(670 The Score) Right-hander Yu Darvish stood out to Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein as the top pitcher available in free agency as soon as the offseason began, but he wasn’t expecting the market would trend the way it did.
Epstein was prepared for the price on Darvish to go high and the Cubs to seek other options. Instead, some high-profile free agents remain available in a complicated, slow-moving market as spring training opens.
When the price dipped a bit for Darvish, the Cubs pounced and landed him on a six-year, $126-million deal. The Cubs benefited from several big-market teams — like the Yankees and Dodgers — largely sitting out the free-agent market this offseason as the prepare for a 2018-’19 offseason that’s loaded with talent.
As for the Cubs, will their decision to sign Darvish hinder their ability to land a free agent in 2018-’19?
“That remains to be seen,” Epstein said on the Mully & Hanley Show on Wednesday. “Any time you sign multi-year contracts, you’re taking away a little bit of flexibility for the future in exchange for talent now and for the future. That’s not just the case with Darvish but with the other investments we made. You’re sort of pecking away at your 2019 payroll as well when you sign a (Tyler) Chatwood or a (Steve) Cishek or a (Brandon) Morrow. But you have those players.”
The Cubs solidified their rotation this offseason by signing Darvish and adding Chatwood on a three-year, $38-million deal, adding them to a group that includes Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana. With that, the Cubs have their rotation under club control through 2020, though Darvish holds an opt-out clause after the 2019 season.
As the Cubs largely built their position player core through the draft, three of their five starters — Lester, Chatwood and Darvish — were signed through free agency while Quintana was added in a trade last July.
The Cubs have their position player core under contract control for several years, but they’ll keep a close eye on the open market next offseason, when the likes of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado will be free agents.
Even with the addition of Darvish, the Cubs are safely under the $197-million luxury tax threshold this season. That was an important focus because it will lessen their tax burden if they cross that threshold in future seasons with more big-money signings.
“If you look at our needs, knock on wood if we can stay healthy and productive for the most part through our roster, everybody’s back and for the next few years,” Epstein said. “We shouldn’t have tremendous needs.
“But we have some work to do to make sure we’re in position to be able to pounce if a certain great fit or just the right special player happens to become available or somebody wants to be in Chicago and something becomes too good to turn down, too impactful or too good to deal would mean too much to the team, we just have to work hard to get in position to do that. Rosters are flexible, payrolls are flexible.
“We would never put ourselves in a position to be completely inflexible going forward, but when you commit $126 million to someone, that does take away a little bit from future flexibility.”