Jays hope to score in Darvish bidding war

Albert Pujols is an Angel. The marketing potential of a superstar and the team’s new regional television rights deal with FOX are two of the biggest reasons why.

Now consider the power of a single national franchise, beamed coast to coast through its own telecommunications empire, and you have the rationale for the Blue Jays’ pursuit of Japanese pitching sensation Yu Darvish.

A number of executives with major league clubs said Sunday that they believe Toronto submitted the highest bid for Darvish’s exclusive negotiating rights. If that proves true — and Darvish’s agent Don Nomura tweeted that an announcement is forthcoming Monday night ET — then the Blue Jays may be on the verge of putting a global face on their return to relevance.

Sure, the Blue Jays have been a perennial third- and fourth-place team in the American League East, baseball’s most rugged division. They have not played a postseason game in more than 18 years. But they have an economic engine that, in some respects, is unique among Major League Baseball clubs — and often overlooked by American baseball fans.

Rogers Communications Inc., which has held a controlling interest in the Blue Jays for 11 years, is unlike any proprietor in US professional sports. Rogers owns the team, the stadium, the national sports network on which the games are telecast, and the rights-holding radio station. Of perhaps greater importance, Rogers has the largest cable distribution and largest wireless communications network in Canada.

If you’re a young, English-speaking Canadian who owns a cellphone, television or Internet connection, Rogers probably derives revenue from your digital life. So, Rogers possesses the infrastructure to saturate consumers with auto-advertisements about a team — or, in this case, a star player.

It is, for any country, the ideal sports/media business model — tantamount to Verizon and Comcast getting married and buying the New York Yankees. Sooner or later, that could enable the Blue Jays to beat the Yankees.

In fact, Rogers has acknowledged that its corporate strategy involves delivering “highly sought-after content anywhere, anytime, on any platform across its broadband and wireless networks and its media assets, while strengthening the value of its sports brand, Sportsnet.” That came from the first paragraph of a Rogers news release earlier this month announcing its purchase of a stake in Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, parent company of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Raptors. The same logic applies to Darvish.

Daisuke Matsuzaka, for all his recent disappointments, delivered one World Series title and new advertising markets to the Boston Red Sox after he signed in 2006. And Darvish is superior to Matsuzaka, according to Japanese baseball expert Ira Stevens of ScoutDragon.com.

It bears repeating that, despite growing affirmation within the industry, MLB officials have not confirmed that the Blue Jays made the high bid. If they did, Darvish’s team, the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, must decide to accept it, which Stevens believes is a fait accompli. (“The Fighters would be silly to refuse $40 million, $50 million or $60 million,” he said.) And then comes the hard part: The Jays must sign Darvish, a complex and sometimes brooding 25-year-old who wishes to be paid like a proven superstar.

But it’s easy to see how he would fit into the Jays’ plans. The team needs a reliable right-handed starter to pair with ace left-hander Ricky Romero. If Darvish pitches up to his considerable expectations — and if the Jays wring more quality starts from Brandon Morrow and Brett Cecil — Toronto fans would have reason to expect postseason contention in 2012.

Given the state of the Red Sox and Yankees rotations, it won’t take much improvement for the Blue Jays to claim a clear pitching advantage on their rivals. And it’s well established that the Jays can hit. They ranked sixth in the majors with 743 runs scored this year, thanks in large part to All-Star slugger Jose Bautista.

For Toronto’s baseball renaissance to truly take shape, the Jays must acquire something they have lacked since the 1994 strike: a large, abiding audience. Despite fielding a competitive team that has totaled 443 homers over the past two seasons, the Jays were outdrawn this year by the Mariners, Indians, Astros and Pirates.

Enter Darvish, who should be less costly than free-agent slugger Prince Fielder while bringing one specific benefit that Fielder cannot.

“There is a significant Japanese community in Toronto that (has) lobbied for a Japanese superstar to be acquired,” Paul Godfrey, the Jays’ former team president, told FOXSports.com on Sunday. “Attendance would take a big jump in their community.”

The baseball reasons are legitimate. The economic drivers are there, down to a stock price that has increased this calendar year and exchange rate favorable to the Canadian dollar for much of 2011. The team has spent in the past and has the wherewithal to do so again. Now the Blue Jays and their fans must wait. Rarely has a pitcher with no major league experience meant so much to the future of baseball in a country.