On Darvish, circumspect Rizzo merely playing the game within the game

The shroud of secrecy around the bidding process for Yu Darvish - which is starting to feel like an Oliver Stone screenplay instead of an elongated baseball transaction - is slowly starting to lift, and Nationals fans hoping the Japanese pitcher would take the mound in D.C. may not like what it’s revealing.

According to this story in the New York Post, the Blue Jays have placed the winning bid for Darvish, a proffer upwards of $50 million intended to blow away the Nippon-Ham Fighters, who have until 5 p.m. Tuesday to accept the bid (and, by some reports, intend to take the full time allotted).

For the past couple of days, a pair of questions has been directed at the Nationals like unmistakable purpose pitches: Did they bid on Darvish, and why is general manager Mike Rizzo being so evasive when Darvish’s name and the bidding process are discussed?

It’s a good bet the Nats were among the teams bidding on Darvish. They’ve scouted him, like him and believe he’s the rare Japanese pitcher whose electric stuff translates perfectly to the major leagues. The better question would be, how much did Washington bid? Given the Nats’ interest and need for a starting pitcher, given that the posting fee has to be paid in a lump sum once the winning team (hopefully) negotiates a contract during the exclusive 30-day window, and given the Lerner family’s substantial financial wherewithal, if the Nationals bid, I’d think they were somewhere in the $40-$50 million range. Those are big ifs, but not out of the realm of possibility.

Of course, if the Blue Jays - or someone else - placed a higher bid in what amounts to a super-secret silent auction, all of that is a moot point. Either the Blue Jays (or another winning bidder) get Darvish or he’s back to Japan. There’s no shade of gray. And there’s even a line of thinking making the rounds of national radio talk shows that suggests that Toronto - at the behest of team owner Rogers Communications, whose deep pockets come from cable television, telecommunications and Internet dollars - made a pre-emptive high bid with no intention of actually meeting Darvish’s demands in the neighborhood of $70 million; instead, the Blue Jays would essentially block Darvish from the majors for a year and the process would play out again. And there’s no guarantee when or if Darvish would be posted again.

Perhaps that explains the always circumspect Rizzo’s cone of silence. Under normal circumstances, there wouldn’t be any reason not to acknowledge a bid, though Rizzo’s correct that telling your competition what you’re bidding really shows few business smarts. But because of the unsure nature of the bidding process - which Darvish detests, by the way, because it’s weighted against the player and in favor of the Japanese team - perhaps there’s a method to Rizzo’s quietness.

Let’s play conspiracy theorist for a minute. If Rizzo comes clean, tells everyone that he bid on the pitcher and the bid leaks out, he’s got absolutely no future leverage if Darvish doesn’t sign with another winning bidder and the posting process is repeated. He gives his competition an insider’s look at what the Nationals think of the player, what they’ve budgeted and a peek at their finances - all of which could come back to bite him in some other player acquisition circumstance. Agents and players would use that information against him. So would other teams. It’s a lose-lose proposition.

Maybe Darvish goes to the Blue Jays, who have one of the most envied international scouting departments in the game, and helps them establish a pipeline to the Far East. Maybe Darvish goes to another team. Maybe he ends up with the Nationals. Leaks and speculation aside, we probably won’t know until Tuesday at 5 p.m. Until then, Rizzo isn’t being unnecessarily standoffish when he evades questions about the Nationals’ interest and activity. He’s just playing the game - and maybe the game within the game.

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