September 04, 2011
Like what Yu see, Alex Anthopoulos?
Anthopoulos, the GM of the Toronto Blue Jays, recently returned from Japan where he scouted 25-year-old right-hander Yu Darvish, one of the best pitchers — if not the best — in the Nippon Professional Baseball league.
If Anthopoulos wants Darvish for the Blue Jays, he likely will be costly. Very costly. Maybe not quite Vernon Wells(notes) money, but probably at least $100 million. And perhaps half of it would go to Darvish's team in Japan — just for the right to negotiate.
And you're not just negotiating with anybody. Darvish gets treated like a rock star in Japan; Trey Hillman, who managed him there, has likened his vibe to a combination of "Elvis and Fonzie." He's got a witty personality and a lot of confidence, as Yahoo! Sports' Jeff Passan reported three years ago. Born to a Japanese mother and an Iranian father, Darvish stands 6-foot-5 with uniquely handsome features. He's not just the circuses, but he's the bread, too. He can pitch, first and foremost.
Upon returning to North America on Friday afternoon, Anthopoulos came clean to the Toronto media about the reasons for his three-day tour. It wasn't to see the Buddhist temples.
"I'm doing my homework," Anthopoulos said. "If I go see guys for the draft ... it doesn't mean that we draft those players, or we have them high on our list. But I go see them, I want to have as much information as we can on all players.
"But there's no question, he's the reason that I went. I can sit here and [joke] — say 'I went there to experience the culture, or build relationships.' But if he hadn't pitched I wouldn't have gone, at least not in 2011."
It's hard to believe that Anthopoulos would invest so much in any one player so recently after the Jays cleared the salaries of Wells and Alex Rios(notes), two of the more overpaid players in recent major league history. Toronto probably isn't one pitcher away from contending for the World Series — even if Darvish turns out to be everything he appears.
Parkes: "Take $100 million and buy the half of that big island that has the Domincan Republic. Buy it, buy every single player there. Go out, spend it all on Central America. I guarantee, it'll be a smarter purchase than Yu Darvish." [...]
"Tell me all the times that an Asian starting pitcher has ended up working out and being worth the value that was invested."
Hispaniola, man! The island is Hispaniola. But, as to his main point. It's simply pragmatic to let the other teams go on fishing expeditions for if/come players no matter where they're from — especially ones with nine-figure price tags. It's just not nearly as fun to stay on the sidelines.
And here's the thing: At this point, 26 players have gotten contracts totaling $100 million. It's a lot of money, but it's not like this is 1999 and Kevin Brown's the only guy with a $100 million deal. It's getting to be ... common? Yes, I just said $100 million isn't that much money anymore. As to Dustin's point about pitchers from Asia:
Stoeten: "It's an incredibly small sample size. ... You don't just write off the whole continent because previous guys haven't been as successful as you'd like. There's absolutely no reason, if you believe in Yu Darvish, to hold against him the fact that Dice-K didn't work out or Hideo Nomo flamed out after a few good years."
I do believe in Yu Darvish, kind of, even though — like most others — I've only seen him pitch a little on video and at the World Baseball Classic. Call it a hunch. A $100 million hunch. But he'll be worth it.
Anthopoulos isn't the only GM hot after Darvish, of course, but only a handful of major league teams have the interest and means to pull off a deal. The New York Yankees are in on everybody, and even though they failed in the past by signing Japanese pitchers such as Igawa and Hideki Irabu, they will be looking for pitching again in free agency. They will have motivation and money.
The Boston Red Sox are lurking, too, but they'll still be paying Matsuzaka in 2012, when he'll be trying to come back from Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery. Dice-K was 26 when he started with the Red Sox, and had two good seasons (one that included a World Series victory), but only disappointment and injuries followed. He had been overworked in Japan, though; Darvish has been babied by comparison.
The Mets and Dodgers might have the means, but they are a little distracted right now and would be better off sitting this one out out. MLB Trade Rumors lists all of the teams rumored to have interest in Darvish, and Evan Brunell of CBS Sports whittled those down to the Yankees, Texas Rangers and Blue Jays as being the top suitors. I'd also add the Washington Nationals, because they get impulsive.
We all could be getting ahead of ourselves, though.
Darvish hasn't come out and said, "I'm coming to America in 2012," though he did recently hire agents Don Nomura and Arn Tellem. That's a sign change is coming.
Also, Darvish's Japanese team has the right of first refusal, and the Nippon Ham Fighters (greatest team name ever) have not said they're going to let him go. If they do let him try free agency in the United States, he would be subject to a posting fee — which is determined via silent auction among those MLB teams interested.
Before the 2006 season, when Matsuzaka came to the Red Sox, Boston won the posting auction for $51.1 million — payable not to the player, but to his team from Japan. Call it a tribute. (The nice part: You get the posting fee returned if contract negotiations with the player fail.)
In Dice-K's case, agent Scott Boras negotiated a $52 million contract that runs through next season. (That's part of where the $100 million guess for Darvish comes from.) I'll never forget that puffy winter coat Dice-K wore on the tramp steamer over here.
Here's to Darvish being more than a guy in a coat, but instead a star in North America.