Rangers win exclusive negotiation rights with Yu Darvish
The Texas Rangers won the Yu Darvish sweepstakes and the chance to negotiate a contract with Japan's top pitcher.
Major League Baseball announced Monday night that the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters of Japan's Pacific League informed the U.S. commissioner's office that they have accepted the highest bid for Darvish.
That sealed bid was submitted under the posting system by the Rangers, winners of the past two AL pennants. Now, they have 30 days to sign Darvish to a deal.
"Our ownership went the extra mile on this one," general manager Jon Daniels said on a conference call.
Daniels would not say how much the Rangers bid for the right to negotiate with Darvish. Several media outlets reported that the posting fee was $51.7 million US.
The 25-year-old right-hander is considered the best pitcher in the Japanese professional leagues and several of baseball's biggest spenders were thought to be interested in him.
If the Rangers can close the deal, Darvish would join a rotation that already includes five starters: Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, Alexi Ogando and former closer Neftali Feliz, moved out of the bullpen when the club signed free-agent reliever Joe Nathan this offseason.
"If we're able to sign him [Darvish], then we'll have a very good problem on our hands," Daniels said.
It's a major move for the Rangers, buoyed by a lucrative television contract and consecutive AL championships under a new ownership group led by Chuck Greenberg and his partner, Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan. But the team is still chasing its first World Series title -- and Texas knows all too well that nothing is done until it is done.
Despite a serious effort, the Rangers were unable to re-sign free-agent ace Cliff Lee following the 2010 season. They made it back to the World Series anyway and were within one strike of winning it all — twice — before the St. Louis Cardinals rallied to take the trophy.
Then the Rangers lost their latest ace, C.J. Wilson, when the left-hander signed a $77.5 million, five-year contract with the AL West rival Los Angeles Angels this month.
"Our commitment of our ownership is to put the best team out there. The last couple of years we just haven't been able to close it out," Daniels said.
Bidding for the posting fee closed last Wednesday, and the Ham Fighters had until 5 p.m. EST on Tuesday to accept. The fee will be paid only if an agreement is reached with Darvish's agents, Arn Tellem and Don Nomura.
If no deal is reached, Darvish returns to the Fighters for another season.
"We were pleased to learn that the Texas Rangers were the high bidders for Yu Darvish," Tellem said in a statement. "The Rangers are an extraordinary franchise in an exceptional city with equally exceptional fans. Yu is honored to be prized so highly and recognized as a once-in-a-generation pitcher. We look forward to getting negotiations under way."
In an earlier statement, the Rangers said they were "pleased and excited" to win the rights to negotiate with Darvish.
"Our organization has scouted Mr. Darvish for the last several years and has been very impressed with his abilities and accomplishments. We believe he would be a great addition to the Texas Rangers pitching staff," the team said. "We look forward to beginning the next step of this process in the very near future."
Darvish, the son of an Iranian father and a Japanese mother, went 18-6 with a 1.44 ERA last season. He had 276 strikeouts to lead the Pacific League.
The Fighters gave him approval to negotiate with a major league club through the posting system. Daisuke Matsuzaka and Ichiro Suzuki went to the major leagues under the system.
Darvish pitched in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and was a member of the Japanese national team that won the 2009 World Baseball Classic.
The 6-foot-5 Darvish has superb control and throws seven effective pitches, including a two-seam fastball introduced during the 2010 season. It's expected he would make a top-of-the-rotation major league starter.
"Darvish is the No. 1 pitcher in Japan, but we want him to become the ace of the world," Nippon Ham team representative Toshimasa Shimada said this month.
Darvish turned pro in 2005 at 18. His professional career got off to a rocky start when he was caught smoking in a pachinko parlor on an off day during his first spring training, despite not being old enough to legally smoke nor to gamble at the time.
After going 5-5 with a 3.53 ERA in his rookie season with the Fighters, Darvish had a breakout year in 2006, going 12-5 with a 2.89 ERA and 115 strikeouts.
In 2007, Darvish won the Eiji Sawamura Award presented to the top pitcher in Japanese professional baseball after posting a 15-5 record with a 1.82 ERA and a league-leading 210 strikeouts.
"Obviously, it's a very exciting night for our organization, our fans and our community," Daniels said. "We're looking for any opportunity to improve our club, not just for next season but for the long term."
In 2006, Matsuzaka drew a $51.1 million posting fee from the Boston Red Sox, who signed him to a six-year, $52 million contract, taking the total package to more than $100 million.
Matsuzaka pitched in Japan for the Seibu Lions.