NEW YORK – The Texas Rangers won the Yu Darvish sweepstakes with a record bid of $51.7 million. Now they'll try to agree on a contract with Japan's top pitcher.
Major League Baseball announced Monday night that the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters of Japan's Pacific League informed the U.S. commissioner's office they had accepted the highest bid for Darvish.
That sealed offer was submitted under the posting system by the Rangers, winners of the past two AL pennants. They have 30 days to negotiate with Darvish and sign him to a deal.
"Our ownership went the extra mile on this one," general manager Jon Daniels said on a conference call, declining to reveal specifics.
A person familiar with the details said the winning bid by the Rangers was $51.7 million — more than the $51.1 million posting fee the Boston Red Sox paid for Daisuke Matsuzaka in 2006. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the figure was not made public.
Yahoo Sports and The New York Times reported the figure first.
Darvish is considered the best pitcher in the Japanese professional leagues and several of baseball's biggest spenders were thought to be interested in him.
If the Rangers can close the deal, the 25-year-old right-hander would join a rotation that already includes five starters: Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, Alexi Ogando and former closer Neftali Feliz, moved out of the bullpen when the club signed free-agent reliever Joe Nathan this offseason.
"If we're able to sign him (Darvish), then we'll have a very good problem on our hands," Daniels said.
It's a major move for the Rangers, buoyed by a lucrative television contract and consecutive AL championships under a new ownership group led by Chuck Greenberg and his partner, Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan. But the team is still chasing its first World Series title — and Texas knows all too well that nothing is done until it is done.
Despite a serious effort, the Rangers were unable to re-sign free-agent ace Cliff Lee following the 2010 season. They made it back to the World Series anyway and were within one strike of winning it all — twice — before the St. Louis Cardinals rallied to take the trophy.
Then the Rangers lost their latest ace, C.J. Wilson, when the left-hander signed a $77.5 million, five-year contract with the AL West rival Los Angeles Angels this month.
"Our commitment of our ownership is to put the best team out there. The last couple of years we just haven't been able to close it out," Daniels said.
Bidding for the posting fee closed last Wednesday, and the Ham Fighters had until 5 p.m. EST on Tuesday to accept. The fee will be paid only if an agreement is reached with Darvish's agents, Arn Tellem and Don Nomura.
If no deal is reached, Darvish returns to the Fighters for another season.
In a statement released before the conference call, the Rangers said they were "pleased and excited" to win the rights to negotiate with Darvish.
"Our organization has scouted Mr. Darvish for the last several years and has been very impressed with his abilities and accomplishments. We believe he would be a great addition to the Texas Rangers pitching staff," the team said. "We look forward to beginning the next step of this process in the very near future."
Darvish, the son of an Iranian father and a Japanese mother, went 18-6 with a 1.44 ERA last season. He had 276 strikeouts to lead the Pacific League.
The Fighters gave him approval to negotiate with a major league club through the posting system. Daisuke Matsuzaka and Ichiro Suzuki went to the major leagues under the system.
Darvish pitched in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and was a member of the Japanese national team that won the 2009 World Baseball Classic.
The 6-foot-5 Darvish has superb control and throws seven effective pitches, including a two-seam fastball introduced during the 2010 season. It's expected he would make a top-of-the-rotation major league starter.
"Darvish is the No. 1 pitcher in Japan, but we want him to become the ace of the world," Nippon Ham team representative Toshimasa Shimada said this month.
Darvish turned pro in 2005 at 18. His professional career got off to a rocky start when he was caught smoking in a pachinko parlor on an off day during his first spring training, despite not being old enough to legally smoke nor to gamble at the time.
After going 5-5 with a 3.53 ERA in his rookie season with the Fighters, Darvish had a breakout year in 2006, going 12-5 with a 2.89 ERA and 115 strikeouts.
In 2007, Darvish won the Eiji Sawamura Award presented to the top pitcher in Japanese professional baseball after posting a 15-5 record with a 1.82 ERA and a league-leading 210 strikeouts.
"Obviously, it's a very exciting night for our organization, our fans and our community," Daniels said. "We're looking for any opportunity to improve our club, not just for next season but for the long term."
In 2006, the Red Sox signed Matsuzaka to a six-year, $52 million contract, taking the total package — including the posting fee — to more than $100 million.
Matsuzaka pitched in Japan for the Seibu Lions.
Associated Press Writer Terry Wallace in Dallas and AP Sports Writer Jim Armstrong in Tokyo contributed to this report.