Hi all! I talked to ESPN's Buster Olney on Friday afternoon about what he thinks is going on with Yu Darvish, what it would take for the Cubs to land Manny Machado, and why the Cubs are still one of the best two teams in the National League.
Tonight is ESPN's "Sunday in the Seats" broadcast, which will be on ESPN2 because of Game 7 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals. Alex Rodriguez, Jessica Mendoza, and Matt Vasgersian are calling the game and singing the 7th inning stretch, and Olney will be providing on-field reports.
Here's my conversation with Olney:
What is your take on how Yu Darvish has looked in a Cubs uniform so far?
He’s a work in progress, no doubt about it. I do think you see this commonly with guys who are free agents, that they can sometimes put pressure on themselves, and I think that’s probably something that he’s doing with his performance. You see starts where 2 or 3 innings at a time he’s looked great, like he’s on a roll, he looks very comfortable, and then you have situations pop up where, like that game against the Braves where he had a ball called against him, and it completely threw him off. One thing about Darvish, is you always heard from guys who played with him in the past that he really cares about how he is perceived by teammates. There are a lot of people like that, and I actually find it to be an endearing trait, but as he’s trying to prove himself to teammates, that’s going to be hard.
I’ve seen it described as if he’s pitching like he’s trying not to disappoint anyone. Does that match up with how you would describe it?
One hundred percent. Think about the time in Texas, and I heard this from some of his teammates there. He was there for years and had success, and then the last game that he pitched pitched for them, he absolutely got hammered. He certainly was well aware of the fact that there were a lot of scouts in the stands and a lot of people watching him, and after the first inning -- he gave up ten runs in an inning and a third -- and after that first inning he went in behind the dugout and got sick. I’ve never asked him about that, but I know the perception of his teammates was he just felt terrible about letting people down.
I’ve covered a lot of players who do that, but I think that when you have a guy that signs for that kind of money, he wants to live up to the deal. He cares about living up to the deal, and I think that’s probably part of what’s going on.
How much might it help him to have guys like Jon Lester and Jason Heyward in the clubhouse who have experienced something similar?
I think that’s a personal battle. I feel like that’s something that he has to sort out, and he can talk to other people about it, but I think when you have his type of personality where you really care about how you’re perceived, when you have that type of personality, you really have to work through that.
I’ll give you an example, when he was going through his free agency process, he wanted to make it clear to everyone that his English had advanced to the point where he could converse in that language with everybody without a problem. He actually did a lot of his face-to-face meetings with teams without an interpreter. When he was coming off of his Tommy John surgery, he told the Rangers, “I’m going to work like crazy on my English.”
When I covered Roger Clemens, he was also someone who put a lot of pressure on himself. Tino Martinez put a ton of pressure on himself, Jorge Posada was someone who put a lot of pressure on himself. On the other hand, it felt like players like Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera woke up on a given day, and they knew they were going to be fine. Kris Bryant is probably like that too, where on the other hand you have guys who fret about living up to expectations.
Based on your experience in covering some of those other guys, what does it look like for someone like Darvish to push through that and perform like he’s capable of?
He just has to get on a roll. He’s a great athlete with unbelievable stuff, and he just needs to get on a roll. I think [Giancarlo] Stanton went through a similar thing this year with the Yankees, where he’s getting booed in Yankee Stadium. He really struggled, and I have to be honest, I would have been more surprised if he had gotten out of the gate on a quick roll because I do think there’s a human element with the amount of money we’re talking about. It feels like for some players, and I bet Jason Heyward went through this as well, you feel like each at-bat you have to justify the contract.
Almost as if all of those dollars are riding on each appearance.
Exactly. That’s a hard way to live your life, and I’ve seen it so many times in the past with other guys. We’ve also seen guys who didn’t care, “That’s fine, I’ve got my money, I’m all set.” And that’s what I mean, I actually find it to be an endearing trait in some players.
To shift gears a little and talk about the team more generally, the NL Central seems to be shifting a bit, where the Brewers look better, but should Cubs fans be concerned at this point about where they sit in the standings?
I don’t think they should be concerned. I absolutely put more stock in run differential than I do wins and losses, especially early in the year. That, to me, is a truer barometer of the strengths and weaknesses of teams.
The Cubs have what looks to be an absolutely dominant bullpen that could have success in October. Look at the parts of the lineup, now that [Willson] Contreras is getting going, and you saw last year in July when they put him in the cleanup spot, how good he can be. You would assume there of that from him, and that [Anthony] Rizzo will continue to get going. I really don’t think scoring runs is going to be the issue. I do think it probably comes down to their rotation just to get settled. I can’t tell you that watching Tyler Chatwood the other day struggle so badly with his fastball command that you necessarily know for sure that he’s going to work through that.
As long as the rotation is serviceable, I still think they’re the class of the division. The Brewers are interesting because of their bullpen, but they don’t have as much depth as the Cubs do, especially in the lineup.
The rumor mill is swirling about Manny Machado in particular. Is that a deal the Cubs should be pursuing?
It’s funny, I go back and forth on this because we did a podcast a couple weeks ago, and I said of all the teams the Cubs would land him, but then I thought more about it and had more conversations with people and found out that the Cardinals were actually closest to executing a deal, which really makes sense. This was back in December; they were down the road with a deal that would have involved Jedd Gyorko and pitching prospects. The Orioles are just starving for pitching prospects, and that’s not the Cubs’ strength. They don’t necessarily match up well with the Orioles in that regard, and on the other hand, the Cardinals are loaded. When you look at the young pitching that they have, I am going to be curious to see if over the course of the summer they step out and say that they think the division is winnable and that Machado is a difference maker. But clearly during the wintertime, they backed off.
I feel like if the Cubs make a deal for Machado, it has to fall in their lap in the last 72 hours before the deadline. The best comp I can give you for that is the Rangers and their deal with the Dodgers and Darvish, where for weeks the Rangers had told teams it was a high asking price for Darvish. And team after team said no. Then in the last 24 hours or so, the Rangers had an asset that they might not have been able to move, so they wound up taking what was perceived to be about 60 cents on the dollar in that deal with the Dodgers. I think that if the Cubs are going to get Machado, that’s what has to happen.
Kind of wait out the market and hope it works in the Cubs’ favor.
Right. And it’s kind of like if you play Texas Hold ‘Em, there’s the hands where somebody draws a pair of aces and takes down the pot right away or doubles down early. But if you go to the fifth card, if you go to the river, and you play it out long enough, it might go your way. I feel like that’s the scenario in which the Cubs would be able to get Machado.
Who are the power teams in the National League right now?
It’s interesting, I don’t think there are power teams in the National League, where in the American League you have the Yankees, Red Sox, and Astros. They’re like the Ali, Frazier, Foreman of baseball. And then there’s a gap because those are three great teams. When I think of all the National League teams as they’re currently comprised, including injuries, the Cubs and Nationals still have the greatest potential. I love watching the Braves, they’re a fascinating team to watch, but you just wonder how long the pitching will hold up. I still don’t know about the Dodgers because you don’t really know about [Clayton] Kershaw yet. But the Cubs and Nationals are the two teams who could theoretically separate themselves because of the depth.
And I'll be at tonight's game as well, for Sporting News. If you're coming, give me a shout on Twitter because I'd love to grab a beer after!