Japanese right-hander Yu Darvish can’t wait much longer if he wants to pitch in the majors next season.
By Ken Rosenthal FoxSports
Japanese right-hander Yu Darvish can’t wait much longer if he wants the maximum number of major league teams to bid for his negotiating rights.
But the timing of Darvish’s availability suddenly is anyone’s guess.
Two sources with knowledge of Darvish’s situation told me Saturday that he is likely to be posted after the winter meetings.
But Darvish’s father, Farsad, told the Japanese news service Sponichi that the pitcher’s decision might not come until mid- to late-January, a time frame that could limit his appeal only to the wealthiest major league clubs. Farsad Darvish added that it was only 50-50 that Yu would agree to pitch in the majors next season.
Major league teams will refrain from excitement over Darvish, who throws 94 to 97 mph and projects as a top-of-the-rotation starter at age 25, until he commits to the North American game.
“I’ve been proceeding as though we can’t count on it, but it wouldn’t surprise me either way,” one executive interested in Darvish told my colleague, Jon Paul Morosi, on Friday.
So, the executive is planning as if Darvish won’t come?
“Have to, no?” the exec said.
Given all the mixed signals, absolutely.
The holdup in Darvish’s decision is partly attributable to the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, which delayed the start of the baseball season and extended its conclusion until Nov. 20.
Japanese players typically wait until their season is over before announcing whether they want to play in the majors. Most players are straightforward with their intentions.
Such is the mystery surrounding Darvish, one American expert on Japanese baseball said that over the past four years, he never got a strong sense of what the pitcher wanted.
The plot has only thickened since the Japanese media revealed that Darvish is divorcing his wife of four years (the couple has two children). One source, however, said that Darvish’s marital issues are not a factor in his decision.
“You hear so many different stories, from ‘No way he’s coming,’ to, ‘He’s definitely coming,’ ” the expert said.
Well, if Darvish plans to come in 2012, the sooner the better for his announcement, unless he wants only a handful of major league teams bidding.
Once a Japanese player is posted, teams have four days to submit sealed bids.
If the player’s Japanese club — in Darvish's case, the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters — accepts the high bid, the winning major league club must sign the player to a contract within 30 days or the player returns to his Japanese team.
“If I were him, I’d want to be out there right now,” one major league executive said. “I’d want to make my announcement at the start of the winter meetings.”
That isn’t going to happen — the meetings run Monday through Thursday in Dallas. But if Darvish is posted, say, by Dec. 15, he’ll certainly generate significant interest, even if one or two suitors choose to sign a free agent such as left-hander C.J. Wilson or Mark Buerhle instead.
Some of the teams pursuing Wilson and Buerhle — the Marlins, for example — probably would not bid on Darvish anyway.
And if Darvish’s posting were delayed until Jan. 15?
The entire equation would change.
Maybe only big-money teams such as the Yankees and Red Sox would bid, potentially depressing the size of the posting fee and increasing the chance that Hokkaido would reject it.
If that happened, Darvish would play in Japan for at least one more season — a possibility that almost certainly is unappealing to Hokkaido.
The Fighters want not only the financial benefit that Darvish’s posting fee would provide, but also the relief from shedding his salary, which last season was $4.2 million.
Hokkaido still could post Darvish next offseason — he is two years away from international free agency, one year away from free agency in Japan. But if Darvish suffered a major injury, the team could be left with nothing.
The amount of money at stake is staggering.
The Red Sox paid $51 million for the rights to Japanese right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka in 2006, then signed him to a six-year, $52 million contract. If the timing is right, both Darvish’s posting fee and contract figure to be even higher.
For major league teams, it’s only money.
A team that won the rights to Darvish could sign him without losing draft picks or trading prospects. The Blue Jays, a club that is highly protective of both commodities, scouted Darvish heavily last season. They almost certainly will submit a bid.
The Rangers and Angels are trying to sign Wilson, but both could slow down their pursuits in anticipation of Darvish’s availability; Rangers GM Jon Daniels, like Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos, personally scouted Darvish in Japan last season.
Heck, Darvish is so young, the Cubs’ new front office may view him as the perfect piece to build around, though club president Theo Epstein might be wary of such a move due to his experience with Matsuzaka in Boston.
Both the Red Sox (Matsuzaka) and Yankees (Hideki Irabu, Kei Igawa) have experienced failure with Japanese pitchers. But both badly need to upgrade their rotations, and new Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine — who managed against Darvish in Japan — “loves” the righty, according to a source.
It’s all very tantalizing — that is, if Darvish ever agrees to be posted.
“I am told the club and player cannot agree on what is an acceptable posting fee,” a scouting executive with one club told Morosi.
“The player, I am told, is very quirky with a huge ego. Apparently he will feel disrespected if the post is less than Matsuzaka’s was with Boston.”
Another scout who covers Japanese baseball says that Hokkaido badly wants to collect the posting fee on Darvish — and was stunned and disappointed when he chose to return to the team last season.
Hokkaido had planned to post Darvish, the scout said, and when the pitcher chose to stay in Japan, the team had to scramble to squeeze his salary into its budget.
So much gossip. So much intrigue. So little time.
“It just doesn’t make sense to wait,” said one executive from a team with interest in Darvish. “Teams want to make their plans. If you start thinking he’s not coming, you go a different way.”