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.