Cubs thrilled with big free-agent splash: 'We really haven't seen the best Yu Darvish yet'

Cubs thrilled with big free-agent splash: 'We really haven't seen the best Yu Darvish yet'

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."

Joe Maddon wants Cubs fans to cheer for Gleyber Torres and Eloy Jimenez

Joe Maddon wants Cubs fans to cheer for Gleyber Torres and Eloy Jimenez

Why can't a trade be looked at as a win-win? 

There doesn't always have to be a clear winner and loser.

Prior to Jose Quintana taking the ball for Saturday's game against the San Francisco Giants at Wrigley Field, Joe Maddon was asked about the players (Eloy Jimenez, Dylan Cease) the Cubs gave up to acquire Quintana as well as the deal with the Yankees for Aroldis Chapman in July 2016.

Gleyber Torres is absolutely killing it in New York, hitting .323 with a 1.014 OPS, 9 homers and 24 RBI in only 29 games. Six of those homers have come in the last week alone. 

With the White Sox, both Jimenez and Cease have found success in Double-A and Advanced Class-A, respectively.

Jimenez is hitting .331 with a .992 OPS, 9 homers and 35 RBI in 35 games. Cease is 6-2 with a 2.83 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 57 strikeouts in 47.2 innings.

As the Cubs work to get their offense settled into a consistent groove, some Cubs fans have been looking at what might've been with guys like Torres and Jimenez.

"You can't have it both ways, man," Maddon said. "I'm happy for Gleyber. When he left, we talked about it. And we talked about the kids that went to the White Sox. It's good stuff. 

"I'm really disappointed if anybody's disappointed in the fact we won the World Series in 2016 and the fact that the guy we're talking about that we had to give up Gleyber for was so instrumental in that happening. That's bad process if you're gonna get stuck on something like that. Be happy for Gleyber. Be happy for him."

Maddon has been a fan of Torres' since he saw him in spring training in 2015, Maddon's first year in the Cubs organization.

"This kid's 21, with high, high baseball intellect," Maddon said. "He's very similar to Javy on the field. I've had some great conversations with him in the past. 

"The first time I saw him in spring training, I thought this guy's for real. It was like one at-bat, line drive to RF, I said who is this guy? And then you have a conversation with him. He's solid."

Maddon's point is a great one — would Cubs fans prefer to still have Torres and NOT have the 2016 World Series championship? Because that title doesn't happen without Chapman, regardless of how you feel about him as a person or what the Cubs had to give up to acquire him.

"Don't play that game," Maddon said. "Be happy for [Torres]. I'm gonna be happy when Eloy and Dylan make it up here. All these dudes, I want them to get here and be really good. And the guys that we get, I want them to be really good. 

"I don't understand why somebody's gotta lose all the time. This is an absolute classic example of what was good for both teams."

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 12th + 13th homers in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 12th + 13th homers in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

An off-day did nothing to slow down the 1998 National League MVP as Sosa collected his second straight 2-homer game May 27 of that season.

He went deep in the eighth and ninth innings of a Cubs' 10-5 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field, driving in 3 runs. 

The first homer - off Darrin Winston - was an absolute blast, traveling an estimated 460 feet. The second shot was tame in comparison with only 400 feet as a recorded distance.

In a matter of two games, Sosa raised his season OPS from .930 to .988 and his slugging percentage from .521 to .577 thanks to a pair of 2-homer contests.

Fun fact: Doug Glanville - former Cubs outfielder and current NBC Sports Chicago analyst - was the Phillies leadoff hitter that day in 1998, collecting three hits and scoring a pair of runs.