Published January 18, 2012
| Associated Press
ARLINGTON, Texas – Yu Darvish is coming to America to pitch.
Japan's best pitcher and the Texas Rangers agreed before Wednesday's deadline to a $60 million, six-year contract. In addition to the salary, the Rangers will pay a posting fee of $51,703,411 to the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters of Japan's Pacific League.
"We look at this as really a perfect fit," general manager Jon Daniels said. "Obviously he has yet to pitch in the major leagues, but we feel he has proven himself on a big stage. ... "It's all winning."
The deal came at the end of a 30-day negotiating window that began Dec. 19 when the Rangers' bid to negotiate with the pitcher was accepted.
Had a deal not been reached by the 4 p.m. CST deadline, Darvish would have remained with the Fighters. And Texas, which has been to consecutive World Series without winning the title, would have kept the posting fee that ends with the jersey numbers of Rangers President and Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan (34) and Darvish (11).
When the deal was reached in Texas by his agents Don Nomura and Arn Tellem, the 25-year-old Darvish was home in Japan, where he returned for offseason training after his first and only visit to Texas two weeks ago. The Rangers plan to formally introduce Darvish on Friday night.
Tellem said the Rangers not only spent more time than any other team scouting Darvish, but also built a personal relationship with the pitcher while scouting him. He said the pitcher is excited about the opportunity in Texas.
"It's a great team that's been on the door step, and hopefully with Yu coming they will finally reach the goal of winning a World Series," Tellem said. "Yu is excited about helping a team that has not won achieve that goal. ... He's really thrilled to be coming here. This is where he wanted to be."
Darvish had a 93-38 record with a 1.99 ERA over the past seven seasons in Japan. The 6-foot-5 right-hander was a two-time Pacific League MVP and a five-time All-Star. He led the league in strikeouts three times, in ERA twice and won two Gold Gloves.
Ryan was impressed by Darvish's size and attitude about wanting to compete when they met for the first time earlier this month.
"The thing that stood out probably is just his passion for the game and trying to be the best he can possibly be," Ryan said Wednesday. "One of the motivations about coming to the major leagues here is it's another challenge for him, it's an opportunity on a stage that he hasn't been on to show what he's capable of doing."
The deal surpasses what Daisuke Matsuzaka got when he left Japan and signed with the Boston Red Sox just more than five years ago. Dice-K got a $52 million, six-year deal and the Red Sox also had to pay a $51.111 million posting fee that was the highest for a Japanese player before what the Rangers bid for Darvish.
When Ichiro Suzuki used the posting system in 2000 to get to the major leagues, the Seattle Mariners won the right negotiate with a bid of about $13 million, then signed him to a $14 million, three-year contract.
Through last season, 38 Japan-born pitchers had appeared in the major leagues. There were nine last season, including relievers Yoshinori Tateyama and Koji Uehara with the Rangers. Both are still on the 40-man roster in Texas.
Matsuzaka is 49-30 with a 4.25 ERA in 106 games (105 starts) in five seasons with the Red Sox since his high-profile move from the Seibu Lions to Boston in December 2006 when he was 26 years old.
He has had six stints on the disabled list, including last season when he had right elbow surgery and didn't pitch after May 16. He is going into the final season of his contract with the Red Sox worth about $10 million.
Darvish, the son of an Iranian father and a Japanese mother, went 18-6 with a 1.44 ERA last season in Japan, when he made the equivalent of about $6 million. He had 276 strikeouts to lead the Pacific League.
Darvish, who turned pro at 18, pitched in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and was a member of the Japanese team that won the 2009 World Baseball Classic. The right-hander has superb control and throws seven effective pitches.
The Rangers lost their pitching ace in free agency after both World Series appearances.
Cliff Lee left Texas to return to Philadelphia after the 2010 season, when he was with the Rangers just more than three months after his midseason trade from Seattle. C.J. Wilson last month got a $77.5 million, five-year contract from the AL West rival Los Angeles Angels.
Even with the loss of Wilson, Darvish becomes part of a rotation that already had at least six starting candidates going into spring training.
Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, Alexi Ogando and Matt Harrison were starters last season. The Rangers have already determined that closer Neftali Feliz will make the transition from the bullpen to the rotation this year after abandoning such plans last spring. Scott Feldman was a 17-game winner in 2009 before microfracture surgery in his right knee at the end of the 2010 season.
The New York Yankees earlier this month failed to sign Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima within 30 days after they won negotiating rights with a high bid of $2.5 million. The 29-year-old Nakajima hit .297 with 16 home runs and 100 RBIs last year with the Seibu Lions, who now retain his rights.
Nakajima and Darvish were teammates during the 2008 Olympics and on Japan's championship team in the 2009 World Baseball Classic.