MONDAY: While the Cubs are evidently still looking at a number of rotation options, the interest in Darvish appears to be serious. Top Chicago execs Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are meeting with Darvish and his reps in Texas, according to Bruce Levine of 670thescore.com (Twitter link) and Jon Heyman of Fan Rag (via Twitter).
An in-person chat hardly suggests a deal is inevitable or even likely. But it’s a definite step beyond internal discussions or swapping texts with an agent. At the same time, to this point all indications have been that the Cubs are looking for the right price among a field of possibilities, with trade options and other free agents also in play.
SATURDAY: The Cubs have been very active on the pitching market this winter, and now they’re looking at the top free agent arm available. The club has interest in right-hander Yu Darvish, Bruce Levine of CBS Chicago reports. He’d be the fifth pitcher the Cubs have signed this offseason, joining two starters (Tyler Chatwood and Drew Smyly) and a pair of relievers (Brandon Morrow and Steve Cishek).
As MLBTR’s No. 1-ranked free agent (notably, Tim Dierkes & Co. forecast Darvish to the Cubs entering the offseason), the 31-year-old would require a far bigger commitment than anyone else Chicago has added in recent weeks. For a lofty price, Darvish would provide the back-to-back National League Central champions with a replacement for fellow free agent Jake Arrieta at the front of their rotation, filling out a starting quintet that would also include Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana, Jon Lester and Chatwood. It’s worth noting that Smyly might not pitch at all in 2018, having undergone Tommy John surgery last year, while Mike Montgomery would likely slot in as a reliever (to his chagrin, it seems).
Darvish, who debuted with the Rangers in 2012 and underwent a Tommy John procedure two years later, has pitched to a 3.42 ERA/3.30 FIP combination and logged 11.04 K/9 against 3.32 BB/9 across 832 1/3 major league innings. He ended last year with the Dodgers, who acquired him at the trade deadline, and mostly performed well. Darvish even earned one of the Dodgers’ four wins over the Cubs in a five-game National League Championship Series, tossing 6 1/3 frames of one-run, six-hit ball and notching seven strikeouts against one walk in Game 3. While Darvish struggled mightily in two World Series losses to Houston, including in Game 7, it’s up in the air whether that will tamp down his earning power to any noticeable extent (if at all).
Because Darvish was part of a midseason trade, he was ineligible to receive a qualifying offer after the conclusion of the campaign. Consequently, the team that signs him won’t have to surrender draft-pick compensation in the process. That’s not the case with fellow free agent righty Alex Cobb, who rejected a QO from the Rays and whom the Cubs were aggressively courting last weekend. But it seems the Cubs cooled on Cobb during this week’s Winter Meetings, where they found his asking price “prohibitive,” Levine reports.