By 5 p.m. Eastern time today, the bidding for the services of Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish will be done. Shortly thereafter - well, maybe early Thursday, since baseball seems to run on its own time schedule - perhaps we'll know if the Nationals placed a bid on the right-hander and, if they did, whether it was the winning one.
At least one baseball executive believes the Nationals will go all-in on Darvish, who is widely considered the best pitcher never to have pitched in Major League Baseball. It wouldn't be a shock if the Nats find themselves again at the center of the baseball universe with the kind of bold, decisive stroke that could come to characterize the Mike Rizzo era at Washington's helm.
Rizzo, of course, isn't letting anyone - especially the media - know how the Nats are leaning, whether they'll bid or not. It's the right move; who tells the other players in a game what they're going to do? But in an admittedly weak free agent market for pitching, one where the Nationals have already made an unsuccessful run at left-hander Mark Buehrle, Darvish presents as an interesting fallback. And there aren't many times when Plan B has the kind of potential upside as Darvish.
His mother is Japanese, his father is Iranian and his right arm has been blessed by the gods - if you believe the hype, you understand why a high bid by the Nationals makes sense. Yes, there is competition. The Rangers need a replacement for C.J. Wilson and are supposedly in. So are the Blue Jays, whose international scouting efforts are among the best in the game. The Seattle Mariners already have a pipeline to the Far East. The Yankees could probably use Darvish, but may not be willing to make the financial outlay necessary. You can almost guarantee there will be a bidder that comes out of left field.
Over the past handful of years, the Nationals have been among the top-spending teams when it comes to the draft, time and again drafting players and signing them to over-slot bonuses. Under the new collective bargaining agreement, however, there will be penalties for such free-spending clubs. If that's the case, and you're Rizzo, why not shoot for the moon? It's less immediate gratification and more bird-in-the-hand thinking, baseball-style.
It's purely a guessing game, but the successful posting bid is expected to range somewhere between $30 million and $60 million, with a contract in the $60-$70 million range to follow. Darvish's camp has warned teams not to overbid in the posting process, preferring them to spend their money in the actual contract negotiations. But if the Fighters don't accept a major league club's bid - which is their right under the posting process - it's back to Japan for Darvish. Either way, the winning club has 30 days to hammer out a deal with the 25-year-old, or the money goes back the U.S. and Darvish's coming out party is delayed at least a year. Yes, he can be posted again.
While Darvish seems to have everything a team would want in a frontline starting pitcher, there's one thing that's a sticking point: He's never pitched in a Major League Baseball environment. Teams are bidding on potential - potential with upside, yes, but potential all the same. The World Baseball Classic and Olympics are nice comparables, but it's not the same as a six-month marathon, plus spring training and, if he's lucky, postseason. Maybe he's pitching's version of Ichiro, a dependable and productive guy who ends up being a wise investment. Or maybe he's Shinji Mori, who never got a chance to be the Devil Rays' closer in 2006 because a torn labrum interrupted his path to the majors and ended his career at 32. Red Sox right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka is the name that comes to mind for a lot of observers, because the $51.1 million they successfully bid in December 2006 for the right to sign a six-year, $52 million contract with the pitcher is fresh in mind as a cautionary tale. Now 31, Dice-K is recovering from Tommy John surgery after posting a 46-27 record and 4.18 ERA.
Darvish may be less of a gamble, but is a gamble nonetheless. Rizzo doesn't shy away from high-stakes games. Soon, we'll know who's left at the table before the next part of the negotiation process begins.