Everywhere Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo went last week at the winter meetings, or a few weeks before at the GM meetings, hordes of Japanese media followed. They had one question: “What do you think of Yu Darvish?”
The 25-year-old right-hander who will come to the major leagues with more fanfare than even the Boston Red Sox’ Daisuke Matsuzaka in 2007, is this offseason’s man of mystery. Yes, the Nationals like Darvish, which was Rizzo’s standard answer. “He’s got a complete package,” he said, answering one question but leaving open another: Would the Nationals put in a sealed bid for him?
That, he would not say, noting that “strategically, it doesn’t benefit us to announce if we’re going to bid or not.”
The bidding process for Darvish ended Wednesday at 5 p.m., and while the Nationals still would not comment, they’re on a short list of teams who could even afford to do so.
“My thinking is somebody’s going to pay $50 million-$70 million [for the posting fee],” said Ira Stevens, executive director of ScoutDragon, an Asian baseball information and scouting service that provides information to a number of major league teams. “You can low ball, but all it takes is one team to win the post and then they’ve just got to negotiate a contract.”
The nearest comparison to Darvish is Matsuzaka, who cost $103 million between a $51 million posting fee and a $52 million, five-year contract — and most agree that Matsuzaka is no Darvish.
“Darvish is better than Matsuzaka,” Stevens said. “Everyone who’s seen Darvish knows Darvish is better than Matsuzaka. The numbers, the scouts who’ve seen him, they all say Darvish is better. The question is, how much better?”
The answer likely will be reflected in the winning bid.
Darvish’s team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, has four days to decide the winner, though one person familiar with the process said the answer most likely would come much sooner — perhaps by early Thursday morning in the U.S. The winning team will have 30 days to negotiate a contract with Darvish and his representatives and that could run anywhere from what Matsuzaka inked to the $77.5 million for five years that left-hander C.J. Wilson agreed to with the Los Angeles Angels.
If the Nationals are the winners — which wouldn’t surprise rival executives, according to some national reports — it’s because they not only have the desire for another front-end starter but the cash flow to get it. Whatever number was in the Nationals’ sealed bid, if they won, they’ll have to pay it in a lump sum 30 days from when their claim is awarded.
That means there’s no chance for staggered payments, no deferred money. Just tens of millions of dollars in one check and move on. For some major league teams, that would be an impossibility. For the Nationals? It could happen.
“You have to approximate what your tolerance threshold is,” Rizzo said last week. “In what you would pay in total, with the posting fee and with a major league contract.”
Darvish likeley will set a standard. He’s young, durable and, as Stevens said, “He’s already proven he’s the best pitcher in Japan.”
He’s thrown compete games in 55 of his 159 career starts and has 18 shutouts. He owns a career ERA of 1.99 and has thrown 200-plus innings in four of the past five seasons. This season, he pitched on five days’ rest exactly as often as he pitched on the usual six for Japanese pitchers. On five days’ rest, his era was 1.07. On six, it was 1.24.
“We think that he’s a very good pitcher,” Rizzo said. “He’s got great ability levels, and he’ll be an asset to whatever club gets him.”
In order to find out if that club is the Nationals, though, all they can do is wait.