By Tim Baffoe–
(670 The Score) The Komodo dragon, the planet’s largest lizard, is a fascinating predator. Despite its size, it doesn’t usually rely on brute strength to deal with prey, which is often larger than the dragon itself. Instead, it patiently and strategically finds an opportunity to just barely bite its target. Then it waits.
Venom in Komodo dragons’ bites isn’t deadly itself but prevents coagulation, so even a minor nibble is fatal to the prey as it weakens from hours, even days of unstoppable bleeding. The predators will wait as long as it takes for the prey to succumb. Then they win.
The narrator in that video concludes: “Hunters: resourceful, imaginative, determined. They seem to hold all the aces.” And it’s a potential ace that the patient, resourceful and determined Komodo-like Chicago Cubs, the biggest lizard in the National League Central, now hold.
On Saturday, in the second week of February, they reached a six-year, $126-million deal with the best free-agent pitcher available, Yu Darvish. The Cubs won by waiting.
Besides any perceived issues of league-wide conspiracy to sabotage this free agency market, Cubs executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer played the waiting game to perfection and enter spring training this week with three of the top 23 starting pitchers in Steamer-projected WAR. The Cubs were the presumed favorite to win their division in 2018 before signing Darvish, but now they are favorite-er. This is a win.
The waiting seems to have driven down Darvish’s price as well, the deal being six years for $126 million. Sports Illustrated’s Jon Tayler wrote about it reflecting a more worrying trend for the players as a whole:
Darvish’s new deal feels even more off when you compare it to what other pitchers of his ilk got when they hit free agency. In terms of both overall and average annual value, he’s nowhere near David Price (seven years and $217 million from the Red Sox), Max Scherzer (seven years and $210 million with the Nationals) or Zack Greinke (six years and $206 million from the Diamondbacks). Instead, he slots in with starters a tier below: Jordan Zimmermann (five years and $110 million, or $22 million a year, from Detroit); Johnny Cueto (six years and $130 million, or $21.66 million per year, from San Francisco); and Barry Zito (seven years and $126 million, or $18 million a season, from San Francisco). Darvish won’t even make as much, either in total or per year, as the Cubs’ last major rotation addition: Jon Lester, who scored a six-year, $155 million contract from Chicago in 2015.
A month ago, Jay Jaffe figured that Darvish was, stats-wise, worth six years and $154 million and compared his estimate to FanRag’s Jon Heyman’s (six years at $144 million and a source of his guessing six years at $155 million), Fangraphs’ Dave Cameron’s (six years at $168 million) and MLB Trade Rumors’ (six years at $160 million). Besides unrealistic incentives that are reportedly in Darvish’s deal, the Cubs are paying well below all those educated guesses.
Not that any fan should care about what the Ricketts family has to spend on this roster (which is still under the $197 million luxury tax, if you care), but this appears to be a bargain for Yu friggin’ Darvish.
As Sahadev Sharma of The Athletic wrote, “That leaves them enough room to not make payroll an excuse from being aggressive at the deadline (if they have the pieces in their system to allow them to be active), nor does it stop them from adding a big name from next winter’s highly anticipated free-agent class.”
This is a win.
Sharma also wrote in December that the Cubs’ interest in Darvish was a bit unexpected but also back then a product of what became an even stranger and deader offseason. When the 2017 season ended, Darvish wasn’t really a consideration based on the latest in the Epstein-Hoyer regime’s plan of sustained success beyond a 2016 World Series title. But circumstance presented a different opportunity, and before the new year, the Cubs seemed to get just a tiny bite.
Then without team brass really doing anything besides sitting tight (and not caving into Alex Cobb’s price demands and also signing a Darvish favorite in backup catcher Chris Gimenez), the Cubs got free agency to exhaust itself. That’s a win.
Landing Darvish also means that the progressively better division mates, the Milwaukee Brewers, didn’t land him. Milwaukee offered him five years and $100 million-plus, Heyman reported. But Darvish apparently isn’t one for cheese curds.
This double whammy is a win.
And that’s even if the Brewers now sign former Cubs right-hander Jake Arrieta, who’s probably the best starter available with Darvish inked. For all his valuable past with the Cubs, Arrieta’s projections are glass-half-empty, and it would be quite ironic if his speculated devolution would occur on a team that the Cubs will be trying to fend off now and in years to come. That would be a win.
The Cubs’ rotation is now comprised of Lester, Jose Quintana, Darvish, Kyle Hendricks and Tyler Chatwood, all of whom are signed through at least 2020 and all but Chatwood who are known to possess ace stuff at any given time. Collectively, the rotation projects at almost a 16 fWAR for 2018, best in the National League. And while the Darvish signing reignites the Hot Stove and will focus most of our attentions for the moment on pitching, Fangraphs has the Cubs’ offense as the NL’s best in terms of WAR and the pitching and position players together trailing only the Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros.
Yes, these are only predictive mathematics, but 21st-century winning teams are built on nerd numbers even more complex. The computers see the Darvish signing as a win.
So the winter baseball boredom is over, and the Cubs have scored the biggest pitching prey on the market as they push to win another World Series. Simply by just scratching the surface a while back and then patiently hanging around their target until he tired of this offseason and gave in.
Darvish himself hasn’t won anything in blue pinstripes yet. But the Cubs successfully waiting him out is a win, and they now seem to “hold all the aces.”
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for 670TheScore.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not Entercom or our affiliated radio stations.