The Yu Darvish posting process is over and we can chalk up a big ol' Texas-sized win for Nolan Ryan's poker face.
While most of the baseball world spent the last few days assuming that Darvish was headed for the Toronto Blue Jays, the Texas Rangers emerged as the winners for the ace of the Nippon-Ham Fighters late on Monday night.
The winning bid, as reported by our own Jeff Passan, was a record $51.7 million.
That's a huge ante for a needy Rangers team that nevertheless adopted a pockets-turned-out public persona for the Darvish derby and were reluctant to make any serious run at retaining their own ace, C.J. Wilson.
But with Wilson heading to Anaheim to join Albert Pujols and the suddenly stocked Los Angeles Angels, the onus was on GM Jon Daniels and the two-time defending AL champions to reinforce their ranks and it always seemed as if Darvish would be a perfect fit. Though Ryan publicly insisted the money really wasn't there for a big free-agent signing, a source of ESPN's Buster Olney speculated on Monday afternoon that the Rangers could be the surprise winners. The reality of the giant posting fee now gives the Rangers 30 days to work out a deal with Darvish and lure him down to the Metroplex.
"[It's a] very exciting night," Texas general manager Jon Daniels said [via Star-Telegram.com]. "For our organization, our fans, our community, this is the first step in the process, but it's an important one. We hope that it will end by signing Darvish to a contract."
Needless to say, Ryan, Daniels and Co. won't be able to slowplay this hand with anything resembling a disinterested visage. The money they just brought to the table surpassed the $51.1 million that the Boston Red Sox paid for a date with Daisuke Matsuzaka in 2007 and there's no doubt that Darvish and his people will be looking to top the six-year, $52 million contract that Dice-K ultimately commanded.
It's been reported that the 25-year-old right-hander is perfectly content to stay in Japan and pitch — in which case the Rangers bid money would be refunded — but it's hard to know how committed Darvish is to that thought. He and agent Arn Tellem certainly aren't going to surrender their one piece of leverage so easily.
If the two sides are able to come to terms, however, it gives the Rangers an above-average rotation that contains the most upside in the league. Darvish, Derek Holland, Alexi Ogando or Neftali Feliz all could easily reveal himself as the team's ace in 2012. Then there's Colby Lewis, Scott Feldman and Matt Harrison on the back end of the rotation or to serve as valuable trade bait. The Rangers will continue to be known for the big bats in their lineup, but the secret ingredient of their success — a value-based pitching staff that's short on household names but long on talent — will still be there in a somewhat mutated form.
But first things first. Darvish has to be signed to a deal that will almost certainly tip the cost of the Rangers' keeping up with the Morenos to north of $100 million.
Someone get Nolan Ryan a Rosetta Stone for the talks ahead.
His checkbook, too.