Cubs

Imagine the Cubs built around Yu Darvish

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Imagine the Cubs built around Yu Darvish

KANSAS CITY As Theo Epsteins front office continues to assemble building blocks like Jorge Soler and Albert Almora, imagine Yu Darvish in a Cubs uniform.

A star in Japan, Darvish has answered the questions about how he would adjust over here. The flashbulbs will be popping all around Kauffman Stadium on Tuesday night when hes introduced at the All-Star Game.

The Cubs were determined to win the Soler sweepstakes, and outbid everyone for the Cuban defector. Some 30 million spread over nine years was nothing for Soler, a 20-year-old outfielder whos supposed to be an athletic specimen at 6-foot-3, 205 pounds.

This was the time to go for it, a final spending spree before the new collective bargaining agreement put a cap on international signings this month.

Throughout the organization, there was little doubt that the Cubs were going to sign Almora, the first pick (No. 6 overall) of the Epstein administration.

Sources said Monday that Almora had agreed to a deal with a 3.9 million bonus pending physical. Team officials and super-agent Scott Boras declined to comment while Almora retweeted multiple messages saying congratulations on his personal Twitter account.

The stakes were much higher for Darvish, who had to go through the posting system, and it was unclear just how seriously or aggressively the Cubs bid on the pitcher.

The Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays were among the most visible teams scouting Darvish last season. A recent ESPN.com report indicated that the Cubs actually finished second, though they were at least 35 million away from the more than 51 million the Rangers paid for the right to negotiate with Darvish.

The reason I wanted to get posted was to pitch over here, Darvish said Monday through an interpreter. Whether it would be Chicago or anywhere else who bid the highest (and) won, yes, I would have probably gone to that team and probably be pitching for them right now.

You cant blame anyone for having sticker shock. The Rangers ultimately invested another 60 million to sign Darvish.

You wondered how much Epsteins thinking was influenced by the more than 100 million it cost to import Daisuke Matsuzaka for the Boston Red Sox. The Cubs certainly swung and missed on Kosuke Fukudome.

Last season with the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, Darvish had also played with ex-Cubs Bobby Scales and Micah Hoffpauir. They described him as a good teammate with freakish gifts who got the rock-star treatment everywhere.

Im aware of the GM (and) Fukudome and all that, Darvish said. But still that didnt make me anticipate or speculate that they were going to do it (or) that they might be winners. If they did win, Im sure Bobby and Micah would probably help me out and I would ask a lot of questions.

Darvish, who will turn 26 next month, is 10-5 with a 3.59 ERA through 16 starts. Hes notched 117 strikeouts in 102.2 innings. He should be in his prime around the time the Cubs are supposed to be contending again.

Ive always felt comfortable, even from the beginning, Darvish said. Aside from baseball, there isnt too much Ive struggled with culturally or had a hard time adjusting to. Even off the field, things went pretty smoothly.

It no doubt helps that the Rangers have shielded Darvish, who gets to pitch for a team built to win the World Series.

Hes come over to the United States under some very tough circumstances, Texas manager Ron Washington said, not knowing anything about the league, not knowing anything about the players, having to adjust to the baseball (and) the mound and the different culture shock.

Because hes a tremendous athlete and a tremendous young man, hes made adjustments faster than we expected.

Remember that Fukudome was an All-Star during his first half-season on the North Side, and Matsuzaka won a World Series ring in his first year in Boston. So this is only a snapshot. But it makes you wonder what the Cubs would look like with a rotation built around Darvish, Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija.

Still, the front office is feeling pretty good behind the scenes, even with a 33-52 record. Between Soler and Almora and the development of Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro, there are signs.

I dont think theres one ounce of doubt in that clubhouse where the Cubs are headed, said Bryan LaHair, the All-Star first baseman turned outfielder. Theres definitely an understanding of who makes the decisions and where the teams headed and what style of baseball were going to play.

I definitely think were a lot closer than people think. (There are) obviously a few pieces we may need. I dont know what those pieces are (or) how they want to do it. We have underachieved a little at this point, (but) we know whos running the ship. Were all onboard.

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

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USA TODAY

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

MESA, Ariz. — “That’s last year, don’t want to talk about that.”

In other words, Addison Russell is so over 2017.

The Cubs shortstop went through a lot last year. He dealt with injuries that affected his foot and shoulder. He had a well-documented off-the-field issue involving an accusation of domestic abuse, which sparked an investigation by Major League Baseball. And then came the trade speculation.

The hot stove season rarely leaves any player completely out of online trade discussion. But after Theo Epstein admitted there was a possibility the Cubs could trade away one or more young position players to bolster the starting rotation, well, Russell’s name came up.

And he saw it.

“There was a lot of trade talk,” Russell said Saturday. “My initial thoughts were, I hope it doesn’t happen, but wherever I go, I’m going to try to bring what I bring to the table here. It’s a good thing that it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m happy being in a Cubs uniform, I want to be in a Cubs uniform, for sure. But there was some talk out there. If I got traded, then I got traded, but that’s not the case.”

No, it’s not, as the Cubs solved those pitching questions with free-agent spending, bringing in Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood to replace the departed Jake Arrieta and John Lackey. It means Russell, along with oft-discussed names like Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ and Javy Baez, are all still Cubs.

While the outside world might have expected one of those guys to be moved in some sort of blockbuster trade for Chris Archer or some other All-Star arm, the Cubs’ young core remains intact, another reason why they’re as much a favorite to win the World Series as any team out there.

“I’m really not surprised. The core is still here. Who would want to break that up? It’s a beautiful thing,” Russell said. “Javy and I in the middle. Schwarber, sometimes playing catcher but mainly outfield. And then (Kris Bryant) over there in the hot corner, and of course (Anthony) Rizzo at first. You’ve got a Gold Glover in right field (Jason Heyward). It’s really hard to break that up.

“When you do break that down on paper, we’ve got a lineup that could stack up with the best.”

This winter has been about moving on for Russell, who said he’s spent months working to strengthen his foot and shoulder after they limited him to 110 games last season, the fewest he played in his first three big league campaigns.

And so for Russell, the formula for returning to his 2016 levels of offensive aptitude isn’t a difficult one: stay on the field.

“Especially with the injuries, I definitely wanted to showcase some more of my talent last year than I displayed,” Russell said. “So going into this year, it’s mainly just keeping a good mental — just staying level headed. And also staying healthy and producing and being out there on the field.

“Next step for me, really just staying out there on the field. I really want to see what I can do as far as helping the team if I can stay healthy for a full season. I think if I just stay out there on the field, I’m going to produce.”

While the decrease in being on the field meant lower numbers from a “counting” standpoint — the drop from 21 homers in 2016 to 12 last year, the drop from 95 RBIs to 43 can in part be attributed to the lower number of games — certain rate stats looked different, too. His on-base percentage dropped from .321 in 2016 to .304 last year.

Russell also struggled during the postseason, picking up just six hits in 36 plate appearances in series against the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers. He struck out 13 times in 10 postseason games.

Of course, he wasn’t alone. That World Series hangover was team-wide throughout the first half of the season. And even though the Cubs scored 824 runs during the regular season, the second most in the National League and the fourth most in baseball, plenty of guys had their offensive struggles: Schwarber, Heyward and Ben Zobrist, to name a few.

“You can’t take anything for granted. So whenever you win a World Series or you do something good, you just have to live in the moment,” Russell said. “It was a tough season last year because we were coming off winning the World Series and the World Series hangover and all that. This year, we had a couple months off, a couple extra weeks off, and I think a lot of guys took advantage of that. I know I did. And now that we’re here in spring training, we’re going to get back at it.”

Five top-25 matchups highlight loaded episode of High School Lites

Five top-25 matchups highlight loaded episode of High School Lites

High School Lites had five matchups between top-25 teams on Friday night as the Public League Playoff semifinals and big matchups in the CSL South, Catholic League Blue and SouthWest Suburban Blue took shape.

Be sure to follow us on Twitter @NBCSPreps for the latest news and scores for IHSA basketball.

Wintrust Athlete of the Week: Palatine's Eduardo Orozco

Saint Xavier Team of the Week: Maine West girls basketball

Highlights

No. 1 Simeon holds off No. 4 Whitney Young

No. 2 Orr gets revenge on No. 3 Curie

No. 9 New Trier takes down No. 6 Evanston

No. 8 Fenwick handles No. 10 Loyola Academy

No. 23 Homewood-Flossmoor rallies past No. 18 Bolingbrook

Oswego East upsets No. 20 Joliet Central

Andrew shuts down Thornridge

Sandburg tops Lockport in OT

Richards runs by Shepard

Maine West captures second straight girls basketball regional title