The euphoria of the posting win a month ago led to 30 days of constant speculation on the sidelines of a game we weren’t able to see play out. Even on Wednesday, as the final hours and minutes drew down, what felt like adrenaline was probably little more than the restlessness over a process that was going to take every last minute to complete.
For an entire month as the Rangers and Yu Darvish’s representatives danced behind closed doors, this felt like a slam dunk, and truth be told, the only real elation I felt when the announcement was made at 3:56 p.m. yesterday was because it was over, and we could move on. It felt more like the final out of a comfortable, methodical (and lengthy) 7-2 victory than December 19’s extra-inning walkoff grand slam.
I listened to the Daniels-Ryan-Nomura-Tellem press conference, I watched MLB Network as they roundtabled the impact on the Texas pitching staff, I sorted through hundreds of emails and tweets. But the moment that the reality of this thing sunk in was when, late last night, I updated the 40-man roster by typing, in between the words “Jake Brigham” and “Miguel De Los Santos,” the words “Yu Darvish.”
Oh, man, that was cool.
The Mavericks brought Detlef Schrempf and Uwe Blab into the NBA in 1985, and the Sixers drafted Christian Welp a couple years after that. Though all three played collegiately in the States, the two seven-footers in particular gave life to a stigma that the German game didn’t translate well. But Dallas was unfazed when, nine years after Blab and Welp were already out of the league, it engineered a 1998 draft day trade for the ninth player selected, German seven-footer Dirk Nowitzki.
Just because Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideo Nomo were disappointments, and Hideki Irabu and Kei Igawa were worse, doesn’t mean Darvish is destined to follow suit. Someone’s got to be the best, and just as Nowitzki broke the stereotype in the NBA, Texas believes Darvish can be that guy, too.
It’s a comparison, Darvish to Nowitzki, that Arn Tellem made during yesterday afternoon’s press conference, as the agent whose NBA clientele may be more impressive than his MLB stable told the media that he hopes Darvish can be to the Rangers what Nowitzki has been to the Mavs, not so much as a player who breaks the mold but instead one who can help lead a franchise to its first title.
I’m not going to take the time to reissue my thoughts on Darvish as a Ranger – you can go back and read them here and here if you’re so inclined – but I’ll say this: The Rangers have earned a lot of trust on the scouting front the last few years, and they’ve been on hand for just about every game Darvish has pitched (and done mind-blowing amounts of off-the-field homework) the last couple years.
If they believe in the player – like Don Welke doing a double-take when he saw an 18-year-old Neftali Feliz throwing easy gas for the Gulf Coast League Braves, or A.J. Preller squinting his eyes and seeing a pitcher in Dominican Summer League A’s outfielder Alexi Ogando, and there are dozens of other examples – then I’m fully comfortable with the organization’s assessment that Yu Darvish is worth the dollars and the years and responsibility that it’s investing in him.
Kevin Goldstein believes Darvish tops out as a Number Two, “with [an] outside shot at [being a] One,” and I trust Goldstein’s assessments, too. But they’re largely based on what big league scouts share with him, and maybe there are lots of scouts underestimating what Darvish could be, just as the vast majority of scouts who turned reports in on Jurickson Profar recommended to their bosses to chase him as a pitcher.
Not that Darvish as a Two would be all that bad a thing.
Maybe the Rangers, whose exhaustive efforts on Darvish went far beyond sitting behind the plate with a radar gun (as Jon Daniels put it) and included developing a relationship with the player and his family to the point at which Darvish hoped they would win the negotiating rights, did enough work on Darvish that they have as reliable a feel for how his game will translate in the States as they would with an All-American college outfielder raking with an aluminum bat or a first-round high school talent pitching against teams without so much as a community college prospect.
Then again, we’re talking about a $108 million investment in Darvish’s case, including that $51,703,411.00 check that the Rangers will write to the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters within the week. It’s an amazing step-out by ownership, an awesome display of determination to win and trust in the recommendations of the franchise’s baseball people, starting in the Pacific Rim with Jim Colborn and Joe Furukawa and moving up the chain of command to Preller and Josh Boyd, and Welke and Daniels, and others from the organization who killed it to get to know this player, between the lines and away from the ballpark.
I’d bet on them, too.
The contract isn’t exactly a six-year, $60 million deal, as originally reported. There’s apparently $56 million guaranteed (none of it deferred), with incentives that can kick in at least another $4-10 million (depending on which reports are accurate), and the deal gives Darvish a conditional right to opt out after five years, though the terms of the condition weren’t specified. According to a couple reports, the righthander must place high enough in the Cy Young Award voting in certain unspecified seasons to void the final season and take free agency after the fifth year; other reports refer to a “series of demanding performance clauses” that would trigger the opt-out provision.
Regardless, from the club’s perspective, tack the posting fee onto the guaranteed portion of the contract and Darvish becomes, as ESPN’s Buster Olney points out, “the most expensive right-handed pitcher in baseball history.” The only pitchers who cost more to sign were lefthanders C.C. Sabathia ($161 million), Johan Santana ($137.5 million), Barry Zito ($126 million), Mike Hampton ($121 million), and Cliff Lee ($120 million).
Interestingly – but maybe not coincidentally? – Darvish and Japanese actress Saeko (who were married on 11-11 in 2007) submitted formal divorce papers (by mutual consent) to the ward office in Tokyo yesterday and announced it publicly. The couple had reportedly been discussing a split for 14 months, finally formalizing it on Wednesday.
A divorce and a marriage the same day, and now Darvish will board a plane and arrive in the Metroplex tomorrow. On some level, here comes the circus.
Meanwhile, the story line, inevitably, turns to the Prince Fielder issue, and consequently to Josh Hamilton.
But I’m not interested in focusing on any of that, at least not at the moment. Five weeks from today Yu Darvish is going to emerge from the clubhouse at 15754 North Bullard Avenue in Surprise, in a Rangers uniform with an “11” on the back and a cap with a “T” on the front, stretching alongside Feliz and Ogando and Derek Holland, as Daniels and Preller and Nolan Ryan and the Maddux brothers look on, with swarms of cameramen and massive expectations hovering over everything Darvish does, and I’m pretty damn fired up about that.
In the meantime, the only player that the Rangers have under contract for the 2017 season will be introduced tomorrow evening to the local media and, thus, to the rest of us. The process to get to this point was tedious and, ultimately, maybe even a little anticlimactic, but now you get the sense that the monotony is over, and if the Rangers are right about this, something very, very special could be on the verge of unfolding, right in our backyard.