Cubs Viewed as Darvish Frontrunners, Decision May Hinge on Fifth Year

If it wasn’t for the rest of the non-Brewers offseason activity flowing like chilled molasses, it might almost feel as though Yu Darvish is just torturing everyone. Only two free agents have landed deals for more than $50 million and only one has gotten more than three years, so it only makes sense for the top pitcher on the market to dig in his heels and get the most he possibly can. And he’s not alone. Jake Arrieta and Alex Cobb seem to be doing much the same, as well they should.

The Cubs have been in on all three to varying degrees this winter, with Darvish emerging as their preferred target of late. At least five other teams have been named as possibilities for the Japanese pitcher, with the inevitable mystery team or two lurking at the periphery. But the Yankees and Dodgers would need to pull off some serious payroll gymnastics to stay under the cap and the Astros filled out their rotation by trading for Gerrit Cole.

With more than $30 million under the luxury tax threshold, a roster that’s a contender as it now stands, and a great atmosphere on pretty much all fronts, it figures that the Cubs would be frontrunners to land Darvish. That’s the sense coming from many around baseball, including rival executives, but it’s far from a sure thing.

Jon Heyman notes that Twins have made Darvish their No. 1 target and that they “were expected to make their play this week assuming they got a signal they’d have a chance.” All indications are that they’re still in it, though their reported $150 million limit could prove detrimental.

The Brewers were also mentioned in Heyman’s piece, though Ken Rosenthal noted recently that they aren’t likely to pursue Darvish or the other top pitchers after their twin acquisitions of Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain.

Then there’s this final paragraph from Heyman’s column, which I found a little strange:

It should also be noted that the Cubs’ signing of Chris Gimenez should not be taken to mean that it gives them a leg up in the Yu Darvish derby, sources say. The Cubs probably have a good chance to land Darvish, anyway, but signing a personal catcher isn’t going to do the trick.

While signing Darvish’s friend and favorite catcher isn’t going to entice the pitcher to sign with the Cubs for less money or fewer years, but it’s a definite value-add. If all other things were equal, having Gimenez in the fold could help tip the scales in the Cubs’ favor.

In fact, that’s likely what the veteran catcher has been trying to do ever since he signed with Chicago earlier in the week. Though he said he wasn’t actively recruiting Darvish, Gimenez told MLB Network Radio that the two had spoken “probably 10 or 12 times” over the previous five days about “whatever else I need to pass on, it’s my job to do that.”

Call me crazy, but that sure makes it sound like a sales pitch was involved at some point.

As convincing as Gimenez may be and as good as the friendship is, the decision is still going to come down to what Darvish feels is his best opportunity. That will be influenced by a number of different categories, one of which is the contract he’ll be offered. The Cubs have the ability to give him the AAV he wants, though it sounds like the length of the deal could be an issue.

We had heard a while back that they were unwilling to push beyond four years on Arrieta, so it figures the same was true of their offer to Darvish. Bruce Levine had mentioned as much a few weeks ago and he reiterated that thought during his Inside the Clubhouse show on 670 the Score Saturday morning, saying that a fifth year might  get it done.

No one really knows for sure and very little has been revealed when it comes to the terms being discussed, so it’s really anyone’s guess at this point. What we do know is that Jed Hoyer recently told The Score that the Cubs are maintaining “consistent dialogue” with multiple free agents and that they’re negotiating “on middle ground.”

It’s easy enough to read that and interpret it to mean that maybe the Cubs started at four years with Darvish at six, with that fifth year in the middle. Could $125 million get it done at that length, maybe with an opt-out after the second year? Perhaps front-loading it would aid the cause. If you’re so inclined, feel free to comment with what you’d offer or what you think the Cubs should/will.

Wherever he ends up, Darvish should be making a decision here soon. But wait, what will I write about after that?

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