MESA, Ariz. — It's safe to say that Cubs players are as jazzed about the Yu Darvish signing as Cubs fans are.
"It just goes to show what this front office is all about. They’ll do anything to get us to that next level," outfielder Albert Almora said. "Before Yu, I thought we had a great team, a great starting staff, and they just threw that icing on the cake. Let’s go get it."
Perhaps more than anything, signing Darvish to a six-year deal worth $126 million showed the team's new normal: World Series or bust. In baseball's never-ending arms race, the Cubs answered the Houston Astros' trade for Gerrit Cole and the New York Yankees' trade for Giancarlo Stanton with an upgrade of their own.
While filling a Jake Arrieta-sized hole in the starting rotation and answering questions about the depth of that unit were important achievements, the bottom line is that the Cubs just added one of the game's top pitchers. And that tends to get people excited.
"It’s great when you add a talent like that to a team that’s already expected to be at the top of the division. It’s great," said Brandon Morrow, the Cubs' new closer and a teammate of Darvish's last season with the Los Angeles Dodgers. "I got to know him a little bit last year over in LA. He’s a great guy and obviously a great pitcher. Really, really awesome to have him here."
Morrow saw what Darvish did with the Dodgers up close, witnessing the 3.44 ERA and 61 strikeouts in nine regular-season starts, the back-to-back playoff shutdowns against the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Cubs and the two nightmare outings against the Astros in the World Series.
The Cubs weren't convinced that two outings in the Fall Classic defined Darvish. Morrow feels the same way.
"We’re getting the guy you’ve seen for the last six years," Morrow said. "Two starts isn’t going to change anything. I think that’ll only be motivation for him.
"I love the way he works. His stuff is incredible. It’s really fun to watch. S**t moves all over, his slider’s nasty, throws like mid to upper 90s, everything that you would want to see. He’s got a good mentality out there. Even when things were going a little wrong for him he wasn’t falling apart or anything. And then watching him in between, he prepares as well as anybody. Really happy to have him."
But Morrow isn't the only new Cub with ties to Darvish. Earlier this offseason the team brought in veteran catcher Chris Gimenez, who played with Darvish when the two were with the Texas Rangers and established a "personal catcher" type relationship. When Gimenez signed, there was plenty of online speculation that it was to give the Cubs a leg up in the Darvish sweepstakes.
Well, the Cubs landed Darvish. Though the effect Gimenez had is a little less obvious.
"He probably didn’t like me texting him too much, but I tried to let him know," Gimenez said Wednesday. "Obviously I’ve been with Joe and Jim Hickey before and just kind of portray what I thought this organization was about. Obviously having that relationship with Joe in the past, knowing what he brings to the table and just kind of knowing Darvish and what he might like, I thought it would be a really good fit, to be honest with you. I can’t take credit for it. He’s got 126 million reasons to want to come here, I don’t happen to be one of them.
"I would be crazy to not try to contact him, but it’s basically on him. He earned the right to make that decision, and I tried to give him as much information as I had. Honestly, just having that relationship in the past is a big part of it. I don’t think I had anything to do with it, really. ... It was completely on him, and I just tried to kind of portray what I felt the organization was like. And honestly having that relationship with the people in the past, I thought it could be a really, really good spot."
The Cubs certainly thought so. Their investment in Darvish is another investment in the only mission that exists anymore for this team: bringing another World Series title — multiple ones, actually — to Wrigleyville.
And if Darvish is as good as everyone's said, then maybe that's an attainable goal.
"I think we really haven’t seen the best Yu Darvish yet," Gimenez said. "He’s still evolving as a pitcher, as well. Coming back from second full season off Tommy John, physically he’s starting to really get in tune with his own body now and kind of knowing his limitations, what he can and can’t do. I think really, the sky is the limit for a guy like that. He’s still relatively young, and to have average velocity go up like it did last year, it just shows there’s more in the tank and he’s continuing to evolve as a pitcher and learning how to pitch, how to attack guys.
"I think he’s really evolving in the fact that he has so many weapons and he’s using them with so many guys now differently than he has in the past and there’s more room to grow with that, too."