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Darvish signing gives Cubs edge in NL Central

Chicago's acquisition answers offseason moves by Brewers, Cards
MLB.com @RichardJustice

You did not think the Cubs were going to take the winter off, did you? Child, please. The Cubs were never going to let the Brewers and Cardinals have all the fun. Gotta watch the quiet ones.

Best of all, this thing isn't close to being over with. In fact, this may be where things really start to get good -- after the Cubs agreed to a six-year, $126-million contract with the best-available free-agent starter, Yu Darvish.

You did not think the Cubs were going to take the winter off, did you? Child, please. The Cubs were never going to let the Brewers and Cardinals have all the fun. Gotta watch the quiet ones.

Best of all, this thing isn't close to being over with. In fact, this may be where things really start to get good -- after the Cubs agreed to a six-year, $126-million contract with the best-available free-agent starter, Yu Darvish.

If you had questions about the Cubs' rotation in wake of Jake Arrieta's free agency, you shouldn't anymore. If you wondered whether the balance of power shifted in any dramatic way in the National League Central, it has not.

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Video: Rosenthal on Darvish reportedly signing with Cubs

The Cubs have positioned themselves to win a third straight division championship, regardless of how the Brewers and Cardinals respond. The Cubs' window of opportunity will not remain open forever. But as long as it is open, owner Tom Ricketts and president of baseball operations Theo Epstein intend to give their guys every chance to win another World Series championship. In the end, that's what this day signified.

Darvish leads the Majors with 11 strikeouts per nine innings in 131 starts since his 2012 debut with the Rangers. His 1.18 career WHIP is 20th overall.

He's the very definition of a power pitcher, standing 6-foot-5 and mixing in a 94-mph fastball with both a hard cutter and slider. That he's 31 years old and coming off of a pair of tough World Series appearances did not deter the Cubs.

Darvish will join Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana and Tyler Chatwood in a rotation that will be among baseball's best.

But the Brewers and Cardinals have had very nice offseasons and have -- or had -- made up some ground on the Cubbies. With Darvish heading to the Cubs, both clubs will be prompted to take a second and third look at their own options.

Video: How Darvish signing impacts teams needing starters

With the Brewers already trying to acquire at least one starting pitcher, their choices narrowed some on Saturday:

• Do they circle back to the Rays in trade discussions regarding Chris Archer or Jake Odorizzi?

• Do they ramp up efforts to sign Arrieta? Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn are also believed to be on their shopping list.

Milwaukee improved during the offseason, after acquiring outfielders Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain. But with ace Jimmy Nelson almost certainly beginning the season on the disabled list, the Brewers would like to deepen their rotation.

This isn't just about three NL Central teams, either. The Giants, D-backs, Rockies, Mets, etc., could all end up fighting for the same playoff berths.

The Twins, Phillies, Yankees, Dodgers, Orioles and probably one or two other teams would like to add starting pitching, as well, and the available inventory isn't deep enough to satisfy the demand.

Video: Will Darvish signing cause others to follow?

We've waited for three months for one move to open the door to others. But the market for starting pitchers was always separate. Arrieta will have an array of options. So, too, will Lynn and Cobb -- and perhaps Andrew Cashner and others.

Now, about the Cardinals.

President of baseball operations John Mozeliak added left fielder Marcell Ozuna to the middle of his order and Luke Gregerson to the back of his bullpen. He also attempted to trade for Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson and toyed with the idea of adding a closer -- namely, Greg Holland, the best unsigned arm.

However, the Cards' architect seems prepared to go to camp with his team just as it is. Jedd Gyorko did a solid job at third last season, and St. Louis has an assortment of power arms in the Minors who are projected to be available to upgrade the bullpen at some point.

Mozeliak is not known for reacting to what other teams do. But after finishing behind the Cubs in back-to-back seasons, the Cardinals are committed to writing another kind of ending.

That task became more difficult on Saturday. The Cardinals and Brewers are now on the clock.

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.

Chicago Cubs, Yu Darvish