The Texas Rangers' deadline for signing Yu Darvish is rapidly approaching, and the team has until Wednesday afternoon to strike a deal or the coveted pitcher will return to pitch in Japan.
The Rangers and Darvish's representatives -- Don Nomura and Arn Tellem -- have until 5 p.m. ET Wednesday to strike a deal.
A report over the weekend said the big sticking point is the term of the contract. Yahoo! Sports said the Rangers are pursuing a six-year deal, and that Darvish preferred five years so he can become a free agent sooner. The report goes on to say the chances of both sides not reaching some sort of agreement is "minimal."
Rangers CEO Nolan Ryan reiterated over the weekend that he's "optimistic" a deal will get done by the deadline and that Darvish would be pitching in a Rangers uniform this season.
"My expectation is that we'll get something done," Ryan said. "It's a process, so during the period that we negotiate with someone, we really don't talk about it. I'm optimistic we'll get something done."
If for some reason things don't come together, Darvish would return to pitch in Japan in 2012 and the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters would have to refund the Rangers' record $51.7 million posting bid.
The Rangers' interest in Darvish dates back a few years. They've scouted him plenty in that span and had someone at nearly all of his 2011 starts. General manager Jon Daniels himself traveled last summer to see Darvish pitch and talk to members of the Rangers' Pacific Rim operations.
The Rangers have increased their presence in the Japan market in recent years and can boast a nice success story in Colby Lewis, who pitched well for two seasons in Japan and signed a two-year deal with a club option, which the club exercised, for 2012.
"If you're able to throw strikes, pound the strike zone and get guys out, it doesn't matter what league you play in," said Lewis, who beat Darvish when both were pitching in Japan in 2008 and believes that Darvish could be successful in the majors. "If you can command the fastball and do what you need to do to get guys out, you can have success here, too.
"He has overpowering stuff, especially in that league over there. The big thing that stood out to me was his fastball command. If he can do that here, he'll have success."
As part of the negotiation process, Darvish made his first trip to Texas in early January. He toured Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, met a few players (including Josh Hamilton and Ian Kinsler) and watched a video the club put together designed to make Darvish feel welcome. It included highlights of Darvish, highlights of the Rangers' playoff runs and some messages from players. Hamilton said he took part in the video, saying "Welcome to Texas" in Japanese and sharing some thoughts with the young pitcher.
"I told him, 'If you come in, give us your best, we'll definitely give you our best every day and at the same time, don't take offense because we're going to pick on you a lot -- it just means that we love you,' " Hamilton said.
Kinsler and Hamilton both said the biggest takeaway from meeting Darvish was his size -- he's listed at 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds. Even Ryan said Darvish was bigger than he thought, and the Hall of Famer was impressed with the pitcher when he met him in Texas earlier this month.
"He was built like a pitcher," Ryan said. "He looks good. He understands a lot of English and I just liked his attitude about wanting to compete. To me, he represented what I've been led to believe."
The mission for both sides, now, is to try to reach an agreement that would satisfy both parties by Wednesday afternoon. If they do, it should making things very interesting next month in Surprise, Ariz., when pitchers and catchers report by Feb. 22.
Richard Durrett covers the Texas Rangers for ESPNDallas.com.