Yu Darvish celebrated the announcement that the Texas Rangers had spent $51.7 million just to talk with him by doing what he does often: He worked out. There is a training ethic in Japanese baseball, one passed down from previous generations that the natives consider sacrosanct to their sport and that Americans who try to play there peg as completely nuts.
While Darvish raged against some of the other tropes of Japanese culture, never did he shy away from work. To see him when he first entered professional baseball with the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters at 18 years old and now seven years later is to see a boy who grew into a man, a 175-pound beanpole who now carries 225 pounds on his 6-foot-5 frame, a raw arm who evolved into a polished pitcher.
In other words, he ain't Daisuke.
Over the next 30 days, as Darvish and the Rangers will haggle over the proper price for his services on top of the record bid Texas placed in the posting auction that ended late Monday night, the tired and lazy comparison of Darvish vs. Daisuke Matsuzaka will surface ad nauseam. Somehow, in the strained logic of baseball analysis, a shared country extrapolates to other commonalities.
Know this: If the Rangers and Darvish do arrive at a mutually acceptable contract – sources speculate it will take $75 million-plus, which would put the total haul for Darvish higher than what Philadelphia paid Cliff Lee last year – he is not going to arrive with a gut and double chin like Daisuke did after the Boston Red Sox plunked down $103.1 million only to see him slog through games before blowing out his elbow.
[Related: Red Sox fans dismayed by team's inaction]
This is a bonanza signing for the Rangers, a stunning rejoinder to the Los Angeles Angels' $331.5 million Albert Pujols-C.J. Wilson perfecta. Just when the two-time defending American League champions looked vulnerable, they sandbagged their way into the posting auction, let the world believe the Toronto Blue Jays had placed the high figure on Darvish and ended the process having spent more money than on any previous posting by about $600,000.
Texas' triumph is no doubt a risk. No Japanese pitcher has thrived long-term in the major leagues. Hideo Nomo was a shooting star whose first two years represented his brightest moments. Daisuke was serviceable as a rookie, very good in his second season and awful the next three. The closest thing to a consistently solid starter is Hiroki Kuroda, who has put up four above-average seasons.
Still, the Rangers – and almost all of their brethren – believe Darvish will be different. His stuff is better than his predecessors', starting with a pair of devastating off-speed pitches – a slider and cutter – complemented by a fastball that sits 92 to 95 mph. His two-seam fastball should become an even greater weapon with Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler in the infield behind him.
Darvish's command and control are top-shelf, too. Over the last five seasons, all of which he finished with earned-run averages below 2.00, Darvish has walked fewer than 2.2 batters per nine innings. He issued just 36 free passes against 276 strikeouts this season, when he also posted an 18-6 record and 1.44 ERA in 232 innings.
[Related: Ultimate MLB free-agent tracker]
If any Japanese player is likely to adapt well to the United States, it's Darvish. His father, who grew up in Iran, and mother, a Japanese citizen, met in the U.S. In a homogenous Japanese culture, Darvish always stood out. It made him a natural headline grabber, from his underage cigarette smoking to his nude magazine pictorial to his divorce from a Japanese pop star.
Amid it all, Darvish only improved. The Rangers watched him do so in person, executives and scouts falling for what they considered a truly elite arm. Exactly how it develops under the rigors of an expected five-man rotation (and four days of rest) will be the trickiest part of acclimating Darvish, who often started on five or six days' rest with the Fighters.
Well, the Rangers have one of the game's best pitching coaches in Mike Maddux. And the manager of players' managers in Ron Washington. Plus a stable, strong and welcoming clubhouse, a history with Japanese players, a fan base growing more rabid by the year and a schedule that lets Darvish play plenty of games where he wanted to be: on the West Coast.
And then there are Nolan Ryan and Jon Daniels, the Rangers' owner and general manager, the oddest couple around who together have built this team into not just a contender but a model. The Rangers now have at least seven possibilities at starting pitcher – Darvish, Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, Alexi Ogando, Scott Feldman and Neftali Feliz, the former closer with ace stuff – along with significant minor league pitching depth. The Rangers do things how they're supposed to be done.
There is no such thing as benefit of the doubt in baseball, of course, every decision best to be taken on its individual merit. But a franchise does not luck its way out of the AL and into consecutive World Series. The Rangers have made plenty more good decisions than bad.
And so while the Angels' spending spree may have been the nudge that pushed the Rangers past the Blue Jays, this was no impulse buy, no Kei Igawa to Daisuke. This was the Texas Rangers seeing an ace, a man who works out after the biggest news of his career drops, and throwing around that money they were hiding who knows where.
It doesn't matter now, either, because unless negotiations turn ugly – and considering both parties' happiness with the posting outcome, they shouldn't – Yu Darvish is going to be a Texas Ranger and the American League West is going to be one hell of a race.
May 11-13. Ballpark at Arlington. Rangers vs. Angels. Darvish vs. Pujols.
Start the countdown.
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- Yu Darvish