DALLAS - News that the Nippon-Ham Fighters have decided to post prize pitcher Yu Darvish created a frenzy of activity at the Hilton Anatole on the final day of baseball’s Winter Meetings. Japanese media members swarmed team executives who have expressed an interest in Darvish, trying to establish an early field of teams who will enter the process to bid for the right to try an negotiate a contract with the 25-year-old, a two-time Pacific League Most Valuable Player.
The Nationals have maintained interest in Darvish, and general manager Mike Rizzo has scouted the strikeout artist in person in his homeland. But Rizzo, as is his custom, was predictably coy when asked after Thursday’s Rule 5 draft whether the Nationals would enter the bidding.
“Strategically, it doesn’t benefit us to announce if we’re going to bid or not on him.” Rizzo said. “We’ve scouted him, we like him. We recognize his ability levels.”
Perhaps the Nationals are still trying to decide whether they want to make the investment it would cost to bring Darvish to the United States. Between the posting fee and a major league contract, it could cost in excess of $100 million, a princely sum for a player who has never faced major league competition on a regular basis.
That complicated process - bidding on the posting fee, which is returned to the bidder if the team is unable to negotiate a deal with the player - starts in secret. Though the Nationals know what their bid is, they don’t know what other teams are bidding.
But Rizzo outlined how he would see the process playing out.
“I think you have to first approximate what your tolerance threshold is on what you would pay him in total, with the posting fee and with a major league contract” Rizzo said. “I think you have to strategically put together a plan to a) get the player in the post and b) see if you can get the player in the post, pay the posting fee and then sign the player to a major league contract.”
Darvish, a veteran of international competition in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2009 World Baseball Classic, has been scouted by major league teams since he was in high school. He’s definitely a high-reward player, having claimed three strikeout titles and one ERA crown in his native country. He’s won two Golden Glove Awards as the top fielding pitcher and twice has received Best Nine Awards, which go to the top player at each position.
He earned the equivalent of $6.065 million last season, winning 18 games and posting a career-low 1.44 ERA. He led the league with 28 starts, 232 innings, 276 strikeouts and a 0.82 WHIP, and walked only 36 batters. Amazingly, he did not win his second Eiji Sawamujra Award as the league’s top pitcher.
“I think he’s got a complete package,” Rizzo said. “He’s a physical guy with stuff and knows how to pitch and has had success at a substantially high level of competition.”