Japanese standout pitcher Yu Darvish may be an expensive alternative for Nationals

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DALLAS — When it comes to transactions and acquisitions, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo and the rest of his front office staff left Dallas Thursday afternoon much the same way they arrived at the winter meetings on Sunday. They didn’t add a starting pitcher or a center fielder while they were here, and their bench still remains basically empty.

The Nationals have talked a lot this week about “Plan B.” Such is the nature of conversation when you miss out on your top free agent target as Washington did with Mark Buehrle. But the news came late Wednesday night that the Nationals may now have a chance to pursue a younger option with more potential — but an even higher price tag.

Japanese right-hander Yu Darvish announced on his personal blog that he would participate in the posting process and he was expected to be posted by his Nippon Professional Baseball team, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, sometime on Thursday. The Nationals, including Rizzo himself in past years, have scouted Darvish heavily and are interested in his talent. Rizzo declined to say whether the team would be submitting a bid for the 25-year-old.

“Strategically, it doesn’t benefit us to announce if we’re going to bid or not,” Rizzo said. “We’e scouted him. We like him. We recognize his ability levels.”

Darvish has been a superstar in Japan for some time, posting a career stat line that would make any team drool. In four years in Japan, Darvish has a career 1.18 ERA and averaged a complete game 40 percent of the time. He’s not a left-hander but that’s about the only negative on paper that would come from sliding him into a rotation with Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann at the top.

“I think he’s got a complete package,” Rizzo said. “He’s a physical guy with stuff and knows how to pitch and has had success at a substantially high level of competition.”

From the moment Darvish is posted, teams will have four days to submit blind bids, and his team will then have four days to select a winner. The team with the winning bid — and estimates have ranged anywhere from $20 million to $50 million — will get a 30-day negotiating window to sign him.

Darvish is considered a rare talent. Better, many say without question, than Daisuke Matzusaka was before joining the Red Sox, but the track record for Japanese pitchers coming to the U.S. is not littered with superstar success stories. Matsuzaka himself has been something of a disappointment for the $103 million it took to get him between a $51.11 million posting fee and a six-year, $52 million contract. He is currently rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.

All of that will be taken into consideration when the Nationals decide whether to lobby an enticing bid.

“I think you have to first approximate what your tolerance threshold is in what you would pay in total, with the posting fee and with a major league contract,” Rizzo said. “And I think you have to strategically put together a plan to A. get the player in the post and B. see if you can afford to get the player (with) the posting fee and then signing the player to a major league contract.”

Center field options still murky

The Nationals don’t expect to be heavy bidders on Cuban free agent Yoenis Cespedes, though Rizzo and director of international scouting Johnny DiPuglia have seen him in a private workout. The Nationals are intrigued by Cespedes. Rizzo called him “a great talent,” and “one of several options that we’re considering,” on Wednesday but added that “he’s an unproven commodity.” One Nationals official indicated that their interest may reside more with 19-year-old Jorge Soler who would be two or three years away from the major leagues but has sky high potential.

Whatever the route, though, while the Los Angeles Angels were sending shock waves through the industry by locking up Albert Pujols for 10 years and $250 million and left-hander C.J. Wilson for five years and more than $75 million, stealing the headlines away from even the suddenly flush Miami Marlins, the Nationals‘ focus remained steady.

“We’re not going to be rushed into anything or be forced into anything,” Rizzo said. “If a deal is out there we feel comfortable with, we’re certainly going to pull the trigger.”

“I think we laid a lot of foundation for discussion with other GMs, and we still have our goal of doing the things we were supposed to do,” Rizzo said. “I think we’ve come a long way in getting close to doing something very productive for the club.”

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