Major League Baseball announced last night that The Texas Rangers put up the highest bid for pitcher Yu Darvish of Japan's Pacific League, clearing the way for the Rangers to negotiate a contract with Darvish and bring him to the States.
The Rangers reportedly set a new record with their posting bid of $51.7 million, which the team will pay to Darvish's Japanese club, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters. If the reported figure is accurate, the bid for Darvish would exceed the previous record, set by the Boston Red Sox in 2006 when they paid $51.1 million to the Seibu Lions for Daisuke Matsuzaka.
Daigo Fujiwara of JapaneseBallPlayers.com noted this weekend that Darvish is one of 21 Japanese players who have used the posting system, which was set up in 1998. The posting system merely establishes the right for a US club to negotiate with a player – contract negotiations may still fall through, and have in the past, leaving the player with their Japanese team. Of the 21 players to have used the system – including several players like Darvish who are negotiating contracts now – only 11 have so far successfully transferred to MLB.
Like the Red Sox's Matsuzaka, Darvish will likely draw a contract of over $50 million, putting his overall price tag for the Rangers in excess of $100 million. And the comparisons with Matsuzaka go further. Both Matsuzaka and Darvish were best-of-the-best pitchers in Japan, and key players for Japan's team in the World Baseball Classic.
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The worry that will likely be in the back of the Rangers' minds is that Darvish's similarities to Matsuzaka may continue once he's stateside.
Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci writes that Japanese players, once in the majors, have frequently started strong but petered out by their third year – a phenomenon now known as the "Third-Year Wall." And despite the Red Sox's broad preventative efforts to avoid a similar experience with Daisuke, "Matsuzaka crashed into The Wall. Over his first two seasons, Matsuzaka was 33-15 with a 3.72 ERA. But starting with Year Three, Matsuzaka has been 16-15 with a 5.03 ERA while suffering shoulder, hip and elbow injuries."
But River Ave. Blues writer Mike Axisa pointed out last week that Darvish's average numbers in Japan are even better than Matsuzaka's best. And he cites Patrick Newman of English-language Japanese baseball site NPB Tracker, who wrote that he is "more optimistic about him than I have been of anyone in the past." Still, Newman notes that the media pressure on Darvish will be even higher than usual for Japanese players coming to the majors, as he'll be under scrutiny from both sides of the Pacific.
...Keep in mind that Darvish is going to have more pressure and attention than possibly any player that has preceded him. Ichiro [Suzuki] was stalked relentlessly by the Japanese media when he joined the Mariners, but I don’t think the Americans necessarily expected much from him. American fans have been anticipating Darvish for years, so he’ll have the Japanese insanity and the American expectations to live up to. I think he will be successful though, and I hope he is.
And Darvish already is in the Japanese public's eye, Sports Illustrated's Joe Lemire wrote last month. The Iranian-Japanese Darvish was described by his first manager as a mix of "Fonzie and Elvis Presley," and his life has been "tabloid fodder," Lemire wrote. "He married an actress and garnered additional notoriety when he was photographed smoking in a gaming parlor while underage and for posing nearly nude in a magazine." He's even got his own blog.
But he seems to have the makeup to succeed in the US, wrote Lemire: "those who have watched him [in Japan] have little doubt he will be a quality pitcher at the major league level. ... The only question now is when."