After a four-day-long silent auction was held, it was eventually determined that the Texas Rangers would have the right to negotiate a contract with the young Japanese prodigy Yu Darvish. At 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, the right-handed pitcher appears to have it all—size, strength, a solid fastball, an above-average cutter, a decent slider and a slow curveball.
Through the posting system, teams that were interested in the flamethrower submitted how much they were willing to bid in order to discuss a contract with Darvish. The Rangers were victorious, as Yu’s current team, the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, accepted the mind-blowing bid of $51.7 million! As of press time, Texas has not yet struck a deal with Yu and will now have roughly 20 more days to try and reach an agreement on a contract with the precocious 25-year-old or else he will be obligated to stay put in Japan.
Darvish has all the potential in the world to be a front tier starter for years to come. In his professional career in Japan, he currently boasts a 93-38 record to go along with a microscopic ERA of 1.99. He strikes out roughly a batter per inning, lands in a great fielding position after each release (he’s won the Mitsui Golden Glove Award twice), and has hurled 18 shutouts in his young career. But the real test for the young hurler will come in 2012 if the Rangers do, in fact, sign him to a contract.
One of the only things that work against Yu’s favor is that MLB’s past experiences with Japanese pitchers is not on his side. Over the length of MLB’s existence, arguably the best pitcher to come from Japan has been Hideo Nomo. While Nomo claimed the title of the 1995 NL Rookie Of The Year award, in addition to throwing two no-hitters, he finished up with a career record of 123-109 and maintained a modest ERA of 4.24. Those are somewhat decent numbers, but nothing that is going to blow you away.
Yu is garnering striking comparisons to another Japanese native, Daisuke Matsuzaka. The man known as “Dice-K” set the world on fire when he came to America for the start of the 2007 season led by his mystifying Gyroball—which eventually turned out to be just a myth. The Boston Red Sox bid $51.1 million for the right to negotiate a contract with Dice-K (just $600,000 less than Texas bid on Darvish), before signing him to a six-year, $52 million deal. Matsuzaka was stellar his sophomore year as he went 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA, placing him fourth in the Cy Young voting for the American League, but he has never been the same since, as he’s gone 16-15 the past three seasons and his future looks bleak now that he’s become hampered with various injuries.
You can also look at other Japanese pitchers who went through the same posting process as Yu did and never panned out. Kaz Ishii, who came up with the Dodgers before going over to the Mets for a season, received a bid of $11.2 million before signing a $12.3 million contract. He won only five more games than he lost throughout his career and only pitched four years in the majors. There is also Kei Igawa, the ex-New York Yankee who just became a free agent this year. The Yankees posted a $26 million bid for Igawa back in 2006 with another $20 million on top of that only to have him toss a total of 71 innings in five disappointing seasons.
Winners of the last two American League pennants, Texas really had to make a move since their division rivals have made some big splashes this offseason. The Angels, of course, landed both Albert Pujols and the now former Rangers ace, C.J. Wilson, while the Mariners are looking to sign Prince Fielder to complement their young, exciting starters, Felix Hernandez and Michael Pineda. The shocking thing is that apparently no other team was “within country miles” of the bid that Texas placed.
Yu Darvish is a young talent that rarely comes around when you take a look at what he has accomplished thus far. The two-time MVP has numbers that will make your head spin if you dissect them. But Darvish is currently dealing with some complex financial issues now that he’s in the midst of a divorce. It’s a complicated issue and there have been reports that he’s looking for a five-year deal in the neighborhood of $75 million.
In the end, after bringing into consideration the bid that Texas had to put in and what his contract is rumored to be, a five-year investment worth around $125 million for someone that has never pitched in America is an extremely risky gamble. However, the Rangers are looking for some strong arms to go along with that grand lineup of theirs and if Yu can pitch at an all-star level, it will be a good signing for Nolan Ryan’s ballclub. Let’s hope that history doesn’t repeat itself here and Yu Darvish will be an exciting player to watch for years to come.