By Bruce Levine–

(670 The Score) — The Cubs have more than just a passing interest in right-hander Yu Darvish, who along with Jake Arrieta leads the class of starters available on the free-agent market.

Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer boarded a plane midday Monday that took them to Dallas, where they met with Darvish and agent Joel Wolfe of the Wasserman Group in the afternoon.

The Cubs have made it be known that adding pitching is their top priority this winter, and they’ve proved that with the moves they’ve already made. Chicago signed right-hander Tyler Chatwood to a three-year deal and added relievers Steve Cishek and Brandon Morrow. The Cubs also signed left-hander Drew Smyly to a two-year deal with an eye on 2019, as Smyly is recovering from Tommy John surgery and may miss all of 2018.

The Cubs have long had their sights set on free-agent right-hander Alex Cobb, but he and his agents are still fielding offers and appear to be asking for more than what Chicago’s front office initially anticipated in terms of annual value and length.

While no free-agent pitcher has received a deal for more than three years this offseason, Darvish and Arrieta are believed to be looking for five-year or six-year deals worth $20 million-plus annually. The Cubs aren’t afraid to pay top dollar for starting pitching, as evidenced when they made a statement toward contending with the signing of left-hander Jon Lester to a six-year, $155-million deal in December 2014.

Lester and the rest of the Cubs’ rotation members are all under contract for at least three more seasons.

Darvish, 31, was 10-12 with a 3.86 ERA and 1.16 WHIP for the Rangers and Dodgers in 2017, when he was dealt to Los Angeles at the deadline. He had a 10.1 strikeout-per-nine-innings rate and a 2.8 walks-per-nine-innings rate. Darvish has a career 3.42 ERA.

Some concern remains from Darvish’s performance at the end of the season, as the Astros crushed him twice in the World Series.

Darvish had Tommy John surgery in 2014, then missed all of 2015. He made 17 starts in 2016 and 31 starts in 2017, when he was an All-Star.

Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.

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