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December meeting between the Cubs and Yu Darvish led to a February signing

Newly signed Cubs pitcher Yu Darvish practices after a press conference at Sloan Park during Cubs spring training Tuesday Feb. 13, 2018, in Mesa, Ariz. (Armando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images)

MESA, Ariz.  – Funny how the most exciting thing so far during Spring Training at Sloan Park – and may very well remain that way when the team leaves at the end of March – was a walk.

From a SUV to the sidewalk, into the ballpark, and then into a mid-sized interview room, it was a moment that most of the Cubs could only have hoped for in a slow winter of free agency. The volume of cameras and reporters was a testament to this.

Indeed it was Yu Darvish that stepped behind the table with a beaming Theo Epstein on Tuesday morning in Mesa. He’s one of the top players in the 2018 MLB Free Agent market and the starting pitcher chose the Cubs. It came at a mighty price – six-years with a chance to make up to $150 million dollars – but the two-time NL Central winners and World Series Champion once removed had their guy for the rotation.

“He was our primary target, and we think this is a great day for the Cubs organization to welcome a pitcher of this caliber,” said Epstein of the signing of Darvish. “He’s probably the preeminent strikeout pitcher of our generation.”

Now he’s with the Cubs. Darvish arrives in Chicago after a split 2017 season between the Rangers and the Dodgers, whom he helped to their first National League Pennant since 1988. That included beating the Cubs in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series with a 6 1/3 inning gem where he allowed just one run and struck out seven.

The World Series didn’t go so well as the Astros got to Darvish for earned runs in Game 3 and Game 7, as Los Angeles lost the Fall Classic to Houston but that’s the past.

While that came up on Tuesday, it wasn’t the event from 2017 that took center stage.

This event took place on December 18th when Epstein and General Manager Jed Hoyer met with Darvish in a meeting set up by agent Joel Wolfe. It was there that the Cubs got an impression of the pitcher beyond what they’ve seen from the field, and Darvish the same about the Club.

“I found it to be a really productive meeting. We like to meet in person, just to understand where a player is coming from, what motivates him, where he is in his development off the field as well as on the field, what they’re looking for out of a destination,” said Epstein of the December meeting with Darvish. “All of us were really impressed and really comfortable. He did the entire meeting with us in English, without a translator. He had put a lot of thought into things that had gone right in his career and things that he wanted to continue to improve and what his goals were for the rest of his career.

“We were able to engage and have a pretty in-depth baseball conversation about ways he could maximize his deep arsenal of pitches and fit in with our approach of trying to get guys out.”

From that moment on, the Cubs were in Darvish’s mind as a top candidate among the half-dozen teams trying to get his services for 2018 and beyond.

“They definitely talked about my strength and what I could do once I joined the: Cubs. Everything from the beginning to the end I really enjoyed,” said Darvish of the meeting.

Interest continued from January through the beginning part of February, before a deal was finally struck on Saturday. It allowed for Darvish to be with the team on Day 1 of pitchers and catchers workouts for the Cubs, fully understanding the franchise’s excitement to have him there.

“Theo was in touch with Joel all the time. From the beginning to the end, I really felt that they really wanted me, and I felt that through their communication and how often they’ve been in touch,” said Darvish.

That’s why he was walking into Sloan Park on Tuesday for his meeting with the media and his team. Interest and trust created in the winter got the Cubs their prized pitcher at the dawn of Spring.

“Without that meeting, we probably don’t end up here with Yu joining the Cubs,” said Epstein. “So I was glad to have it.”