CHICAGO -- The Cubs surprised the baseball world a year ago when they signed Yu Darvish to a blockbuster free-agent contract. Following a season lost due to injury, both the team and its fans are still waiting for Darvish to show that he was worth the lucrative pact.
On Friday, Darvish arrived at Cubs Convention feeling healthy and strong in his recovery from a debridement procedure on his right elbow in September. The big righty is scheduled to throw long toss this weekend and plans to be back on a mound by late next week. Being ready for Opening Day is not a problem in Darvish's view.
"In Spring Training, I can do the same as every player," Darvish said. "I want to start Spring Training today."
As things stand, Darvish projects to be in a deep veteran rotation featuring Jonathan Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Cole Hamels and Jose Quintana. With Darvish healthy, the Cubs can slide Mike Montgomery to the bullpen and continue to sort out how Tyler Chatwood fits into the picture.
Darvish -- signed to a six-year, $126 million contract -- posted a 4.95 ERA in eight starts in his first season with the Cubs. He did not pitch again in the Majors after landing on the disabled list, but attempted Minor League rehab outings in both June and August. In an Aug. 18 game with Class A South Bend, Darvish experienced a stress reaction to the tip of his right elbow, along with a triceps strain.
Darvish said Friday that there are no lingering problems.
"I have more confidence than last year. I feel more strong than last year," Darvish said. "This year, I'm stronger than last Spring Training, so I hope I feel better than last year. If I'm healthy, I can do my job. I can bring something for the team. So, the focus is keep the health."
Epstein on Russell's contract
On Friday Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein addressed the $600,000 in performance bonuses included in the $3.4 million contract given to shortstop Addison Russell. There will be four potential payments of $100,000 each for 30 days, 60 days, 90 days and 120 days on the active roster, and a final bonus of $200,000 available if Russell reaches 150 active days.
Russell will be ineligible to play until May 3 while finishing out a 40-game suspension without pay for violating Major League Baseball's Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy. That means Russell's deal is actually worth a base salary of around $2.8 million, but Epstein insisted that the decision to build in the incentives was unrelated to the lost pay during the suspension.
<p:> "That contract, the roster bonuses, have nothing to do with his suspension whatsoever," Epstein said. "There was a really, really significant gap between where his representation saw him and where the arbitration system would've had him, especially considering that other players who had received similar suspensions were not affected at all in their arbitration system. There was a significant gap between where they were and what we were willing to pay him.
"To help bridge that gap, we used roster bonuses. It has nothing to do with restoring money that he would've lost during the suspension. He does not get paid, nor does he deserve to get paid, while he's serving the suspension, nor will he get paid if he's not with the organization. It's a non-guaranteed contract."
Epstein called this situation a "conditional second chance" for Russell, who is currently in MLB's treatment protocol and being closely monitored by the Cubs.
• The Cubs wanted to inject some veteran leadership into the locker room this winter and the team believes it took a step in that direction by signing utility man Daniel Descalso. Count Kristopher Bryant among the fans of the addition, which has been Chicago's biggest move on the position-player front this offseason. That is also fine by Bryant.
"I love Daniel as a signing. He's a great player. Reminds me of Jonathan Jay," Bryant said. "But, I like our team. We won a World Series with a lot of the people in this room and there's no reason that we couldn't do it again. Yeah, you kind of look at the Brewers and Cardinals and even the Reds, they're getting better. It's going to make the division a lot more competitive, but I like our chances, I really do."
• Cubs Convention will be filled with multiple speaker panels on Saturday. Manager Joe Maddon and the coaching staff will get things started at 9 a.m. CT, followed by Epstein with a baseball operations update at 10 a.m. Cubs players have panels at 11 a.m. (In the Batter's Box), noon (Toeing the Rubber), 2:30 p.m. (Cubs Talk) and 3:15 p.m. (Off the Field). There will be a business operations update at 1:15 p.m. and a Cubs in Cooperstown discussion at 3 p.m.