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Wednesday, January 18, 2012
The Yu Darvish effect

By Mark Saxon

The Texas Rangers were in need of a No. 1 starter after the Angels snatched C.J. Wilson from the top of their rotation. Wednesday they got their man, agreeing to a six-year, $60 million deal with the most dominant pitcher in Japan, Yu Darvish.

What does it say about the way the Rangers evaluated Wilson? They were unwilling to match the Angels' offer of $77.5 million, so they spent more than $111 million on his replacement?

Maybe it says more about the way they valued Darvish. The Rangers have scouted the Pacific Rim as earnestly as any team in the major leagues, with the guy who figures to start Opening Day for them, Colby Lewis, their most high-profile find until this Darvish deal. They had a scout at nearly all of Darvish's 2011 starts, according to ESPN Dallas' Richard Durrett.

Darvish, 25, struck out 276 batters last year with a league-best 1.44 ERA. He throws seven pitches and has pinpoint command, according to scouting reports.

"We saw a guy that we felt was built to pitch innings and has a classic pitcher's build," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels told reporters. "He has a real commitment to his conditioning and work ethic. We think he can pitch innings at a high caliber for a large amount of time."

The 6-foot-5, 220-pound Darvish pitched in the 2009 World Baseball Classic and the 2008 Beijing Olympics. In his second year, he was 12-5 with a 2.89 ERA and 115 strikeouts. He's gone 93-38 with a 1.99 ERA in his career since then.

Pitching was a much bigger part of Texas' success last year than most people realize, with the Rangers' starters posting a combined 3.65 ERA, just a few ticks behind the Angels' staff, and they had to work in a much more hitter-friendly home ballpark. If Darvish transitions as well as Daisuke Matsuzaka did, he could make things surprisingly close again between the AL West rivals. Injuries and heavy workloads caught up with Matsuzaka, but according to Fangraphs.com's Wins Above Replacement stats, Matsuzaka lived up to his salary in the first two years of his six-year deal.

So what will the Angels do to respond? Probably nothing, according to general manager Jerry Dipoto as recently as Wednesday, which is reasonable considering owner Arte Moreno has already spent more than $330 million this winter. They'll take their chances behind a beefed-up offense led by Albert Pujols and a rotation featuring Wilson, Jered Weaver and Dan Haren at the top. Now they just have to hope Texas doesn't have the money to sign free-agent slugger Prince Fielder.

The Angels landed their blows early in this off-season fight. Now, they're in a defensive position, taking body shots and hoping to win on points in the end.