Yu Darvish impressed the Texas Rangers with his big body, durability and desire.
The two-time defending AL champions were so impressed that they have invested more than $111 million to acquire Japan's best pitcher. They made a record posting bid and then used just about every minute of a 30-day negotiating window to reach an agreement Wednesday with Darvish on a $60 million, six-year contract.
"The thing that stood out probably is just his passion for the game and trying to be the best he can possibly be," said Rangers President Nolan Ryan, a Hall of Fame pitcher. "He's probably the most upside player I've ever seen come out of Japan."
Darvish had a 93-38 record with a 1.99 ERA in 167 games the past seven seasons in Japan. The 25-year-old right-hander, who is 6-foot-5, was already a two-time MVP of Japan's Pacific League and a five-time All-Star. He led the league in strikeouts three times and ERA twice, and averaged 205 innings pitched over the last five seasons.
"It's all about winning," general manager Jon Daniels said. "We saw a guy that we felt was built to pitch innings. It's a classic pitcher's build. He has a real commitment to his conditioning and work ethic and a lot of intangibles that we think will lend him to pitch innings and at a high caliber for a period of time."
In addition to the salary, Texas will pay a posting fee of $51,703,411 to the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters of the Pacific League. The last two figures in that amount represent the jersey numbers of Ryan (34) and Darvish (11).
When that bid was accepted by the Fighters on Dec. 19, an exclusive window opened for Texas to negotiate a deal that got finished only minutes before a 4 p.m. CST deadline Wednesday. If not, the pitcher would have stayed in Japan.
"He's really thrilled to be coming here," said Arn Tellem, one of Darvish's agents. "This is where he wanted to be, and he was hoping when the posting began that the Rangers would win the post."
The Rangers scouted Darvish for more than two years, building a personal relationship that Tellem said was significant to the pitcher.
While agents Don Nomura and Tellem were in Texas finishing the deal, including negotiations until about 4:30 a.m. Wednesday before resuming a few hours later, Darvish was in Japan.
Darvish returned home after his first and only visit to Texas two weeks ago, when he met Ryan and some of his new teammates, toured Rangers Ballpark and completed a physical.
On his website, Darvish posted a note acknowledging his new team, which anticipates a Friday night news conference to formally introduce him.
"I will have a press conference first in America and then come back to Japan, at which point I will express my gratitude to my fans here in Japan," he wrote.
Darvish's deal surpasses what Daisuke Matsuzaka got when he left Japan and signed with the Boston Red Sox in December 2006. Dice-K got a $52 million, six-year deal and the Red Sox paid a $51.111 million posting fee that was the previous high for a Japanese player.
Matsuzaka is 49-30 with a 4.25 ERA in 106 games (105 starts) over five seasons in Boston since his high-profile move from the Seibu Lions when he was 26. He missed most of last season after right elbow surgery and is going into the final year of his contract, worth about $10 million.
When Ichiro Suzuki used the posting system in 2000 to get to the majors, the Seattle Mariners won the right negotiate with a bid of about $13 million, then signed the outfielder to a $14 million, three-year contract.
Though Daniels wishes the posting fee for Darvish was lower, he acknowledged, "That was our call. We didn't want to risk not getting him."
Daniels described the move as a "step-out deal" for the Rangers, and said negotiations were never contentious. He said there were good reasons for wanting a six-year deal.
"You tend to look at things a little differently when you look at somebody that age and the years of the deal take him into his prime," Daniels said. "And secondly, with the nature of the posting process and the size of the post, size of our bid, it made sense to amortize it out over a longer period."
Darvish, the son of an Iranian father and a Japanese mother, went 18-6 last season in Japan with a 1.44 ERA and 276 strikeouts, both league bests.
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.
Through last season, 38 Japan-born pitchers had appeared in the major leagues. There were nine last season, including Rangers relievers Yoshinori Tateyama and Koji Uehara, who are both still there.
Ryan, the strikeout king who pitched a record 27 major league seasons, was asked in Japanese on Wednesday how hopeful he was that Darvish would have a legendary career as he did. Daniels smiled when the question was translated into English.
"We feel like he's extremely talented, and probably one of the most talented young pitchers that we've seen," Ryan said. "So we feel like he has a very bright future ahead of him. What that equates to we really don't know, but we feel like once he gets settled in with our organization and spring training and gets into our routine, we'll start really seeing what he's capable of doing."