Saturday was unequivocally a very good day to be a Cubs fan. In what has been a historically quiet Free Agency market, the Cubs made a loud noise and signed the consensus number one pitcher available.
There are a lot of reasons to be excited about this move.
First of all, any time you can sign, at market value, a top-tier free agent with multiple suitors, is a sign of the organizational health of your franchise. The front office showed us that they can still woo with the best of them, closing on a target they identified as attractive. Ownership ponied up when the time came to sign off on signing off some big honking checks. And the franchise and city itself was attractive enough for Darvish to be excited to sign up for the next 6 summers of baseball.
To land a player of Darvish’s caliber, every organ of the club’s ecosystem needs to be functioning correctly. This is clearly the case on Clark and Addison, and is reason enough for celebration. And if reports are true that the Dodgers were offering a comparable contract to what Theo doled out, all the more reason to rejoice at the organizational aptitude and momentum the franchise is currently enjoying.
Three years and one championship after Jon Lester signed up to try to bring a World Series Title to the North Side, the Cubs are still viewed as a viable landing spot for the top free agents of the day. This is no small achievement. And something our friends in Milwaukee (Darvish) and St. Louis (Stanton) simply cannot claim.
I also like the structure of the contract. Listen, everyone knows that six years is probably excessive. But Darvish’s average annual salary will be borderline cheap. At $21M/year, Darvish will only be making $3M more per year than the departing John Lackey. Every Cub fan with a functioning nervous system would gladly trade John Lackey plus $3M of Tom Rickett’s money every year for Yu Darvish. And I’m confident the same will be true at the end of Yu’s contract in 2024.
Finally, I just like the aggressive signal this deal sends to the franchise and their competitors around the league. This feels like a move by a club that extremely motivated to win another title in the near-term future. Last offseason was quiet and calculated, and we ran out of gunpowder in October. This move is a sign of a “burn the boats” mentality that is a requisite characteristic for any organization that wants to win a championship.
I’m not saying this deal is without negatives or risk. The acquisition of another front-line starter further alienates Mike Montgomery, a player who once looked like an integral component of our long-term rotation. And six years is a very long time, especially for a pitcher with a lot of innings under his belt and a lot of visits to the orthopedic surgeon. Throw in a questionable resumé in high leverage circumstances, and there are reasons for tepidity before going all-in on the Yu Darvish train.
At the end of the day, the efficacy of the deal will be judged based one criterion. The number of parades down Michigan Avenue in which Yu Darvish participates. Like Jon Lester before him, front-line starters get paid front-line money with the expectation that they address a couple million locals sometime in early November. The probability of that address happening in Grant Park in 2018 got a whole lot higher this weekend. The countdown to Opening Day continues…