If Yu Darvish is headed to the U.S. next season it’ll be to the Lone Star State. The Texas Rangers posted the highest bid to win the rights to negotiate with Japan’s star right-handed pitcher for 30 days, according to a MLB announcement Monday night. The price of the winning bid wasn’t revealed, but Yahoo! Sports reported the team offered $51.7 million – an amount that would eclipse the monster $51.1 million fee the Boston Red Sox paid Daisuke Matsuzaka in 2003. Major League Baseball said the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, Mr. Darvish’s current team, accepted the highest bid among a flurry of submissions that included offers from the Toronto Blue Jays and Chicago Cubs, as well as, to a less determined extent, the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.
While the 25-year-old hurler revealed his decision to enter the MLB posting system on his blog earlier this month and avidly responded to fan queries, he has remained silent on the Rangers news thus far. The 30-day negotiation period would be the final leg in the Japanese phenomenon’s highly anticipated journey to the U.S. professional league. Now it comes down to a matter of how much the Rangers are willing to pony up to bring Mr. Darvish over to the Majors. It could still fall apart. It did for right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma, who returned to the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles after failing to agree on a contract last year with the Oakland A’s, who won the rights to bid for his services. The negotiations quickly soured as Mr. Iwakuma’s agent Don Nomura, who also happens to be Mr. Darvish’s agent in Japan, said the A’s were not negotiating in good faith and merely put in the bid to block other teams from signing Mr. Iwakuma. The A’s denied this was the case, saying it wasn’t willing to meet the pitcher’s financial demands.
The failure of the two sides to reach an agreement was seen as a black mark for the posting system, originally created to give Japanese teams some compensation if their best players left for the Major Leagues. Mr. Darvish is expected to ask for top dollar in the U.S., as he does in Japan where he is the highest-paid player in professional baseball. But there has been a string of disappointing returns on expensive investments in Japanese pitching talents. Despite the $103 million the Boston Red Sox coughed up, Mr. Matsuzaka has been underwhelming in recent years, and Kei Igawa of the New York Yankees has been a total bust. This may cause the Rangers to hedge and submit a final offer below what Mr. Darvish and his agents think his talent deserves.
There are differences between Mr. Iwakuma and Mr. Darvish’s situations. It is believed negotiations for Mr. Iwakuma were marred in part because he was eligible to become a free agent the following season, which would have allowed MLB teams to sign him without paying the hefty posting expense to the Rakuten Eagles. Mr. Darvish is not eligible for overseas free agency for another two years. Also, Mr. Darvish is the most highly anticipated Japanese import in years, with the type of talent rarely available on the open market. What’s more, the Rangers desperately want to fill the vacancy of C.J. Wilson, the team’s ace from last season who signed with rival Los Angeles Angels during the off-season. If talks for Mr. Darvish are unsuccessful, then the Rangers will be refunded the reported $51.7 million posting bid, and the pitcher will stay with the Fighters.