So the Cubs really did it. And unless he pulls a Josh McDaniels by leaving the Cubs jilted at the altar, Yu Darvish makes his new team a legit World Series contender. Not that they weren’t already, mind you, but adding a pitcher of this caliber helps the concrete to set up a little quicker.
It’s easy to see how adding an accomplished starter to the rotation makes the Cubs better, but the real key is how it strengthens the rest of the roster. Darvish creates ripples that serve to spread the team’s talent more equitably, putting players in better position to maximize their value.
The most obvious side effect of the signing is that Mike Montgomery moves to the bullpen, probably for good. He’ll surely get some spot-start duties from time to time, but all five primary starters being locked up for at least three years means Monty is a reliever. While that runs counter to his publicly stated desire to start, fans probably don’t need to worry about having a malcontent on their hands.
As much as he’d like to be on the mound as a starter, the lanky lefty understands that pitching in any capacity for a winner is more important. A relief role suits him better anyway, as limiting the length of his outings allows him to leverage his superior stuff without worrying about turning over an opposing lineup.
Assuming they break with 13 pitchers, Montgomery moving to the pen also means the Cubs have only one spot up for grabs. At least I think that’s right, since I’m typing this from my phone and can’t count with my fingers. Let’s see…Brandon Morrow, Steve Cishek, Justin Wilson, Carl Edwards Jr., Pedro Strop, Brian Duensing, and Monty. Damn, that’s a nice crew. As such, there is going to be some serious competition for that last spot.
Fresh off his first-of-its-kind arbitration hearing, Justin Grimm is the clubhouse leader to break north as the 25th man, but it’s far from a sure thing. Like a golf scorecard, I would be wary of writing his name down in anything other than pencil. And I’d still do so really lightly.
Grimm is coming off of a really disappointing season and needs to clearly win that last spot. Even though he doesn’t figure to play a super integral role, the Cubs aren’t going to go with seniority over merit. They’ve got a great deal of faith in Dillon Maples, who could eventually succeed Morrow as closer. Or they could look at Eddie Butler and Alex Mills as more low-leverage options to counter the flamethrowers in the late innings.
But the real issue here is that Grimm has run out of minor league options. So much of his value had been wrapped up in the flexibility he provided, since the Cubs could shuffle him back and forth to iron out his issues and/or free up a roster spot. The inability to flex him could signal the end of Grimm’s tenure with the Cubs, whether it’s when they break camp or once the roster needs to be shuffled.
From there we turn to the other half of the collective battery, where Chris Gimenez now has clear leg up on the backup catcher role. More than just a recruiter of Darvish, the well-traveled backstop brings a wealth of knowledge and a veteran presence to the clubhouse. Then you factor in his experience with both Joe Maddon and new pitching coach Jim Hickey from his days in Tampa.
While his contributions promise to be more intrinsic in nature, Gimenez should be an important member of the team nonetheless. Whether it’s helping Darvish to acclimate to his new surroundings or acting as something of a lieutenant for Hickey, Gimenez adds depth that goes well beyond his role in cementing the big acquisition.
Which means, barring a (highly unlikely) decision to carry three catchers, Victor Caratini will open the season at AAA Iowa. It could also mean that Caratini has become expendable as a trade chip, something I’ve thought for a while was the case anyway. There’s a great deal of value in a switch-hitting catcher still at the start of the rookie wage scale, but the Cubs can really only extract that value in a trade.
Willson Contreras being the everyday catcher mitigates the statistical impact of any backup, so even huge potential from Caratini is blunted by his limited incremental usage. What’s more, the Cubs have Ian Rice coming up through the system and aren’t necessarily hurting for catching prospects in general.
Signing Darvish not only bolsters the Cubs’ rotation, it further solidifies the bullpen and even creates more flexibility when it comes to making trades. It also grants the Cubs a little more leverage, since they’re now dealing from a position of strength in future transactions.
There’s no such thing as a perfect signing, but adding Yu Darvish checks hella boxes for the Cubs and helps them keep the window open a little longer.