Rangers, Yu Darvish reach deal

Updated: January 19, 2012, 11:09 AM ET
By Richard Durrett | ESPNDallas.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Japanese ace Yu Darvish will be pitching in a Texas Rangers uniform in 2012, agreeing to a six-year deal worth approximately $60 million on Wednesday.

Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said Thursday morning on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM that Darvish can opt out of the sixth year if he hits two different performance thresholds. Both involve the Cy Young voting.

Daniels said if Darvish wins the Cy Young and finishes in the "top three or four" of the balloting a second time in the five years, he can opt out of the sixth year of the contract. He can also get out of it if he finishes second in the balloting and then in the top three or four in two additional years.

"He wanted five years and were weren't going to do that for a variety of reasons," Daniels said. "It was important to him to at least have the possibility of being free. If he finishes in the top three or four of the Cy Young three out of the five years, we probably got our money's worth."

Darvish agreed to the deal, which according to a source includes $56 million guaranteed, just before Wednesday's 5 p.m. ET deadline. The agreement comes 30 days after the Rangers won the right to negotiate with Darvish and his representatives, Don Nomura and Arn Tellem, by submitting a record $51.7 million posting bid.

The club will now send the Nippon-Ham Fighters that payment and Darvish will come to the United States to pitch in the big leagues for the first time.

"He's really thrilled to be coming here," Tellem said. "This is where he wanted to be."

Darvish was home in Japan, where he returned for offseason training after his first and only visit to Texas two weeks ago. The Rangers plan to formally introduce Darvish on Friday night.

On his website, Darvish posted a note acknowledging his new team.

"I will have a press conference first in America and then come back to Japan at which point I will express my gratitude to my fans here in Japan," he wrote.

Including the posting fee, the Rangers paid more than $111 million to sign Darvish, which is more than the $103 million that the Boston Red Sox gave up to negotiate with and sign Daisuke Matsuzaka.

The 25-year-old Darvish was 18-6 last season in Japan with a league-best 1.44 ERA and 276 strikeouts. He walked just 36 batters in 232 innings. Scouts have raved about Darvish's fastball command and what some say is a seven-pitch repertoire, which includes about everything but a changeup.

"We saw a guy that we felt was built to pitch innings and has a classic pitcher's build," Daniels said. "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. He was 18 when he began his pro career and, after an average rookie season, was 12-5 with a 2.89 ERA and 115 strikeouts in his second season (2006). He's been consistent since, going 93-38 with a 1.99 ERA in his career in Japan.

Daniels, who described the move as a "step-out deal" for the team, said negotiations were never contentious. He said there were good reasons for Texas to want a six-year deal.

"How often do you get a chance to sign a 25-year-old free agent? It's a pretty unique opportunity, so you tend to look at things a little differently when you look at somebody that age and the years of the deal take him into his prime," Daniels said. "And secondly, with the nature of the posting process and the size of the post, size of our bid, it made sense to amortize it out over a longer period."

The Rangers believe he will be a critical upper-rotation starter for years to come and will do so as he hits what should be the prime of his career. It's an important addition for a Rangers staff that does not have a true No. 1 after C.J. Wilson left to sign a five-year, $77.5 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels in December.

It's unclear where Darvish will slot in the Rangers' rotation when the season starts, but manager Ron Washington has already said that veteran Colby Lewis will start Opening Day. The rest of the rotation will be decided during spring training. The first three games of the season are against the Chicago White Sox, followed by three at home against the Seattle Mariners -- and Ichiro Suzuki.

"We're not going to spring training with these great expectations that he's going to shine over everybody else," Rangers CEO Nolan Ryan said. "We want him to come in and fit in and make the adjustment of being over here, being in major league baseball for the first time. As we go through spring training and the early part of the season, he'll start showing what he's capable of doing."

But when asked if Darvish was an ace, Ryan said: "I think he certainly has the potential to be."

"It's not fair of me to say that I see him as our No. 1, but I certainly think he has the potential," Ryan said. "He's very unique."

The Rangers' interest in Darvish dates back a few years. They had a scout at nearly every one of his starts in 2011, and Daniels watched him in person last summer. The club has increased its Pacific Rim operations in recent years, with Lewis as its biggest success story.

"The Rangers, more so than any other team, showed not only great interest in scouting him, but spent a lot of personal time developing a relationship with him over the last couple of years through scouts that visited him in Japan," Tellem said. "There was an instant connection between Yu and his family with the Ranger organization."

Darvish visited Texas for the first time earlier this month to get a feel for the place. He took a tour of Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, watched a special video the club put together for him that included some of his pitching highlights, clips of the Rangers' postseason runs and messages from Josh Hamilton and Ryan, among others. Darvish also met several players, including Hamilton and Ian Kinsler, and talked with Ryan and Rangers manager Ron Washington. He also had dinner with pitching coach Mike Maddux.

"The biggest impression I got, or the most surprising thing that I saw, was how big he is," said Maddux, echoing the sentiments of Hamilton, Kinsler and Ryan. "He's big."

The big question for Darvish is whether, unlike some of the recent Japanese pitchers who have posted in the past, his stuff can translate to the big league level. The Rangers' scouts believe they will and so does Lewis, who beat Darvish in 2008 when Lewis was pitching in Japan.

"If you're able to throw strikes, pound the strike zone and get guys out, it doesn't matter what league you play in," Lewis said last week. "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."

Richard Durrett covers the Texas Rangers for ESPNDallas.com. Information from The Associated Press contributed to 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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