Epstein Not Counting on Darvish, Says Big Pitching Move Still Unlikely

If things continue along their current trajectory, the Cubs could see Drew Smyly in the rotation for the first time before they welcome Yu Darvish back. The former threw a sim game at Wrigley prior to Sunday’s game while the latter played 135-foot long toss and is expected to get back on a mound at some point in the coming week.

Putting much faith in either at this point, however, would be foolish and could prove detrimental to the Cubs’ playoff chances. Sure, one or both come come back and have real impact on the rotation and/or bullpen, but actually banking on that is a luxury the Cubs can’t afford.

“If you put yourself in a position where you’re overly reliant on something that hasn’t been dependable up to this point and then it doesn’t come through, it’s probably more on you than on the fates,” Theo Epstein said Sunday about Darvish in particular.

But don’t take that to mean the Cubs are looking to make any big splashes at the deadline. At least a small portion of their reasoning is no doubt based on the idea that they could have one or two more starters healthy and contributing by mid-August, but much more of it is simple pragmatism.

Someone like JA Happ might not improve their rotation enough to be worth the trade cost and a whale like Jacob deGrom would require the kind of haul that would deplete both the active roster and the farm system. Rather than go big, it sounds like the Cubs are comfortable with sitting back and making a few smaller moves.

“We’re open pursuing a lot of different things,” Epstein told The Athletic’s Sahadev Sharma. “But I think in terms of what’s realistic for us, we have to be more targeted, more selective, and a little more opportunistic. And that’s fine. Sometimes those end up being the best deals.

“The Chavez deal being an example of that. I think that’s emblematic of what we’re trying to do while participating in everything else and knowing that most of the stuff we’ve talked about won’t get done.”

Note that Epstein isn’t saying unequivocally that they won’t go all-in, just that their current situation doesn’t really lend itself to doing so. More than just setting expectations, though, Epstein may also be posturing a little bit in an effort to offset some of the leverage the Cubs have lost in light of health issues with Darvish and Brandon Morrow.

Even so, I tend to take him at his word, at least as far as the rotation is concerned. The bullpen, however, could be a different matter. The Zach Britton whispers have grown to a full-throated conversation at this point and it’s entirely possible the Cubs make a move there if the Orioles’ asking price makes sense.

And who knows, maybe that season-altering blockbuster is out there after all.

“I don’t think it’s impossible,” Epstein said.

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