Rangers win Yu Darvish sweepstakes

Updated: December 21, 2011, 11:06 AM ET
By Richard Durrett | ESPNDallas.com

The Texas Rangers posted the highest bid for Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish and that bid was accepted by Darvish's team in Japan, Major League Baseball announced Monday night.

Rangers general manager Jon Daniels would not say how much the Rangers posting bid was, but sources said it was around $51.7 million. Bidding for the posting fee closed last Wednesday, and the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters had until 5 p.m. ET on Tuesday to accept.

The club still has to pay Darvish a contract, meaning the total investment likely will top $100 million.

The club has 30 days to negotiate with Darvish and his representatives. Should they not reach an agreement in that allotted time, the Fighters will not receive the posting fee and Darvish will pitch in Japan next season.

"Our ownership went the extra mile on this one," Daniels said on a conference call late Monday.

The 25-year-old right-hander is considered the best pitcher in the Japanese professional leagues and several of baseball's biggest spenders were thought to be interested in him.

In 2006, Daisuke Matsuzaka drew a $51.1 million posting fee from the Boston Red Sox, who signed him to a six-year, $52 million contract, taking the total package to more than $100 million.

Matsuzaka pitched in Japan for the Seibu Lions.

If the Rangers can close the deal, Darvish would join a rotation that already includes five starters: Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, Alexi Ogando and former closer Neftali Feliz, moved out of the bullpen when the club signed free-agent reliever Joe Nathan this offseason.

"If we're able to sign him (Darvish), then we'll have a very good problem on our hands," Daniels said.

Darvish is represented by Don Nomura and Arn Tellem.

"We were pleased to learn that the Texas Rangers were the high bidders for Yu Darvish," Tellem said in a statement. "The Rangers are an extraordinary franchise in an exceptional city with equally exceptional fans. Yu is honored to be prized so highly and recognized as a once-in-a-generation pitcher. We look forward to getting negotiations under way."

In an earlier statement, the Rangers said they were "pleased and excited" to win the rights to negotiate with Darvish.

"Our organization has scouted Mr. Darvish for the last several years and has been very impressed with his abilities and accomplishments. We believe he would be a great addition to the Texas Rangers pitching staff," the team said. "We look forward to beginning the next step of this process in the very near future."

The Fighters gave him approval to negotiate with a major league club through the posting system. Matsuzaka and Ichiro Suzuki went to the major leagues under the system.

Darvish, the son of an Iranian father and a Japanese mother, was 18-6 with a league-best 1.44 ERA and 276 strikeouts. He is known to have superb command and some scouting reports say a seven-pitch repertoire, including a two-seamer added in 2010. Darvish walked just 36 batters in 232 innings.

The 6-foot-5 right-hander pitched in the 2009 World Baseball Classic and in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He started his professional career at age 18 and after an average rookie year, which included getting caught smoking in a pachinko parlor on an off day during his first spring training despite not being old enough to legally smoke nor to gamble at the time, put up impressive numbers in his second season (2006), going 12-5 with a 2.89 ERA and 115 strikeouts. Darvish has been steady and has pitched plenty of innings, leading up to his opportunity to land a deal and pitch in the big leagues.

"Darvish is the No. 1 pitcher in Japan, but we want him to become the ace of the world," Nippon Ham team representative Toshimasa Shimada said this month.

Darvish is 93-38 with a 1.99 ERA in his career in Japan. He has not pitched in the major leagues before and scouts seem to differ on how good he will be. But he's projected by most as a No. 1 or No. 2 starter.

In 2007, Darvish won the Eiji Sawamura Award presented to the top pitcher in Japanese professional baseball after posting a 15-5 record with a 1.82 ERA and a league-leading 210 strikeouts.

"Obviously, it's a very exciting night for our organization, our fans and our community," Daniels said. "We're looking for any opportunity to improve our club, not just for next season but for the long term."

For a Rangers staff without a true No. 1, he gives them a young starter who slides into the upper part of the rotation, assuming a contract is reached. C.J. Wilson, the Rangers' top starter in 2011, signed a five-year, $77.5 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels this offseason.

Daniels scouted Darvish himself last season and the club has increased its presence in the Pacific Rim in recent years. The team's biggest signing out of Japan was Lewis prior to the 2010 season. He put up a ton of strikeouts and showed solid control in Japan for two seasons and has been able to replicate that, for the most part, in the majors. Lewis has pitched well in the postseason for two straight years and the Rangers picked up a club option on Lewis' contract for the 2012 season.

It's a major move for the Rangers, buoyed by a lucrative television contract and consecutive AL championships under a new ownership group led by Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan. But the team is still chasing its first World Series title -- and Texas knows all too well that nothing is done until it is done.

Despite a serious effort, the Rangers were unable to re-sign free-agent ace Cliff Lee following the 2010 season. They made it back to the World Series anyway and were within one strike of winning it all -- twice -- before the St. Louis Cardinals rallied to take the trophy.

"Our commitment of our ownership is to put the best team out there. The last couple of years we just haven't been able to close it out," Daniels said.

Richard Durrett covers the Rangers for ESPNDallas.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Richard Durrett joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He writes about colleges, the Dallas Stars and the Texas Rangers. Richard spent nine years at The Dallas Morning News covering the Rangers, Stars, colleges, motorsports and high schools.

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