On December 19, the MLB announced that the Rangers had won the rights to negotiate with Yu Darvish. Reports are that the bid was $51.7 million, exceeding the record for highest posting fee by a mere $600,000. Darvish will replace the outgoing C.J. Wilson at the front of the Rangers rotation, possibly displacing Ogando. In that case, Ogando would move to the bullpen, resuming his role in the 8th inning he held during the 2011 playoffs and parts of the 2010 season. The contract between Darvish remains to be negotiated, but industry analysts speculate that Darvish will received something in the neighborhood of 5 years $70 million.
So, what are the Rangers getting for their $120 million payout?
The consensus among major league talent evaluators is that Darvish will be at least an above-average starter, possibly a top of the rotation pitcher. Recently on Project Prospect, Lincoln Hamilton wrote a lengthy scouting report on Yu Darvish. Some highlights:
-A “truly dominant force” in Nippon baseball, he is 6’5, with “excellent athleticism”. Statistically, he is one of the “greatest pitchers in NPB history”. Considering NPB is considered to be roughly a “AAAA” league, and Darvish has sustained 5(!) straight seasons of sub-2.00 ERA ball, it is difficult to go overboard with superlatives. This guy is good.
– Excellent stuff. 93-95 fastball, several different fastball varieties, three different breaking balls. What an arsenal. Hamilton concludes “He doesn’t have super, elite stuff like Verlander but everything is good”.
-Excellent fielder. Many pitchers who are also excellent fielders find ways to outperform their peripheral stats.
-Finally, its worth noting that Darvish has “fired fewer bullets”. Unlike Dice-K, Darvish has never thrown a 250 pitch game, nor was he throwing 240-inning season games at age 21. Hopefully, this will translate to far fewer injury struggles than Dice-K has dealt with so far in his major league career.
Eno Sarris of Fangraphs wrote a great assessment of his potential value, concluding by comparing him to Jordan Zimmerman. He expects Darvish to produce roughly 20 WAR over the course of the 6 years of his expected contract. Based on his evaluation, Darvish has an excellent change of meeting the value of his contract+ posting fee, assuming the total isn’t much more than $100 million.
The Rangers bid for Darvish is revelatory in two ways. First, it tells us that the rumors of the Rangers having difficulties with “financial flexibility” are either exaggerated or false. I don’t think that necessarily means the Rangers are now serious candidates to land Fielder, because he is seeking a contract in the range of the Pujols deal, so 250/10. A $120 million dollar outlay for Darvish is not even close to the kind of commitment Fielder would entail. Also, the Rangers have probably used up their free agent budget for this offseason, aside from minor commitments to bullpen help to Mike Gonzalez or Darren Oliver.
In addition, the outlay tells us that contrary to some reports, the Rangers front office is in fact willing to spend big on risky free agent pitchers. The Rangers were extremely skeptical of C.J. Wilson’s chances to fulfill the expectations of a 5 year, $75 million commitment, and were unwilling to go to 7 years to sign Cliff Lee. After having extensively scouted Darvish, the Ranger seem to think he’s worth it.
The Rangers wanted him. The scouting staff had seen him, the projections had been worked out. Jon Daniels went to go see him in Japan. Then Jon Daniels came back to the States, and made history.