In winning the well-publicized bidding for Yu Darvish shortly after 10 Monday night, the Texas Rangers have positioned themselves to sign the famous Japanese hurler to one of the riskiest contracts in baseball history. And unless the 25-year-old right-hander immediately establishes himself among the upper-tier dominant pitchers in the game and helps the team capture an elusive title, Texas is also setting up its fans up for a serious dose of disappointment.
Not Kevin Millwood-like disappointment. Not Chan Ho Park-like disappointment. Not even Alex Rodriguez-like disappointment. If Darvish isn't the missing piece to the championship puzzle, it could be the kind of disappointment only bested by Game 6 of this year's World Series.
Of course, inking Darvish could also become the savviest move of the offseason and finally secure a World Series victory for an organization and fan base that's thirsty for one following two consecutive botched attempts. I certainly wouldn't put it past Jon Daniels, who I view as the best general manager in the game right now, to have made the right move once again.
Barring injury, Darvish makes the Rangers a better club. And maybe, just maybe, he's the right acquisition to finally put this team over the top. I certainly hope so, and I don't think it's crazy for Daniels and ownership to think that's exactly what's going to happen.
But if it doesn't work out that way, it will be easy to look back and point to Darvish as the reason why.
If the Rangers agree on a contract with Darvish (and there's no reason at this point to suggest they won't), they'll have paid two-thirds of the total amount C.J. Wilson signed for with the Los Angeles Angels ($77.5 million) just for the right to do so. Several media outlets have independently confirmed the Rangers' bid of $51.7 million, which is roughly $600,000 more than the Boston Red Sox paid five years ago to negotiate with Daisuke Matsuzaka.
The Rangers have until January 18 to sign Darvish to a contract. There have been lots of numbers thrown out there about the amount he's expected to be paid, with most estimates around the $70 million range. I'm guessing his deal lands somewhere in the neighborhood of six years and $75 million ($12.5 million per year), and it could very well be more.
That would be a total of $126.7 million invested in Darvish, which averages $21.12 million per year. (Although the $51.7 million must be paid in a lump sum to the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters immediately following successful negotiations. Ouch.)
Only two pitchers in the history of baseball have averaged that much money annually: CC Sabathia ($24.4 million) and Cliff Lee ($24 million). That's it. End of list.
American League Cy Young and MVP Justin Verlander is set to earn $20 million for each of the next three years. Same with two-time Cy Young winner Roy Halladay. And Jered Weaver is set to earn $17 million annually after signing a five-year extension with the Angels in August.
So what makes Darvish worth the equivalent of the third-highest annual salary the game has ever seen? Daniels isn't in a position to answer that question because he hasn't been signed to a contract yet. However, when asked in last night's conference call with reporters what he saw in Darvish when he scouted him personally earlier this year, Daniels said he'd prefer not to answer that question either. And when asked why the organization was willing to commit so much to Darvish while letting Wilson walk away to a division rival, Daniels danced around the topic, eventually saying, "It's premature to compare Darvish to other players."
As for Daniels's long-standing plan to keep the club's core intact, he said, "Our mentality stays the same with that."
Winning the Darvish sweepstakes proves that the team's financial position is much stronger than anyone realized, but keeping the core together just got a lot harder. Mike Napoli, Josh Hamilton and Colby Lewis are free agents at the end of the upcoming season. Michael Young, Ian Kinsler and Nelson Cruz are scheduled to hit the open market at the end of 2013. And Derek Holland, Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz and others are due raises as they reach arbitration.
I don't even want to take a stab at how much total dough we're talking about there, but it's hard to imagine Texas having enough to keep everyone.
With that said, I endorsed letting Wilson bolt even before the World Series was over, along with letting Hamilton go as well when his contract expires, but it's tough to wrap my brain around opening up the bank vault for Darvish. Especially when established young aces like Cole Hamels, Matt Cain and Zack Greinke top next year's free agent class and pitchers James Shields, Gio Gonzalez and Matt Garza could be had in a trade for the right package of prospects.
And especially when, well, we have absolutely no idea what Darvish can do in the bigs. Zip. Zero. Nada. Sure, he had impressive stats in Japan -- 18-6 record with a 1.44 ERA, 0.83 WHIP and 276 strikeouts in 232 innings with 10 complete games and six shutouts in 2011 -- but that's in the same league where MLB rejects like Alex Cabrera and Tuffy Rhodes have posted 55-homer seasons.
How will Darvish adjust to throwing a different sized ball from a different mound to the best hitters in the world, while playing half his games at one of the most hitter-friendly stadiums in baseball and tossing every fifth day instead of sixth?
That's the $126.7 million question.
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I'm not projecting Hideki Irabu-like or Kei Igawa-like failure on Darvish. His pitching repertoire (an array of sharp breaking pitches to go along with a mid-90s fastball) and size (6-foot-5, 220 pounds) put him in his own category.
But he could easily become a solid No. 3 starter in the mold of Matsuzaka and Hideo Nomo while the team is paying him more than the Verlanders and Halladays of the world.
Daniels said, "Our ownership really went the extra mile."
No doubt about that. Let's just hope it was for the right guy.