Cubs

Why Yu Darvish makes more sense for Cubs than Jake Arrieta or Alex Cobb

Why Yu Darvish makes more sense for Cubs than Jake Arrieta or Alex Cobb

Why would the Cubs spend a bunch of money on a free-agent pitcher this winter instead of just paying to retain Jake Arrieta?

It's the question many Cubs fans are asking, and it's a fair inquiry.

Arrieta has endeared himself to the North Side of Chicago for the rest of time after helping end the 108-year championship drought.

With the Cubs' interest in Yu Darvish making headlines this week — who is expected to be either 1A or 1B to Arrieta in terms of free-agent aces this winter — some fans might not understand why the Cubs would shell out an absurd amount of money for a pitcher not named Arrieta this winter.

Let's break it down:

The decline of Arrieta is real, if exaggerated

Arrieta's velocity is down, as anybody with a Twitter account who follows more than one baseball fan could tell you. But that doesn't mean he still can't be effective if he's living in the low 90s instead of throwing 95-plus every time he rears back.

He hasn't spent time on the disabled list since the beginning of 2014, and he's one of the most well-conditioned athletes on the planet.

But yes, Arrieta has experienced something of a decline the last few years.

On the one hand, there was no possible way for Arrieta to duplicate his historic 2015 when he won 22 games, posted a 1.77 ERA, an 0.865 WHIP and won the National League Cy Young Award. He topped that season with the best second half known to mankind, allowing only nine earned runs in 107.1 innings (15 starts).

That being said, Arrieta has seen his ERA, WHIP, H/9 and HR/9 rise each of the last two years, while his strikeouts have dipped from the 2014 and 2015 levels.

The Cubs were cautious with Arrieta — and all their pitchers — in 2017, allowing him to only throw 168.1 innings across 30 starts as they managed everybody's pitch counts carefully following back-to-back deep playoff runs.

Arrieta will turn 32 in March, and while he doesn't have an extensive injury history and boasts just 1,669 innings of professional baseball on his arm, the declining numbers cause at least a little concern for any team willing to shell out life-changing money.

The case for Darvish

Darvish is five months younger than Arrieta, though he has 458.2 more professional innings (including Japan) on his arm than the former Cub, despite missing all of 2015 to Tommy John surgery.

He got lit up in the World Series, but those around baseball believe he was tipping his pitches and see it as an easily correctable issue. 

Darvish's numbers also have been on a bit of a decline, but with homers up around baseball in 2017, the same can be said for almost every pitcher.

The Japanese native posted his lowest K/9 total of his MLB career (10.1), but saw a noticeable jump in that department after moving to the NL at the trade deadline (11.1 K/9 in 9 starts with the Dodgers).

He still managed 209 strikeouts and a solid 1.16 WHIP in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery.

Darvish also doesn't require any draft pick compensation given he was dealt midseason, so the Cubs would only have to pledge money to sign him. If Arrieta inks a deal with another team, the Cubs will get a second-round pick as compensation.

By comparison, the Cubs would have to forfeit an early round pick if they signed Alex Cobb in free agency.

It's all about the Benjamins

Arrieta has only earned about $31 million in his career to date, with more than half that coming in the last calendar year (he was paid $15.6 million in 2017). This will likely be his only chance to test the free-agent market as a top-line pitcher and set his family up for life.

Darvish, on the other hand, has already made almost double that total (just shy of $60 million) in the majors alone, not counting the money he made in Japan before making the trip to America.

Darvish doesn't have the same urgency to sign a megadeal. It's more likely he would agree to sign a shorter-term deal than Arrieta, who has been saying for a long time he wants six or seven years.

If Darvish is content with a three-to-four-year deal, he could still wind up hitting the market in his mid 30s and get paid once again. That's a much more appealing option for the Cubs than paying Arrieta through his age 37 or 38 season.

On that same note, if Cobb is asking for a three- or four-year deal and more money than the Cubs are willing to shell out for a pitcher of his caliber, why not just sign a pitcher who is undoubtedly better than Cobb, is only a year older and doesn't come with any draft-pick compensation?

At the very least, the Cubs epically called Cobb's bluff on the market by heading to Texas on Monday and spending three and a half hours with Darvish and making that meeting very, very public.

David Kaplan is right: Yu Darvish might very well be the best option for the Cubs to acquire a frontline starter this winter.

Cubs announce minor league staff for 2018, with many familiar faces receiving new roles

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USA TODAY

Cubs announce minor league staff for 2018, with many familiar faces receiving new roles

The Cubs finalized their minor league staffs for 2018 on Thursday, making changes at numerous staff positions.

The organization has retained managers Marty Pevey (Triple-A Iowa), Mark Johnson (Double-A Tennessee), and Buddy Bailey (Single-A Myrtle Beach) and Jimmy Gonzalez (Single-A South Bend). New to the organization is former Philadelphia Phillies' catcher Steven Lerud. Lerud, 33, will manage Single-A Eugene in 2018.

Eugene also added Jacob Rogers to its staff as assistant hitting coach. Rogers, 28, played in the Cubs organization from 2012-2016. Also new to the organization is Paul McAnulty, who is the new assistant hitting coach for South Bend. McAnulty, 36, played in parts of four seasons with the Padres from 2005-2008 and with the Angels in 2010. He recently served as a coach in the Angels' system in 2016.

Those with new roles for 2018 include Chris Valaika, who is now an assistant coach with Triple-A Iowa. Valaika, 32, began his coaching career last season with rookie league Mesa after playing ten seasons professionally. The former utility player hit .231 in 44 games with the Cubs in 2014.

Like Valaika, former Cubs' farmhand Ben Carhart has a new role with the organization for 2018. Carhart, 27, is now an assistant coach with South Bend after serving as a rehab coach with Mesa last season. From 2012-2016, he hit .270 in 372 minor league games, all in the Cubs' organization.

The Cubs also announced their minor league coordinators for 2018. Holdovers include Darnell McDonald and John Baker. McDonald played for the Cubs in 2013 and will return for his fourth season as the organization's mental skills coordinator. Baker, who played for the Cubs in 2014, will return for his second season as a mental skills coordinator.

Jeremy Farrell returns to the organization for a third season, although 2018 will be his first as the Cubs' minor league infield coordinator. Farrell played in the White Sox farm system from 2013-2015 and is the son of former Red Sox and Blue Jays' manager John Farrell.

Here is a complete list of the organization's major league training staff and minor league managers and staff for 2018:

 

 

 

Albert Almora Jr. is hungry for more

Albert Almora Jr. is hungry for more

While most of the Cubs were focusing on rest and relaxtion this winter, Albert Almora Jr. sees no need for chillin'.

Kris Bryant admitted he was worn down by the end of the Cubs' playoff run last October and most other regulars would say the same thing.

But some Cubs saw the winter not as an "offseason" but as the first opportunity to prove something.

Kyle Schwarber has shed weight and looks to be in great shape, but Almora is in the same boat.

The 23-year-old outfielder is chomping at the bit, anxious for the season to start. So anxious, in fact, that he spent just a couple weeks at home in Florida before heading to Arizona to start training for 2018. 

Yes, that's right. He's been in Arizona since November — training, eating right, mentally preparing himself for the grind ahead, taking swings. 

That's nothing new for the first draft pick under Theo Epstein's front office who's constantly trying to validate the sixth overall selection in the 2012 Draft.

"I'm always going out there trying to prove them right, trying to make them happy," Almora said.

This is a kid who earned a World Series ring before his 23rd birthday and has five gold medals from playing for Team USA as a teenager. 

Almora's no stranger to the big stage and he's already accomplished so much at such a young age, but he's never experienced anything quite like the 2017 season.

He's always been a starter and everyday player. From age 8, when he was playing up with 14-year-olds, Almora has been among the youngest guys on any team he's been on. 

That was the case with the 2017 Cubs once again, but this time, he wasn't a key contributor. He played nearly every day — notching 132 games — but only started 65 times throughout the course of the year. He had to learn a lot about waiting for his moment and making the most of his one at-bat or one inning in the field.

"[Playing time is] not in my control and I'm gonna do whatever I can when my name is called to help the team win games and have a lot of fun with it," Almora said. "That's the only way to stay sane and not worry too much.

"At the end of the day, all I can control is what I do on the ballfield and that's it."

Almora admitted he's let that external stuff creep into his mind in the past, though that was mostly in the minor leagues when he was wondering when he'd get called up to the next level.

In the majors, it's all about winning and Almora believes he can help the big-league team get back to the Promised Land.

Even Epstein admitted Almora is primed for a larger role in 2018, as the young outfielder proved down the stretch last year he could contribute against right-handed pitching as well as southpaws.

What does he make of his progression the last couple years?

"I can answer that by just saying I'm confident," Almora said. "The more opportunity I get, the more experienced under my belt. You're not intimidated, you're having a lot of fun out there and your confident in your game.