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MESA, Ariz. — A year ago at this time, the thought of right-hander Yu Darvish pitching for the Chicago Cubs — as he will for the first time in spring training on Thursday — was a pipe dream.

It was shortly after the Cubs won the World Series in 2016 that Darvish and his agents added the Cubs, as well as their World Series opponent, the Cleveland Indians, to the list of teams the pitcher didn’t want to be traded to. But the decision wasn’t a slight to the Cubs: Darvish simply didn’t want to be dealt away from the Texas Rangers, and he thought Chicago and Cleveland were two franchises likely to try to make a move for him.

It was his free-agent-audition year in 2017, and he figured he would play one more season for the Rangers and then entertain offers. When the Los Angeles Dodgers provided a chance at a World Series ring just before the trade deadline, Darvish changed his mind and became open to a trade. Going to Los Angeles didn’t change his stance on free agency, though, so he listened when the Cubs came calling.

“It was the very first team I had a meeting with,” Darvish said through his interpreter at Cubs camp. “They were very serious about acquiring me. My agents told me how great the team is and how the fans are first-class. Just the whole environment is first-class.”

The Cubs’ pursuit of Darvish picked up after the winter meetings, as the front office realized an opportunity was at hand. With teams such as the Dodgers and New York Yankees slashing payroll instead of adding it, the Cubs thought they could get Darvish at a lower price than they’d previously envisioned. A face-to-face meeting in Dallas proved to be the key moment between the sides.

“As far as I can tell, he went into this process with a really open-minded, intelligent approach,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said this week. “He wanted to get to know people and learn as much as possible.”

Coincidentally, the Cubs weren’t far removed from selling their team to another Japanese pitcher, Shohei Ohtani, who ultimately chose the Los Angeles Angels. But the negotiations with Darvish had a different feel than the Ohtani pitch.

“Largely baseball-centric,” Epstein said in describing the pitch to Darvish. “We wanted to show him how we get our pitchers ready and how we put them in a position to succeed and our track record of doing that and the approach we would take with him. Another focus was just the culture here and how we make the players the most important people in the organization.”

When things were going well in the meeting, Epstein lightened the mood by pulling out the 150-page brochure the team put together for the Ohtani meeting. As a joke, Epstein put masking tape over Ohtani’s name on the cover and wrote “Darvish.” The gag went over well, with Darvish getting to read about the organization from the same pages Ohtani did.

Darvish got back at Epstein for the gag a little this week with his deadpan answer to the question of why the Cubs were on his no-trade list last season.

“Because I never really liked Theo Epstein,” Darvish joked with a straight face.

Even though the reality was that the no-trade-list decision was a player-agent chess move, that comment is a good indication of a sense of humor that those close to Darvish describe as sarcastic and dry.

Communication between both sides helped make the pitcher feel comfortable enough to join the Cubs without visiting Chicago before signing.

“Only during the season I’ve been there,” Darvish said. “I didn’t need to go in the offseason. I have an idea what Chicago is like. They were really frequent with communicating. There were no gaps or anything. They were very approachable.”

The back-and-forth included emails directly from Cubs brass to Darvish, who stayed involved to the very end.

Once the Cubs were able to add a sixth year to spread out the annual salary, the sides came to an agreement, and the once-impossible thought of “Darvish” on the back of a Cubs jersey became a reality.

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The MLB teams with the most serious work still to do this offseason

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I write this with great respect for my many friends who are Mets fans: It might be redundant to say they are irrational. It wasn’t surprising, then, that within a few weeks of Steve Cohen being installed as the team’s new owner, some among the Mets’ faithful — their suffering made possible by years of watching the team seemingly aim to finish second in bidding wars — began griping about the lack of a big, bold move.

Never mind that the start of spring training is still many weeks away. Never mind that this winter market was painfully slow to begin with. Never mind that the Mets had already distinguished themselves from the inactivity of other teams by executing two relatively aggressive moves, signing catcher James McCann to a four-year, $40.6 million contract and reliever Trevor May to a two-year, $15.5 million deal.

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Former Oakland Athletics pitcher Dave Stewart bids $115 million on share of Oakland Coliseum

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Former Oakland Athletics pitcher Dave Stewart submitted a $115 million bid to buy the city of Oakland’s share of the Coliseum with plans to develop the site, he told the San Francisco Chronicle.

With both the NBA’s Warriors and NFL’s Raiders leaving the site in recent years, the A’s are the last pro team using the Coliseum. The team has undergone steps to build a new ballpark at Howard Terminal, about seven miles uptown.

The A’s currently own the other half of the Coliseum.

In a Tweet on Saturday night, Stewart, who grew up in the area, said doing “right by our community” is the driving force behind the bid. He told the Chronicle he has ideas of developing the area and potentially building a new stadium there if plans for the Howard Terminal ballpark fall through.

Stewart, 63, played parts of eight seasons in Oakland and helped the team win a World Series in 1989.



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Tri-City ValleyCats suing Major League Baseball, Houston Astros

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TROY, N.Y. — Left in the lurch by minor league contraction, the Tri-City ValleyCats have filed a lawsuit against Major League Baseball and the Houston Astros.

The suit, filed Thursday in New York State Supreme Court, seeks more than $15 million, ValleyCats chairman Doug Gladstone told the Albany Times-Union. The move comes in response to MLB’s decision to drop 42 minor league affiliates.

The ValleyCats played in the now-defunct New York-Penn League, operating as a short-season affiliate of the Astros for 18 seasons.

Gladstone told the Times-Union the loss of the affiliation greatly affected the value of the franchise, which was moved from Pittsfield, Massachusetts, to Troy in 2002 by Gladstone’s late father. It had previously been located in Little Falls, New York.

The ValleyCats won three New York-Penn League championships and drew more than 4,000 fans per game for 11 straight seasons, from 2008-18.

In their most recent season, Tri-City had the third-highest attendance in the 14-team league, averaging more than 3,869. The only two teams that were higher, Brooklyn and Hudson Valley, survived with moves to a new league.

The team is joining the independent Frontier League and will continue to play its home games at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium.

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