By Bruce Levine–
MESA, Ariz. (670 The Score) — Right-hander Yu Darvish is now a part of the Cubs culture.
While the $126 million that he’s guaranteed over the course of six years was a crucial draw, the team, its people and chance to win a World Series were also essential to Darvish as he explored his free agency option. The deal — which includes salary escalators that could add another possible $24 million — keeps Darvish under team control through 2023. However, he does have the right to exercise an opt-out clause and become a free agent after the 2019 season.
“Yu was our No. 1 focus from the beginning,” Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said.
Darvish was humbled by his new surroundings upon being introduced Tuesday at the Cubs’ spring training complex. He initially met face to face with the Cubs back in December before agreeing to contract terms Saturday.
“I am honored to be a member of such a wonderful organization as the Chicago Cubs,” Darvish said through a translator. “Everyone with the Cubs stood out in our meeting. I fell in love with how sincere each person of the Cubs are.”
Darvish gives the Cubs a formidable rotation that can match any foe in the league. Perhaps the Cubs don’t have the sexiest one-two punch — the Nationals probably hold that title with Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg — but their back-end talent and depth appears to be as good as anyone’s.
Darvish had a serious affection for the Dodgers, who acquired him just before the trade deadline in July, before he inked his deal, but the financial situation wasn’t right for Los Angeles. With a desire to stay under the $197-million luxury tax, the Dodgers would’ve had to clear other salary, which could’ve proved difficult and certainly hurt their roster depth. Darvish did have at least two other offers of $100-million plus on the table, sources said.
Darvish showed a fine sense of humor as he answered questions via his translator Tuesday. He was asked about being reunited with catcher Chris Gimenez, a friend and former teammate in Texas, and responded by saying he prefers to have Willson Contreras catching him. It brought a roar of laughter in a media room.
There was mystery surrounding Darvish and the slow-moving free-agent market this winter. Epstein cleared some of that up when he emphasized that Darvish, 31, was the primary target from the start.
Darvish will replace Jake Arrieta in the rotation after Arrieta’s sensational run of 4 1/2 seasons with the Cubs. Arrieta was never close to re-signing with the Cubs this offseason, sources confirmed.
Darvish wasn’t close to signing with the Cubs at the start of the offseason, but the picture became clearer as time went on.
“He was on top of our wish list,” Epstein said of Darvish. “Early in the process, it did not seem very realistic. We had to add some quality and depth to our staff. We did that. Jake for his part changed the culture around here. We are all huge fans of his. We wish him and his family well. Whatever team lands him in free agency will be getting a great pitcher. We are very aware what he has done for us. Today is Yu Darvish’s day, and we welcome him to the organization, but we feel it is appropriate to tip our hat to Jake and wish him well.”
Darvish’s goal is to win a World Series as a Cub and improve his own performance. He had a 3.86 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and struck out 10.1 batters per nine innings, but Darvish had two bad starts in the World Series that cost the Dodgers greatly, including in Game 7. Working on his curveball and changeup is part of his focus.
As for the pressure that comes with signing a mega-deal? Darvish is ready to handle it.
“Obviously, when signing a contract, everyone feels some level of pressure,” Darvish said. “I try to take it in a positive way and motivate myself with the pressure.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.