Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Yu Darvish: Why he'll end up with Texas
By David Schoenfield
It's not in Nolan Ryan's nature to give in.
Throw a 3-2 fastball down the middle of the plate? No way. Let up on his fastball -- just a little -- to throw a few more strikes? Are you kidding? He was not going to give in to a hitter. Ever. It's why he walked more batters than any pitcher in the history of the game, as many as 204 in a season.
Surrender to the ravages of time? No way. Keep firing fastballs, riding the exercise bike, lifting weights, staying strong ... and lead the National League in ERA at age 40, throw a no-hitter at 43, another at 44 and pitch until you're 46.
When Rangers manager Ron Washington admitted to cocaine use? Stand by the guy you believe in, not giving in to the pressure to fire him.
And this is why the Texas Rangers will win the right to negotiate with Japanese right-hander Yu Darvish.
The Los Angeles Angels have signed Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson. The Rangers have a countermove to make. It's Nolan Ryan, after all. He's not going to let the Angels dig in and get that final pitch down the middle.
Now, of course, there's no guarantee the Rangers will get Darvish. The bidding process -- which ends Wednesday night at 5 p.m. ET -- allows teams to submit bids to negotiate with Darvish. The highest bidder then has 30 days to sign him. When the Red Sox won the rights to negotiate with Daisuke Matsuzaka after the 2006 season, they paid $51.1 million to win the bid and then signed Matsuzaka to a six-year, $52 million contract. The same winter, the Yankees paid $26 million to negotiate with Kei Igawa.
Estimates to win the rights to the 25-year-old Darvish have ranged from $30 million to $70 million, according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo. The performances of Matsuzaka (mediocre, nibbled too much, couldn't go deep into games) and Igawa (horrible) will perhaps make some teams hesitant to pay a small fortune just to negotiate with a player who may have a preference to sign with a West Coast team -- if he signs at all. There is no guarantee that will even happen, as Darvish apparently doesn't have a burning desire to prove himself in America like Hideki Matsui or Ichiro Suzuki did. Darvish is already the highest-paid player in Japan.
Those who have seen Darvish say he can be a No. 1 pitcher over here. Mets manager Terry Collins, who managed against Darvish in Japan, raved about him at the winter meetings. Davey Johnson has also managed against him and called him a "big, strong hard-thrower. Throws a lot like Americans. ... That guy is going to be expensive," he said at the winter meetings.
In his final two years in Japan, Matsuzaka's numbers read 401.1 innings, 310 hits, 83 walks and 426 strikeouts. If anything, Darvish has been even more dominant; in the past two seasons, he's pitched 434 innings with 314 hits, 83 walks and 498 strikeouts. But Matsuzaka's fastball never seemed to have the same life that he displayed in the 2006 World Baseball Classic, and he often appeared afraid to challenge hitters over here, leading to high walk rates and inconsistent performance.
If there is a concern about Darvish, it's that he's pitched a lot of innings at a young age. He turned 25 in August but has already compiled four seasons of 200-plus innings in Japan, the first coming when he was 20. Former Royals manager Trey Hillman, who managed Darvish in Japan, says Darvish would be able to handle the pressure of coming to America better than Matsuzaka. "He's a totally different person," Hillman told USA Today's Paul White. "He gets it, and it doesn't faze him in the least."
That circles us back to the Rangers. They've lost Wilson, their best starter the past two seasons, to their division rival. The signing of Joe Nathan likely prompts a move of Neftali Feliz to the rotation -- giving the club five starters in Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, Alexi Ogando and Feliz, with Scott Feldman also hanging around. It's a good rotation. Solid.
But Nolan Ryan wants more than solid. The Rangers came within a strike of winning the World Series in 2011, even though their starters pitched into the seventh inning just four times in 17 postseason games. He needs a No. 1. They can sign Darvish and move Ogando back to the bullpen, where he profiles as a dominant setup man to Nathan.
Maybe Ryan will fool us. Maybe he and general manager Jon Daniels are happy with their current rotation. Maybe the Rangers really won't spend any big money this offseason, letting Wilson go and passing on Prince Fielder, whose left-handed bat profiles perfectly in the middle of the righty-heavy Rangers lineup.
Maybe. But that's not the way Nolan Ryan usually pitches.