Tony Andracki

Report: Cubs make huge splash with Yu Darvish signing

Report: Cubs make huge splash with Yu Darvish signing

Finally!

The crazy-dull baseball offseason is finally leaning into the "Hot Stove" season.

The Cubs have reportedly reached an agreement with free-agent pitcher Yu Darvish:

The two sides have been linked since Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer paid Darvish a visit down in Texas in mid-December that lasted several hours.

There've been several Darvish links and rumors since then, but the Cubs finally reached an agreement with the 31-year-old right-hander Saturday afternoon. This comes after the Cubs inked a deal last month with veteran catcher Chris Gimenez, who emerged as Darvish's personal catcher in Texas in 2014.

Darvish is a four-time All-Star who finished second in American League Cy Young voting in 2013 and ninth in the award race during his rookie season in 2012.

He missed all of 2015 with Tommy John surgery, with the injury also sapping big chunks out of his 2014 and 2016 seasons.

Darvish went 10-12 with a 3.86 ERA last season with the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Dodgers, striking out 209 batters in 186.2 innings. He has 1,021 career whiffs in 832.1 innings, good for an 11.0 K/9 rate.

Darvish shut down the Cubs in the NLCS last fall, limiting the high-powered lineup to just a solo homer in 6.1 innings. But he was rocked in two World Series appearances, surrendering 9 runs (8 earned) on 9 hits and 2 walks while getting just 10 outs. However, he was supposedly tipping his pitches - an easily-correctable problem if that was, indeed, the issue that led to his Fall Classic struggles.

This gives the Cubs arguably the best rotation in baseball, with Darvish slotting in with Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana and Tyler Chatwood. Mike Montgomery provides depth as the next man up out of the bullpen if anybody were to miss time with an injury.

The addition of Darvish only boosts the Cubs' profile as one of the top World Series contenders in baseball.

And it's safe to say Willson Contreras is fired up about the addition.

The Brewers accidentally trolled themselves with an Ed Sheeran concert announcement

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USA TODAY

The Brewers accidentally trolled themselves with an Ed Sheeran concert announcement

The Milwaukee Brewers are back at it again this winter, only this time, their news isn't so positive.

The Brewers' official team account Tweeted out an exciting new concert announcement for 2018...that just so happens to be during the World Series.

Guess all those new expectations and rumors haven't made the organization optimistic enough to leave the month of October open for playoff baseball at Miller Park.

As expected, fans responded back with confusion while others laughed at the timing of it all:

The Brewers responded with a copy-and-paste reply:

Thankfully, Ed Sheeran and his tour group have been awesome to work with, so if a deep Brewers Postseason run happens (🤞), Ed has agreed to come back at a later date in 2018 to perform at Miller Park.

Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain and the possible addition of a new starting pitcher have helped ensure the Brewers will be a part of the conversation for the title of the National League Central in 2018 after spending a good part of 2017 in first place, but the team is still working on how to manage those expectations publicly, apparently.

Will 2018 be the year Duane Underwood finally breaks out?

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USA TODAY

Will 2018 be the year Duane Underwood finally breaks out?

Duane Underwood Jr. is all that remains.

That sounds like a tagline to a horror movie and in a way, it is. 

The Cubs have struggled to develop any sort of impact pitching from the MLB Draft under Theo Epstein's tenure in Chicago and Underwood represents the only player left of the top three pitchers selected after Albert Almora in the front office's first Cubs draft back in June 2012.

Pierce Johnson — the first pitcher selected by the Epstein regime (43rd overall) — was released this winter after making one appearance with the big-league club in 2017.

Paul Blackburn — selected 56th overall — was traded away along with Daniel Vogelbach as part of the Mike Montgomery deal and after another trade (from Seattle to Oakland), made 10 quality starts for the A's last year.

Underwood was chosen third of that group — 67th overall in the second round — and he has yet to climb above Double-A, struggling to stay healthy throughout his six-year career.

Underwood was drafted ahead of guys like Alex Wood (85th overall), Edwin Diaz (98th), Chris Taylor (161st) and Jake Lamb (213th), who all played important roles for their big-league clubs in 2017.

Underwood, meanwhile, was in big-league camp last spring and failed to make an impact.

"Last year, he came up a little slow and had soreness in spring training," said Jaron Madison, Cubs director of player development. "He's a guy that has not stayed healthy for a full season yet.

"It's great for him to come out and show well in spring training but for us, it's more important he's ready for the whole season and can get through 140 games. And that way we can continue to build up innings and helping out the big-league level."

The Cubs rolled with Almora in that first draft (No. 6 overall), betting on a position player over the high risk associated with pitching. But they hedged their bets by selecting seven pitchers in a row immediately after Almora and drafted nine arms in the first 10 rounds.

Ryan McNeil was not one of those top three pitchers taken, but he is still in the organization, appearing in 28 games in 2017 as Underwood's teammate in Tennessee. McNeil had a bloated 5.79 ERA and 1.75 WHIP as he struggled with control (20 walks in 28 innings). 

Expanding that 2012 Cubs draft further, the rest of the pitchers taken are now out of the system (or out of baseball altogether):

Josh Conway (4th round) — spent 2017 in Independent League

Anthony Prieto (5th round) — out of baseball after 2013

Trey Lang (6th round) — out of baseball after 2014

Michael Heesch (8th round) — spent 2017 in the Independent League

Chad Martin (10th round) — out of baseball after 2013

It's those top three — Johnson, Blackburn and Underwood — who carried high expectations and as of yet, haven't provided meaningful innings for the Cubs. 

But there still may be some hope for the 23-year-old Underwood, even if he doesn't help out the big-league club as a starter.

Underwood has made all but five of his 100 career minor-league appearances as a starter, posting a 3.72 ERA, 1.31 WHIP and 6.8 K/9. He made 24 starts in 2017, his highest total ever in a professional season.

Coming into 2018, the Cubs are hoping Underwood comes into big-league training camp in Arizona, turns heads, goes back down to either Double-A Tennessee or Triple-A Iowa and eventually helps the team in Chicago in some capacity.

"He has major-league weapons," Madison said. "He has matured a lot this past year and he had a very candid conversation with Theo in the middle of the year and kinda stepped it up and took charge of his career.

"He moved to Arizona full-time so he could work out all offseason and be prepared for the year. Assuming he's healthy, I expect him to come to spring training and impress some guys."