ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Texas Rangers' pursuit of Yu Darvish began nearly six years ago, as Darvish outshined other Japanese high school stars in front of Rangers scouts. But it was during the final day of the Winter Meetings at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas when the momentum toward posting a bid and eventually getting a contract done really heated up.
That was one of the more interesting days for the Rangers this offseason.
In the wee hours of that Thursday morning in early December, the club found out that free-agent pitcher C.J. Wilson would be signing with its chief rival in the AL West, the Los Angeles Angels. A few hours later, word broke that Albert Pujols had signed his lucrative 10-year deal with the Angels, as well, altering the landscape of the division.
Rangers general manager Jon Daniels stressed that his club wouldn't make any moves to "counter" what the Angels had done, but would press on with their offseason plan. Though he was careful not to reveal it then, that plan centered on the attempted acquisition of Darvish, a pitcher the Rangers determined was the best one on the market.
So later that day, Daniels and key members of his baseball operations staff joined CEO Nolan Ryan in the second of two presentations that week to members of the club's ownership. One was held in Fort Worth, with co-chairman of the board Bob Simpson in attendance, and the other at the Hilton Anatole so co-chairman Ray Davis (and other owners) could hear the pitch.
"I felt like it was important that our baseball people make their presentation to ownership for them to get a true feel for the passion and the work they put in behind this, and the unique opportunity our baseball people felt like we had here," Ryan said.
Among those joining Daniels for the presentation were assistant GM Thad Levine, player personnel director A.J. Preller, professional scouting director Josh Boyd and Don Welke, senior scouting assistant to the GM. Ryan said the group made an impassioned plea and explained why they felt Darvish was worth what was going to be a substantial financial commitment.
"We presented Yu as a player and Yu as a person," Levine said. "We talked about the thoroughness of our scouting and how he fits competitively for us. We view top-of-the-rotation starters as the most scarce thing in the game. We were recommending pursuing this route rather than trading a wealth of prospects for something that we didn't necessarily like as much."
Ryan was also swayed by the presentation and could tell that ownership was sold after hearing from the baseball staff. A major reason: They had done their homework.
Texas knew about Darvish in high school, when he was already showing excellent control and an ability to change speeds. They watched as he began his professional career and started to put together impressive numbers. That coincided with the club's decision to establish Pacific Rim operations, headed by Jim Colborn. It was part of an organizational commitment under Daniels to try to acquire the best talent from anywhere in the world.
Rangers scouts really honed in on Darvish in 2010 and 2011. They saw most of his starts last year, with scout Joe Furukawa helping spearhead the effort.
"He was a critical part of these scouting efforts and has contributed with bringing Colby Lewis and Yoshinori Tateyama in coming over here," Boyd said. "He's one of the top evaluators in our organization."
Furukawa and other scouts talked to Darvish's coaches, friends and family. They got to know who Darvish was as a person. Others, including Daniels last summer, took visits to see Darvish. The GM had hoped to keep that trip under wraps, but a photo of him circulated online.
"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."
That work helped convince ownership to step up and make a bid.
Anytime you place a sealed bid, you hope you win the process by $1 and bid only what's necessary. But it's not an open auction. You have no idea what any other club is bidding.
"We took the attitude that if you don't win the post, you can't negotiate," Levine said. "There's no reward for having the most prudent post. That's also known as the team that didn't get to negotiate."
The club turned in a record $51,703,411 bid and waited. The last four digits of the bid weren't by accident. The Rangers added Ryan's old number and Darvish's number to the end of the bid.
"We figured instead of a bunch of zeros, we'd try for some luck with one of the best pitchers in big league and franchise history and another guy we hoped could contribute to championships moving forward," Levine said.
After waiting through the weekend -- with very little information leaked on Twitter or anywhere else -- the Rangers found out they had won the bid less than a week before Christmas.
"Our ownership went the extra mile on this one," Daniels told reporters after the Rangers won the bid.
Texas celebrated the victory, but immediately went to work on getting Darvish signed within the 30-day negotiating window. As part of the posting system, the club had to reach an agreement within that time period or Darvish would play in Japan in 2012. If the club didn't reach a deal, they wouldn't be sending Darvish's Japanese team, the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, the $51.7 million check.
"We treated this like a first-round draft pick that we had 30 days to sign," Levine said. "It was a lot of recruitment. More than anything, we wanted to make Yu and his family feel as if this was the right place for him to continue his career and development for the pursuit of his next challenge. He could have stayed where he was, so we wanted him to feel comfortable about taking the leap and coming here."
The Rangers sent personnel to Japan to talk with his family. Some of the club's brass made repeated trips to Los Angeles, where agent Arn Tellem had an office. And they welcomed Darvish and his father, Farsad, to Texas in early January. It was a chance for Yu, who had never been to Texas, to get a look around.
Darvish had a physical and took a tour of the ballpark as a recruiting video of sorts played on the big screen. It included highlights of Darvish's career in Japan, shots of the Rangers' postseason runs and messages from several Rangers players and personnel, including Josh Hamilton and Ryan (both even spoke a little Japanese on the film).
Darvish went into the clubhouse and found a No. 11 jersey with his name on it (and a jersey for his father, too). At one point, he put on a Rangers cap to get a feel for how he looked in it.
Darvish is so dedicated to his conditioning that he worked out in the middle of his ballpark tour.
He also wanted to look at some areas where he might live if he signed and went to dinner at Del Frisco's in Fort Worth, one of Ryan's favorite steakhouses. At a big table of Rangers front-office personnel and coaches, including pitching coach Mike Maddux, Ryan got to see Darvish's personality that scouts had described to him -- and his healthy appetite.
"He ordered a big steak," said Ryan, who joked that so did all of the baseball folks in attendance. "He wants to win and is competitive, and that came across. The thing that stood out was his passion for the game and trying to be the best he can possibly be. That's one of the motivations about coming to the major leagues. It's another challenge for him."
Darvish also had dinner at Truluck's in Dallas one night with manager Ron Washington and a different group of Rangers folks, giving him a chance to meet a variety of people in the organization.
"It was important," Daniels said of the visit. "This was something he'd been thinking about for years, coming to the big leagues. Most Japanese players and baseball fans are aware of New York and Boston and Los Angeles. I don't think DFW in that part of the world is as well-known of a city. The postseason has been a pretty good infomercial for us the past two years. It's hard not to like the Rangers. Who doesn't want to play for Wash? Who doesn't want to play with Ian [Kinsler], Mike [Young], Josh, Adrian [Beltre] and our guys? It was a chance to see parts of Dallas, parts of Fort Worth, the ballpark and sit down and break bread with guys."
Farsad said the whole trip made a good impression on his son.
"We found them very hospitable," Farsad said about the Rangers. "Because of Yu's training schedule, we had to go Jan. 1. He's very keen on training. They respected his timing. I felt bad dragging the front office out during the New Year's holiday, but they were very helpful. It was a very nice way to break the ice. I thought everyone was nice and relaxed."
After that, the Rangers and Darvish's representatives picked up the negotiations. Daniels sent Boyd to meet with Darvish's parents and walk them through everything and make them aware of how the club planned on supporting Yu and how much they wanted him.
Things reached a crescendo this past Monday, when Darvish's agents, Tellem and Don Nomura, flew to Texas and spent the last few days leading up to the deadline meeting with the Rangers. In that last 36-hour period, it was mainly Daniels and Levine, along with the agents, who hammered out the final details. Ryan kept ownership updated on what was happening. The biggest sticking point was that the Rangers wanted six years and Darvish wanted to have the ability to become a free agent after five years. The night before the deadline, both sides worked until around 2 a.m. to try to get through some issues. After some short hours of sleep, they resumed.
Finally, with about 25 minutes to go before the deadline, the sides were shaking hands on the key parts of the deal. Texas got the six-year deal it wanted, but Darvish also got the ability to opt out of the sixth year if he ends up high in the Cy Young voting several times in the first five years of the contract. Details were worked out and an announcement was made about the agreement three minutes prior to the deadline.
"There were no theatrics," Levine said. "It really was a heck of a partnership. There was a desired outcome and everyone wanted to treat everyone fairly. We worked through the issues and things got done. We're pleased and we can't wait for him to get here."
Richard Durrett covers the Rangers for ESPNDallas.com.