Commentary

Why isn't Yu Darvish a Yankee?!

After Irabu and Igawa, Rangers' righty was gamble Cashman was unwilling to make

Updated: April 25, 2012, 12:04 PM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- In his capacity as general manager of the New York Yankees, Brian Cashman has to be part bookkeeper, part talent evaluator and part fortune-teller.

In the case of Yu Darvish, Cashman would have had to add another duty to his already-full job description: riverboat gambler.

Because a couple of years ago, he took a similar, although less expensive, gamble on a Japanese phenom pitcher named Kei Igawa.

The way that one turned out -- or, I should say, didn't turn out -- had everything to do with why Cashman and the Yankees wound up on the wrong side of Darvish's repertoire Tuesday night.

Igawa was the bet that did not come in. On Tuesday night, Darvish was the bet that did. Everybody knows how to pick the winner after the race is over. But sometimes, it is wiser to keep your money in your pocket. That is what Cashman chose to do with Darvish.

Still, as I watched Darvish humming along, mowing the Yankees down for 8 1/3 innings, making them look foolish with his baffling array of pitches and keeping them off balance with the diabolical speed differential between his fastball and curve, the first thought that struck me was the obvious: Tell me again why the Yankees didn't make a run at this guy?

The second thought that struck me was just as obvious but not nearly so provocative or as much fun: I already know why they didn't.

It made sense at the time and it still makes sense now, but if any night was made for the second-guess, Tuesday night in Arlington was that night.

After all, earlier in the evening, the puzzling saga of Michael Pineda took another odd turn when it was revealed the 23-year-old righty Cashman decided was good enough to part with Jesus Montero for would undergo not one, but two examinations on his sore shoulder by two doctors.

No one knew quite what any of that meant or implied, but not even incorrigible positive thinker Joe Girardi could work up much optimism over seeing Pineda on the mound for the Yankees any time soon.

Then came the ballgame, and Darvish, whom the Yankees scouted in Japan but decided to take a pass on, pitched a masterpiece at the expense of one of the most dangerous lineups in baseball.

[+] EnlargeYu Darvish
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesYu Darvish's father credits the Rangers' coaching staff for the gradual improvement in his son's performances.

He came as advertised, with seven electric pitches at his disposal, and he came better than expected, with the kind of command in the strike zone he had not displayed in his previous three starts, the kind that took away the Yankees' most potent offensive weapon, their ability to run up the pitch count and wear out starting pitchers.

"We had a game plan to make him throw strikes,'' Mark Teixeira said. "But if you tried to be patient, you were down 0-1, 0-2. We tried to work the count, work the count, work the count, but that wasn't happening tonight.''

Darvish gave the Yankees one real opportunity all night, in the third inning when he surrendered a leadoff single to Eric Chavez, walked Russell Martin and brain-locked on a sacrifice bunt attempt by Derek Jeter that became an infield hit.

Now, the bases were loaded, no one out, and Curtis Granderson, Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano were licking their chops for a chance to run this 25-year-old rookie in just his fourth major league start right out of his own ballpark.

But nine pitches later, the threat was over, and so was the game. After befuddling Granderson with a mad mixture of four-seam fastballs, sliders and cutters, Darvish finally froze the Yankees center fielder with a curveball for strike three.

Then, he got A-Rod to tap weakly to third base, where Adrian Beltre turned an easy inning-ending double play.

There were two other minor threats -- Cano doubled, one of just two hard-hit balls all night, to lead off the fourth but never moved after Teixeira and Swisher struck out and Raul Ibanez grounded out; and Jeter doubled with two out in the fifth but went no further. For most of the game, Darvish had the Yankees swinging as if they were trying to kill bees with a sledgehammer.

"He keeps you off balance,'' said Jeter, who had two hits regardless, raising his average to .416. "He threw 97 [mph] I think once when I was hitting, so he adds and subtracts. Any time you have a guy who does that, it's going to be a challenge for you."

It wasn't so much the 97 mph fastball that was the problem; it was the curveball that often followed it, the one that floated in at 76 mph and dove at the ankles.

"He was throwing a cutter, a split, curveball, changeup, and I mean he was throwing everything right where he wanted it,'' said Cano, who, like Jeter, had two hits. "I don't remember anybody who throws that many pitches.''

Darvish finished with 8 1/3 shutout innings. He scattered seven hits, struck out 10 and, in a major departure from his ragged early performances, walked only two. He is now 3-0 with a 2.42 ERA. He was so good he relegated an excellent start by Hiroki Kuroda -- 6 2/3 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 5 K's -- to a distant second-place finish.

Which brings me back to my original, admittedly obvious, thought: Why is this guy a Texas Ranger and not a New York Yankee?

Clearly, the Yankees would not have had to part with Montero to bring Darvish to New York. All it would have taken was money -- lots of it, to be sure -- but money has never been an object if the Yankees think a player is worth it.

However, Cashman and his baseball advisers didn't think this one was worth the gamble, and viewed through the prism he was using over the winter, it was difficult to blame him.

For one thing, the investment was substantial, between the required posting fee and the expected large multiyear contract Darvish would command.

For another, the track record of highly hyped and highly paid Japanese pitchers was not a good one overall, and particularly for the Yankees.

In fact, you can sum it up in four words. Hideki Irabu. Kei Igawa.

Plus, there was the case of Daisuke Matsuzaka, on whom the Red Sox spent a total of $113 million. He is recovering from Tommy John surgery, and his future is very much in doubt.

The Yankees liked Darvish's stuff but not their chances of having success with him, based on prior history. They knew even the most talented Japanese pitchers sometimes never adjust to the major changes that must be made when going from the Japan baseball league to Major League Baseball, not to mention the lifestyle adjustments.

They knew that between the posting fee and the contract, Darvish would cost upward of $100 million, with no guarantee of success. And the spectacle of Kei Igawa, one of the most spectacular failures in Yankees history, hung over the whole thing like an ominous black cloud.

So it was easy for Cashman to pass on Darvish and instead invest $10 million in a one-year deal for Kuroda, who already had proved he could make the necessary adjustments and did not tie up the payroll or a roster spot for an extended period of time.

It was a lot harder, I am told, for the Rangers to post the $52 million bid that won the rights to negotiate with Darvish, as well as the additional $60 million it cost to sign him for six years. The Rangers, of course, are the only team in baseball to have a Hall of Fame pitcher in its ownership group, and even Nolan Ryan wasn't sure whether it was worth taking the plunge on Darvish.

But after the Los Angeles Angels, Texas' main rivals in the division, went all-in for Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, Ryan & Co. swallowed hard and plunged on Darvish.

On Tuesday night, their gamble paid off. Back in January, had Brian Cashman been able to see far enough into the future to visualize this night, he, too, might have taken that plunge.

Then again, gamblers who get burned as badly as Cashman got burned on Igawa aren't likely to stick their hands in the flame again.

And rationally speaking, can you really blame him?

Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
Follow Wallace on Twitter »  Chat archive »

SPONSORED HEADLINES

EDITORS' PICKS

  • Smokin' Aces
    The Yankees pulled out Michael Pineda and Masahiro Tanaka to blank the Cubs.
  • It's Not Fair!
    Mike Woodson says it's unfair to fire him after the season the Knicks had in 2014.
  • Odom Signed
    The Knicks have announced that they have signed Lamar Odom for the rest of the season.
  • Livin' The Dream
    The playoff-bound Nets are everything the awful Knicks were supposed to be.
  • Going Green
    The Jets signed ex-Titan Chris Johnson to a two-year deal worth up to $9 million.

ALSO SEE

MORE MLB HEADLINES