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.

Be ready for anything: Cubs open to all trade avenues this winter

Be ready for anything: Cubs open to all trade avenues this winter

While Cubs fans sit on the edge of their seats waiting to see if Theo Epstein's front office trades away a core player — and which guy that might be — the question has really become more of a when

Both because it seems likely Epstein shakes up this Cubs roster this winter and because there's natural curiosity about the timing of such a move. 

If the Cubs don't get the type of return they're seeking for players like Willson Contreras and Kris Bryant, they are not going to trade just for trade's sake. But it's clear the roster needs a change and the front office has also shifted a good amount of focus on the long-term future of the organization — beyond 2021, when most of the core players are set to hit free agency.

As for when a major trade may come down, there's really no indication on that front. The MLB Hot Stove season has taken longer and longer to get going in recent winters and that very much appears to be the case again this 2019-20 offseason as many teams — including the Cubs — have just recently finalized their coaching staff and key front office hires.

At the GM Meetings last week, the Cubs said they were in the early stages of any offseason moves and had just started to exchange names with other teams about who is and isn't available.

They're not pigeonholing themselves into any one avenue for how the winter will play out.

"Sometimes you get a feel for the marketplace or kernels of ideas and they end up coming true and you look back and you're like, 'ah, that feel we had really matched the whole tenor of the offseason with certain teams,'" Epstein said. "Other times, you can go through a whole Russian novel's worth of twists and turns in an offseason depending on one or two player moves or clubs changing course or being able to execute things or not execute things. 

"We'll see. I think the important thing is to keep a really open mind and be prepared for all different permutations of how things can work out."

As for what shape the trades may come in, be ready for anything. 

The Cubs have said they still have no issues trading within the division, so even in a year where they're planning on competing in the wide-open NL Central, they're more concerned with improving their organization in the long run than worrying about potentially making a rival better.

Epstein also said they're not afraid of acquiring a player with only one year of team control left, as long as it makes sense. But there's no reason right now for the Cubs to mortgage the future to go all-in on 2020.

"It just depends on the player and the fit and the acquisition cost, and everything else," Epstein said. "I think we're like every team — to one extent or another, we're trying to balance an immediate future vs. a longer-term future. We knew that as we got closer to the end of the period of club control with some of our best players, we had to be increasingly mindful of if you put the longer-term future rather than just the short-term. 

"It's a bit of a transition for us, but it doesn't mean you rule anything out, even if it's something short-term. But you try to strike that right balance."

The Cubs also insist they're not locked into adding any one specific position or type of player. For example, they're not only looking to trade for centerfielders or leadoff guys — even if both are clear areas of need in the short-term.

Anything is on the table, which makes sense considering trading a core guy would also open up a hole elsewhere on the roster. If Contreras is dealt, the Cubs could feel pretty confident about Victor Caratini sliding into a larger role, but they would obviously need more catching depth both in the short- and long-term.

"I still think we have a lot of pieces that can move around the board a bit," Jed Hoyer said. "As we think about what we're gonna do [and] have conversations the whole winter, there's a big picture element to it where I think we're not gonna be entirely married to this position or that position — making moves that make sense both long-term and short-term. 

"We do have pieces that you can move around that makes us able to do that. We don't have particular holes that we feel like we have to spend the whole winter trying to fill, but rather we can make some moves maybe a little bit more strategically."

So the Cubs are saying all the right things, but what does that mean? 

For starters, it doesn't appear any major move is approaching on the horizon and regardless of what the first trade or free agent signing is, it will be just one piece to a larger puzzle. This is shaping up to be a crucial offseason in every aspect of the organization, so the final judgement of the winter will be the most important one.

But as the Cubs try to put that puzzle together and make their big-picture plans a reality, they're not going to get sidetracked by the incessant rumors and aim to continue trying to shield their players from a similar fate.

"We can't chase down every rumor," Hoyer said. "People are gonna put stuff out there about our guys and there's definitely some clickbait opportunity about our guys. We have a lot of guys who have been All-Stars and you can put a story out pretty easily that gets clicks. 

"One of the things about our players in general is we're in a big market, they're used to having their name in trade rumors, they're used to having their names out there. I think they have a sense of what's real and what's not real. But we can't chase down every rumor. We can't deny every rumor because we know that's going to happen. We have to live with that. We're not gonna add fuel to that fire, that's for sure."

Kris Bryant's big winter continues with baby announcement

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USA TODAY

Kris Bryant's big winter continues with baby announcement

Kris Bryant is in the midst of a potentially career-altering grievance case while trade rumors and contract extension talks continue to swirl around him.

Oh yeah, and he's about to be a father in April.

Talk about a life-changing winter for Bryant. 

Jess Bryant dropped a video on social media Tuesday morning showing pictures and videos of her and Kris throughout their relationship (including what looked to be a couple prom photos with a teenage "KB") and the minute-long video ended with a sonogram photo and the announcement that a baby boy is due April 2020:

Baby Bryant will be born a little over three years after Kris and Jess tied the knot.

That will be right as the regular season heats up for Bryant, who will be looking to build on a resurgent 2019 campaign that saw him hit 31 homers and post a .903 OPS while being named to the National League All-Star team and playing through persistent knee inflammation.

Bryant's long-term future with the Cubs is still in doubt but his agent, Scott Boras, confirmed they're open to listening on a contract extension and also shed some light on how unlikely it is that the Cubs would be able to recoup enough value in a deal to make trading the superstar worthwhile.

In the meantime, should we pencil Baby Bryant into the 2040 MLB top prospects list now or is that getting too far ahead of ourselves?