MESA, Ariz. — Yu Darvish's contract is worth $126 million, and that's a lot of money.
But is it enough money to stop the Cubs from making an even bigger splash next winter?
While this offseason has been unbelievably slow-moving, next offseason figures to be an entirely different animal, with an incredible number of big-name players set to hit the free-agent market. Leading that pack is Bryce Harper, the superstar Washington Nationals outfielder who is expected to ink the richest contract in baseball history.
Cubs fans are chomping at the bit for their team to bring Harper to the North Side, hoping for a lineup that features Harper alongside Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo to form the most formidable team in the game.
But after making this offseason's biggest free-agent signing in Darvish, did the Cubs force themselves out of the running in the expensive Harper sweepstakes to come?
"It’s hard to sit here a year removed and see what our approach is going to be next offseason," team president Theo Epstein said Tuesday before offering up an interesting possible scenario. "Look, if everyone plays well and we’re healthy and productive, we have just about everybody back next year. We might be in a situation where we don’t have to do much.
"That said, this game is so unpredictable. We might have real needs in areas that we don’t anticipate. So we’ll have to see where we are at that point, take stock throughout the course of the season, at the trade deadline, try to look ahead. We still have some flexibility as players move through the arbitration system. So we’re not necessarily done, but we obviously made a significant investment in Yu Darvish to round out our pitching staff, and it’s a staff that we think is going to be together for years to come."
What if the Cubs are good enough that they don't need Harper? You could make the case for that already. Heck, the Cubs have been to three consecutive National League Championship Series and won the 2016 World Series without Harper, who has never made it out of the divisional round with the Nationals. The Cubs took down Harper and the Nats in the NLDS last October. Throw in Darvish, and the Cubs have upped their status as World Series favorites.
But baseball's arms race is seemingly never ending. The Houston Astros, the defending champs, upped their game this offseason, creating a super-rotation thanks to Gerrit Cole, formerly of the Pittsburgh Pirates. The New York Yankees, a win away from the World Series last season, traded for NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton and his 59 home runs. Even if Darvish helps the Cubs to a second championship in three seasons this fall, they might feel the need to land baseball's biggest fish just to keep up.
However, there's plenty of other things Epstein and his front office must juggle in the coming years. While Jose Quintana's team-friendly contract made signing Darvish possible — "we almost felt like we were acquiring one and a half pitchers in that deal," Epstein said — the Cubs now have a few big contracts on the books: Darvish, Jon Lester and Jason Heyward. Then there's impending future when the team's young position players all exhaust their team control at the same time. Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Javy Baez and Kyle Schwarber are all free agents after the 2021 season.
There's plenty to be determined between now and next winter, as Epstein mentioned. But Darvish's big contract is certainly a new factor that will play a major role in next winter's chase for baseball's biggest-ever free agent.