Cubs choosing Yu Darvish over Jake Arrieta has them sitting shotgun as World Series favorites

Cubs choosing Yu Darvish over Jake Arrieta has them sitting shotgun as World Series favorites

Saturday’s news that the Cubs were signing Yu Darvish now makes the Cubs the team to beat in the National League.

Darvish is the centerpiece of a loaded rotation that is among the two or three best in all of baseball, and his addition sent a message to the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals that despite their active offseasons the Cubs are still clearly the team to beat in the NL Central.

With a lineup of talented young hitters who still haven’t reached their peak and a loaded pitching staff full of depth the Cubs should surpass the 92.5-win projection that Las Vegas recently posted, and they should have a great shot to return to the Fall Classic this October.

The baseball free agent market has been in a holding pattern for the past three months and the Cubs, like the other 29 MLB teams, have been waiting for players to accept much lower offers than most were expecting when they hit the open market at the end of the 2017 season.

The Cubs entered the offseason with two major needs to address: their much-maligned bullpen that struggled in the second half of last season, and the their starting rotation that had two openings needing to be filled.

Both Jake Arrieta and John Lackey had expiring contracts, and while Lackey was not expected to continue his career on the mound, Arrieta was looking for the first big deal of his career. A deal that his agent, Scott Boras, openly said they expected to be seven years in length at an average salary of $30 million or more.

“I don’t think a six- or seven-year deal is out of the question,” Arrieta said. "I feel very confident I can pitch until I’m 40. I do everything possible to make sure I’m healthy and durable. It could be six or seven more years. Or it could be twelve.”

But instead, the Cubs pursued Darvish and made it clear he was their top choice instead of pursuing Arrieta, who they knew well and had reached the pinnacle of baseball with when the Cubs, in part rode his arm to a World Series title in 2016.

So do the Cubs have a better rotation today with Darvish in the fold than they did in 2017 when they had Arrieta and John Lackey? The answer is unequivocally yes, because Darvish is an upgrade from Arrieta as is Tyler Chatwood from Lackey.

Yes, Arrieta has proven that he can succeed on baseball’s biggest stage, going 2-0 in the World Series and dominating the Cleveland Indians twice in Cleveland when the Cubs were trailing in the series. Darvish has had some solid postseason success but his awful performance in the 2017 World Series when he was rocked by the Houston Astros twice has left a bad taste in some fans' mouths.

However, Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and the rest of the Cubs front office did a deep analytical assessment of Darvish and came away convinced that he would be worth a major financial investment. Their research told them that Darvish possessed the swing-and-miss stuff that plays in pressure-packed moments with a playoff berth on the line. And they are convinced that they can fix his struggles with tipping his pitches that reportedly led to his World Series struggles against the Astros.

Darvish was also very impressed with the Cubs pitching infrastructure that has helped to get the best out of many of their pitchers. Current Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks, who shares an agent with Darvish, has spoken many times about how detailed the Cubs pitching scouting reports and game plans are and how much they have helped him become a successful big league starter.

Arrieta turned his career around when he arrived in Chicago after struggling mightily with the Baltimore Orioles, and he felt the Cubs approach to pitching was a huge part in resurrecting his career after he considered walking away from the sport before he was traded.

But now, Arrieta will have to pitch somewhere else as the Cubs have moved on. They have landed a pitcher in Darvish that Epstein has long wanted to acquire. In fact, the Cubs were the runner-up to the Texas Rangers when Darvish left Japan and came to the US in 2012. Darvish figures to sit atop the Cubs rotation with Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana and Tyler Chatwood manning spots two through five and giving the Cubs perhaps baseball’s deepest and most talented starting rotation.

Several seasons ago, as the Cubs were going through the pain of the building process and losing 289 games in three seasons, Tom Ricketts promised Cubs fans that when the time was right to spend big money, the checkbook would be there to support Epstein, Hoyer and their plan.

He has spent and spent big when his front office has asked him to and today he delivered again. And that decision just might have the World Series trophy making a return trip to the Friendly Confines.

Scouting the Cubs' competition: The Reds will waste another year of Joey Votto's greatness


Scouting the Cubs' competition: The Reds will waste another year of Joey Votto's greatness

The expectations couldn't be any higher for the 2018 Chicago Cubs. 

It's 2016 all over again. The goal isn't just a trip to the playoffs or another NL pennant. It's World Series or bust for this group of North Siders.

With that, let's take a look at all of the teams that could stand in the way of the Cubs getting back to the Fall Classic:

Cincinnati Reds

2017 record: 68-94, last in NL Central

Offseason additions: Cliff Pennington, David Hernandez, Jared Hughes, Kevin Quackenbush

Offseason departures: Zack Cozart, Scott Feldman, Drew Storen

X-factor: Homer Bailey

Bailey appeared to be entering ace territory when the Reds locked him up to a six-year, $105 million extension before the 2014 season. Over the two years prior (2012-13), he went 24-22 with a 3.58 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 367 strikeouts over 417 innings.

But in the four seasons since he signed that extension, Bailey has pitched just 271 innings, going 17-18 with an ugly 4.95 ERA and 1.46 WHIP. 2017 (6.43 ERA, 1.69 WHIP) was especially ugly.

There is cause for optimism, however. In the final seven starts of the season last year, Bailey posted a 3.58 ERA and 1.19 WHIP.

Bailey is only 31 (and turns 32 in May) so there is still time. He's getting the Reds' Opening Day start and if he can rekindle his top-of-rotation form, it'd go a long way in the team's rebuilding.

Projected lineup

1. Billy Hamilton - CF
2. Jesse Winker - LF
3. Joey Votto - 1B
4. Eugenio Suarez - 3B
5. Scooter Gennett - 2B
6. Jose Peraza - SS
7. Scott Schebler - RF
8. Tucker Barnhart - C 

Projected rotation

1. Homer Bailey
2. Luis Castillo
3. Tyler Mahle
4. Sal Romano
5. Amir Garrett


When you replace Zack Cozart with Cliff Pennington and the "big" free agent splashes were a couple of 32-year-old relief pitchers (Hernandez and Hughes), you're not tryin', bro.

The Reds are in full rebuild mode, which is really sad for Votto in his age-34 season. Somehow, Votto seems to defy aging. He was the best hitter in the NL last year, leading the league in walks, on-base percentage, OPS, OPS+ and intentional walks while passing the 30-homer, 100-RBI threshold for the first time since 2010.

But poor Votto hasn't appeared in the playoffs since 2013 and the Reds are years away from another trip to October, especially in this suddenly-stacked division.

Castillo is a budding ace, Peraza and Winker could be nice pieces for the future, Suarez is locked up long-term and Barnhart is one of the more underrated backstops in the league. Top prospect Nick Senzel is also on his way soon, as are a gaggle of young starting pitchers.

There will inevitably be growing pains for all these inexperienced players, but things could be a lot worse for a rebuilding team. Still, by the time the Reds are ready to contend in 2020 or later, will Votto still be at the top of his game when he's at least 36?

Prediction: Last in NL Central

Ozzie Guillen compared Sammy Sosa to Michael Jordan...and Michael Jackson

Ozzie Guillen compared Sammy Sosa to Michael Jordan...and Michael Jackson

Ozzie Guillen is no stranger to saying outlandish things.

So it's not surprising that Guillen would agree with Sosa when the former Cubs outfielder said he made the city of Chicago what it is today.

Thirteen months ago, Sosa gave a candid interview to Chuck Wasserstrom and compared himself to Jesus before saying: "When nobody knew who Chicago was, I put Chicago on the map."

Guillen echoed that sentiment on the latest White Sox Talk Podcast.

Maybe from where they sit, that's exactly what has occurred. Sosa and Michael Jordan certainly helped make the Cubs, Bulls and Chicago sports in general on the map internationally.

"People know who the Cubs were because Sammy put them back on the map," Guillen said. "... For the city of Chicago, when Sammy was Sammy — that race with [Mark] McGwire, then people noticed what Chicago was."

Ozzie said — from his perspective — when people hear about Chicago, they ask, "Oh, you know Sammy?" or "You know Michael?" referencing Michael Jordan.

Guillen also weighed in on Sosa's ever-changing appearance that has sparked A LOT of attention lately.

"But the color, I'm tired. I think he uses the same product Michael Jackson did," Guillen said. "It's funny because I work with him — we talked to him a lot for ESPN Deportes. When you're lying, that's when people don't get it.

"Listen, if you want to change your color, why not? You got the money, you got the time if that's what you want to be. But if you say, 'Well, I got too much color because of the sun when I was playing.' OK...You live in Miami, you grew up in the Dominican. To me, I just laugh."