The Chicago Cubs signed starting pitcher Yu Darvish to a six-year contract. The deal is worth 126-million dollars with incentives that could bring it up to a value of around 150-million.
Darvish adds to a rotation that already had a very high upside. Jon Lester, Jose Quintana and Kyle Hendricks all have ace potential, and Tyler Chatwood has been solid in his career away from Coors Field.
This complete starting rotation compliments a bullpen that the organization worked diligently to bolster, adding Steve Cishek, Brandon Morrow, and re-signing Brian Deunsing.
With a pitching staff this deep, the biggest question for manager Joe Maddon now becomes: how should he shape it?
The Starting Rotation
Currently, the Cubs have four pitchers that could, feasibly, start on opening day. Lester started opening day last year, Hendricks started game one of the NLDS against the Washington Nationals, Quintana started game one of the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Darvish has the upside to be as good as any of them.
Putting those four in order in a rotation is not an indicator of who is the best pitcher. For many teams it would be, but with this kind of depth, planning out the rotation has to be more strategic.
There are two left handers in the projected rotation: Lester and Quintana. How about we break those two up, so that it is a virtual guarantee that a lefty pitches in every series. The only way to do this is to have one of them start game one, and the other start game four. For this reason, Jon Lester should enter the season as the Cubs “ace.”
With this philosophy, Hendricks and Darvish will slot in as the second and third starters, seeing as Chatwood is a virtual guarantee to be the fifth starter. Deciding who should be the second starter does not matter too much. Since Darvish is getting paid like a number two or an ace, we will slot him in there.
Projected rotation: Lester, Darvish, Hendricks, Quintana, Chatwood
The Cubs bullpen is a bit tricky. Currently, they do not have a defined closer. The general belief is that Morrow will fill that vacancy, given his dominance as the Dodgers set-up man last year.
Without a true “lock down” closer, why not consider a closer by committee? There are two pitchers on the roster with legitimate closing experience: Cishek and Justin Wilson, so why not give them a chance to be in that spot? Cishek has historically been better in a set-up role, and Wilson’s struggles last year after coming to Chicago may make Maddon weary about trusting him in that role long-term. But they, along with Carl Edwards Jr. and Pedro Strop, are no less qualified for that position than Morrow.
A defined closer’s role can protect players from over use, as Wade Davis only threw 58 innings last year. However, it can also limit flexibility for a manager. Pitchers should be able to pitch when the managers need them to, not when it is “their inning.” Morrow may be the best option in that bullpen, but that does not mean he should be locked in as “the ninth inning guy.” This bullpen depth allows for flexibility, so if Maddon needs to use Morrow earlier in the game in a pinch, he still has plenty of options to close the game later.
Projected bullpen: “The set-up core” Morrow, Cishek, Edwards, Wilson, Strop.
Middle relief: Deunsing, Mike Montgomery, Justin Grimm