December 20, 2011
Yu Got Questions? Yu Got Answers.
Announced as the top bidder for Nippon Ham Fighters RHP Yu Darvish. [12/19]
So, what happened last night?
The Texas Rangers were revealed as the highest bidders for Yu Darvish in the posting process, setting a new record with a figure of $51.7 million. It led to one hell of a fun night on Twitter, but much of that came because there was no leak. While that might be shocking in the age of the 24/7 media cycle, there was no room to leak. The Nippon Ham Fighters simply had a number to consider (they were going to accept anything—they're broke). They didn't know which team submitted the winning bid. Neither of the favored teams, the Rangers or the Toronto Blue Jays, knew if they submitted the winning bid. The only leak could have come from the MLB offices, and when there is only one potential leaker, things tend not to leak.
So what happens now?
The Rangers have 30 days to sign Darvish. Once Texas signs him, the posting fee, which is right around three times the team's annual payroll, will be transferred to Nippon Ham within four days. The posting fee is paid in full; there are no payment plans or contingencies allowed. If the Rangers do not sign Darvish during the 30-day window, they will pay no fee. That point is nearly irrelevant, as there is no reason to believe that Darvish will not sign.
What kind of pitcher will Darvish be in the big leagues?
The short answer is a really good one. While Darvish is, like most Japanese pitchers, a drop-and-drive type, his 6-foot-5 frame means his delivery doesn't have the same flattening effect on the fastball that it does with shorter pitchers. He throws both a two- and four-seam fastball that he commands exceedingly well with good life down in the zone. He normally sits in the low- to mid-90s, with the occasional 96-97 mph reading for giggles, but on shorter rest, he's expected to sit more in the 90-95 range. Some scouts see his cutter, which has late depth and is a weapon against both left- and right-handed batters due to his ability to command the pitch, as his best offering, but his 78-82 mph slider is also an easy 60 on the scouting scale. He throws an extremely slow (upper 50s) curveball and has occasionally mixed in a changeup or split-change in the past. Everything plays up due to his ability to locate all of his pitches, and to both add and subtract velocity and movement.
Where does Darvish rank on the Rangers prospect list? What about a Top 101?
He doesn't. While he's obviously Rookie of the Year-eligible, labeling Darvish as a prospect is grossly inaccurate. He needs no time in the minor leagues, and needs no development. He's coming to the Rangers as a big league-ready product, and should not be ranked as a prospect.
What kind of adjustments will he need to make on the field?
This will be Darvish's biggest challenge. He'll need to cut down on his arsenal, scrapping the slow curve and likely the changeup. Even without them, he commands his slider and fastball enough to use them against left-handed hitters. His approach will also have to change, since he'll lose many of the strike calls he got in Japan as a superstar pitcher. He'll also need to sequence better; he could challenge hitters more in Japan, where usually only two or three hitters in a lineup are truly a threat to drive a ball. He'll also need to adjust to the workload. At his request, Nippon Ham shortened his rest from six days to five in 2011, and now that will reduce by one additional day. To his credit, he has put on weight and is now 220 pounds, giving him a big, athletic and sturdy frame. There are no glaring flaws in his mechanics.
What about off the field?
This is always the biggest wild card for any international player. Darvish is a bigger star in Japan than any athlete in America, and is just as likely to appear on the front page of the gossip rag as the sports section. His recent divorce from his wife, Saeko, was highly publicized; in many ways, the couple was Japan's version of Brangelina. While escaping the constant attention for Texas might appeal to him, the presence of an enormous Japanese media contingent will be a constant from spring training to the final out of the season. Darvish has some understanding of English, but hears it better than he speaks it, and it will take some time to adjust to American media. In addition, all of the pitfalls that potentially affect a multimillionaire in a foreign land apply.
So what does this mean for the Rangers?
It means they've found not only a replacement for their top starter last year, but an upgrade. If you trust Jon Daniels and his staff—and after all, they're the architects of the back-to-back American League champions—they've just told the world that they prefer Darvish for twice the money they were willing to pay C.J. Wilson. Darvish is expected to be better than Wilson, who is generally seen as a number-three starter due to his inability to succeed when his command is off, as we saw in the postseason. While most in the industry see Darvish as at least a number-two type, there are many who believe he could turn into a true ace with the right adjustments.
The signing is a clear response to the Angels, who are still basking in the glow of not only taking Wilson from the Rangers, but also scoring the biggest free-agent prize, Albert Pujols. It's easy to forget that the Angels were nipping at the heels of the Rangers in the American League West standings for much of the 2011 season, and the Rangers needed to respond.
One of the immediate questions on a pure roster management scenario is how this impacts the Texas rotation, which already has Derek Holland, Colby Lewis, former closer Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison, and Alexi Ogando. Having six starters is not a problem; unless you are the 2005 Chicago White Sox, you need six starters. Between injuries and potential performance issues, this is the kind of thing that will work itself out in the spring; there is no reason to make decisions and back your team into a corner in December.
Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
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