January 24, 2014
The BP Wayback Machine
Who Yu Gonna Call?
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After the Rangers won the posting rights to Yu Darvish, Kevin Goldstein asked industry insiders to compare Darvish to five other starters in the piece reprinted below, which was originally published as a "Future Shock" column on December 21, 2011.
We now know that the Texas Rangers have won the exclusive rights to negotiate with Yu Darvish, who is generally considered to be the best Japanese player to be posted. The bid and expected contract for Darvish combined will exceed nine figures, but will he be worth it? To find out, I polled a number of scouts and big-league executives, many with international experience and in-person looks at Darvish. Instead of pure comparisons to others pitchers, I asked the insiders to place Darvish on a scale against a series of five right-handers, varying from good to great. Opinions varied wildly, but were overall quite positive.
The unknown also played a significant role in the decision-making process for many. “I just think the change of scenery is so huge,” explained a National League international scout. “It's a gamble. If I was Texas, I would have re-signed C.J. Wilson over Darvish. Everyone is different, and it's hard to know how players will react to being in a new environment.”
An American League scout agreed. “On a stuff level, Darvish is way better,” he explained, “but you need a pretty big sack to say he's going to outperform Kennedy.”
Another American League scouting official insisted that it's what Darvish can do with the stuff that gives him the edge. “A lot of pitchers can get strikeouts outside of the zone,” he explained. “When you can challenge hitters inside the zone and get swings and misses, that's what makes a frontline starter, and Darvish can do that.”
Garza's placement on the spectrum also created some questions; two among those polled took Darvish over Garza, yet preferred Kennedy over both. “I think you're going in the wrong direction,” said an American League assistant general manager.
An American League executive saw some similarities off the field as well. “They're both weird makeup guys,” he said. “Lots of ego stuff, lots of style points. That could be to his advantage or disadvantage over here depending on how you look at it.”
Even many of those polled who saw Verlander as a no-brainer admitted that Darvish’s potential for number-one performances. “While he's no Verlander, optimistically, you want to see him as a top of the rotation guy,” said an American League executive. “Realistically, we need to see how the uber-stuff and uber-athleticism plays out here.”
For most insiders polled, the choke point for just how good Yu Darvish would be occurred somewhere between Matt Garza and Zack Greinke, although a majority still preferred the Japanese import. It's important to note that even the reservations about Darvish had little to do with his talent, and everything to do with the adjustments he'll need to make, from working on shorter rest than he has in Japan, to dealing with far more dangerous hitters, to a new strike zone. Still, reports from professional evaluators and the posting price tell you Darvish was the best pitcher available this winter. While he was priced beyond many teams’ reach, the industry generally believes the righty will be worth the heavy price tag.
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .