The physically transformed Schwarber mentioned last week that he's established a good relationship with Davis, in no small part because Schwarber can relate to what Davis went through when he was a player. And to hear Davis tell it, it sounds like he's describing Schwarber's first three years as a big leaguer to a T.

"Telling him my story was important because it was similar," Davis said. "I was a catcher, got to big league camp, and I was thrown in the outfield. And I hated the outfield. ... But I took on the challenge. I made the adjustment, I had a nice first year, then my second year I started spiraling. I started spiraling down, and I remember one of my coaches saying, 'I'm going to have to throw you a parachute just so you can land softly.' I got sent down to Triple-A at the All-Star break for 15 days.

"When I got sent down, I was disappointed, but I was also really happy. I needed to get away from the big league pressure and kind of find myself again. I went home and refocused myself and thought to myself, 'I'm going to come back as Chili.' Because I tried to change, something changed about me the second year.

"And when I did that, I came back the next year and someone tried to change me and I said, 'Pump the breaks a little bit, let me fail my way, and then I'll come to you if I'm failing.' And they understood that, and I had a nice year, a big year and my career took off.

"I'm telling him, 'Hey, let last year go. It happened, it's in the past. Keep working hard, maintain your focus, and you'll be fine.'"

Getting Schwarber right isn't Davis' only task, of course. Despite the Cubs being one of the highest-scoring teams in baseball last season, they had plenty of guys go through subpar seasons. Jason Heyward still has yet to find his offensive game since coming to Chicago as a high-priced free agent. Ben Zobrist was bothered by a wrist injury last season and put up the worst numbers of his career. Addison Russell had trouble staying healthy, as well, and saw his numbers dip from what they were during the World Series season in 2016.

So Davis has plenty of charges to work with. But he likes what he's seen so far.

"They work," Davis said. "They come here to work. I had a group of guys in Boston that were the same last year, and it makes my job easier. They want to get better, they come out every day, they show up, they want to work. They're excited, and I'm excited to be around them.

And what have the Cubs found out about Davis? Just about everyone answers that question the same way: He likes to talk.

"I'm not going to stop talking," he said. "If I stop talking, something's wrong."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion


SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

Carmen DeFalco (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Bernfield join Kap on the panel. Anthony Rizzo returns to the Cubs after an emotional weekend home while Tom Ricketts expects another World Series parade. Plus Hall of Famer Andre Dawson joins Kap to talk about his Cubs reunion and how the current crop unsigned free agents compares to his experiences with collusion.