Cubs

The spotlight shouldn't blind Yu Darvish

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The spotlight shouldn't blind Yu Darvish

Being the center of attention is the default setting for Yu Darvish.

The Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters traveled commercial, and thats supposed to be standard in Japan. Getting out of the plane and moving through the concourse, Micah Hoffpauir and Bobby Scales watched the paparazzi snap pictures. Fans swarmed their famous teammate to ask for autographs at the airport.

As Scales put it: Could you imagine the Cubs walking through OHare every road trip?

The Cubs are among the teams that submitted a blind bid before Wednesdays deadline. This is for the right to negotiate with Darvish, even if the sense is that it could just be due diligence, like checking in on Albert Pujols and not completely ruling out Prince Fielder.

Word could leak out earlier, but the Fighters have four business days to consider the highest bid. The final answer is due by Dec. 20.

If the final bill is close to the more than 100 million it cost the Boston Red Sox to import Daisuke Matsuzaka five years ago, then Darvish automatically becomes one of the games most intriguing players, a marketing and promotional force.

The Japanese media had Texas Rangers president Nolan Ryan pinned against an elevator bank at Milwaukees Pfister Hotel during the ownergeneral manager meetings last month. They needed something on Darvish.

Foreign reporters surrounded Toronto Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos last week at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas. There was curiosity and gossip about Darvish in the lobby at the winter meetings.

Whenever Darvish arrives on American (or Canadian) soil, he may not be in for total cultural shock, but the 25-year-old pitcher will face a series of adjustments.

Hoffpauir who spent nearly a decade in the Cubs organization before heading to Japan last season described a style of play that almost sounded like soccer.

The No. 1 difference (between) American (and) Japanese baseball, Hoffpauir said, is (that) Japanese baseball is very, very concerned about scoring one run. Theyve got to get that first run on the board and I (had) never in my life seen (that before).

If our leadoff hitter gets on in the top of the first inning, our two-hole hitter nine out of 10 times is bunting and everybody in the stadium knows it and its not even a question. Thats just the way it is. If we have the opportunity to get (him) into scoring position and take two shots at it with our No. 3 and 4 guys, then were going to do that every time.

If Darvish doesnt live up to the hype, he will have to deal with a backlash that may seem jarring. Scales who got called up to Wrigley Field in 2009 and 2010 described Japanese culture as very reserved, very respectful.

People drink in the stadiums in Japan, Hoffpauir said, but you dont have the constant heckling. You dont have people being booed and stuff like that. It seems to be more of a positive-type atmosphere. The fans everywhere are great.

Hoffpauir had been there only a few weeks when he felt the Tokyo Dome Hotel shaking. A tsunami and earthquake would devastate the country last March. Still, overall he enjoyed the experience and picked up his option to return to Japan next year.

Hoffpauir was joined by his wife Tiffany and their daughter Addyson, whos now three years old. They ate more McDonalds than they probably wanted, but that was a place where you could point at what you wanted.

The Fighters had two interpreters for their four American players. Scales a midseason replacement brought over from Triple-A Iowa used a Slingbox to watch University of Michigan football games. But with the time difference, he was usually falling asleep in his hotel room by the time his school started the second half.

Off the field, these are the little things that Darvish will have to get used to in a new country, all while learning the game new league, new teammates, deeper lineups at the highest level. Even professional athletes cant stay always stay in the bubble.

Hoffpauir is convinced that Darvish will approximate a No. 2 major-league starter as soon as he reports to spring training. The Japanese ace has strung together five consecutive seasons with an ERA below 1.89. What else is left to prove there?

At least Darvish whos reportedly in the process of divorcing his wife, a high-profile actress shouldnt be blinded by the flashbulbs and TV lights. He performed in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2009 World Baseball Classic. This is his world.

He will have no problem with the media, Hoffpauir said. Hes dealt with that all of his career.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Is Kris Bryant the new Curt Flood?

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Is Kris Bryant the new Curt Flood?

This has been the offseason of Kris Bryant rumors and with his grievance still unresolved Cubs fans can only speculate what will happen to the MVP. Is Kris Bryant trying to change the system like Curt Flood did? Host David Kaplan is joined by ESPN Chicago's Jesse Rogers to discuss Bryant's future as a Cub, and the lackluster offseason the Cubs have had.

(1:50) - Why the Cubs have not made any moves so far

(3:32) - Is Kris Bryant the new Curt Flood?

(6:26) - Cubs need upgrades, specifically in the bullpen

(9:10) - Will the Cubs make a big move before the season starts?

(11:30) - Does Javy Baez get the big extension?

(14:45) - Will the Cubs get to 86 wins this year?

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast

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Cubs close to deal with free agent outfielder Steven Souza, per report

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USA TODAY

Cubs close to deal with free agent outfielder Steven Souza, per report

The Cubs have made a roster move.

According to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, the Cubs are reportedly close to a deal with free agent outfielder Steven Souza.

Souza, 30, missed the 2019 season after suffering a torn left ACL and LCL at the end of spring training. He also missed a chunk of 2018, playing 72 games while hitting the injured list on multiple occasions.

Souza had a career year with the Rays in 2017, slashing .239/.351/.459 with 30 home runs, 78 RBIs and a 121 wRC+. Those figures were career-bests for Souza, minus his batting average. He sported a walk rate (13.6 percent) above league average (8.5) that season, though his strikeout rate (29 percent) was worse than the MLB average (23).

The signing of Souza likely rules out a return of fan favorite outfielder Nicholas Castellanos. The Cubs have been linked to Castellanos throughout the offseason, but since they're looking to stay under MLB’s luxury tax threshold, re-signing Castellanos would require some financial maneuvering.

Souza has spent most of his career in right field (3,608 career innings) but has minimal experience playing center (33 1/3) and left (20). He’s above average in right (career 6 Defensive Runs Saved) and posted a career best 7 DRS in 2017.

The Cubs have a five-time Gold Glove right fielder in Jason Heyward, so Souza will see time at all three outfield spots. Heyward moved to center full-time last season after the Cubs acquired Castellanos and has played center at times throughout his career.

Assuming he stays healthy, Souza is a low-risk, high-reward move for the Cubs. He’ll add power to the middle of the order and add a proven bat to an outfield with some question marks. Albert Almora Jr. and Ian Happ have each struggled offensively at times since 2018. Souza offers another bat in case those two slump again.