Rangers pay $51M to negotiate with Yu

The Texas Rangers have won the rights to negotiate with Yu Darvish, ending weeks of speculation about where the Japanese pitching star may begin his Major League Baseball career.

The Rangers submitted the highest bid through the closely guarded “posting” process, and Darvish’s team — the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters — formally decided Monday that they will accept it. The Rangers must agree on a contract with Darvish during the next 30 days, or he will return to the Fighters.

MLB clubs faced a deadline of last Wednesday to submit bids. The Rangers won with their offer of $51.7 million, a major league source confirmed to FOXSports.com. That is an all-time high for the posting system. The previous record bid was Boston’s $51.1 million for Daisuke Matsuzaka after the 2006 season.

Darvish, 25, is considered to be a stronger and more complete pitcher than Matsuzaka, who has struggled with injuries and inconsistency in recent seasons.

Darvish appears to be entering his prime, coming off a season in which he went 18-6 and established career bests in innings (232) and ERA (1.44). But major-league hitters will pose a stiffer challenge, and the right-hander must demonstrate that, unlike Matsuzaka, he has the staying power to succeed in North America for several seasons in a row.

The negotiating window will commence Tuesday and close Wednesday, Jan. 18. If Darvish doesn’t sign, he will be eligible to post again (with an entirely new set of bids) following the 2012 season.

Sources say the Toronto Blue Jays were the other top suitor for Darvish, although it was not known how closely Toronto came to the winning bid. In a statement released late Monday night, Darvish’s agent Arn Tellem said, “We were pleased to learn that the Texas Rangers were the high-bidders for Yu Darvish. The Rangers are an extraordinary franchise in an exceptional city with equally exceptional fans. Yu is honored to be prized so highly and recognized as a once-in-a-generation pitcher. We look forward to getting negotiations under way.”

The Rangers have had strong interest in Darvish for months, with general manager Jon Daniels traveling to Japan to scout him in person earlier this year. Texas has two Japanese pitchers on its roster, Koji Uehara and Yoshinori Tateyama, along with another (Colby Lewis) who spent two seasons with the Hiroshima Toyo Carp of the Japanese Central League.

The potential addition of Darvish should be a public-relations boon for the Rangers, who wish to change the conversation from their one-strike-away failings in Game 6 of this year’s World Series.

However, some Japanese baseball observers have cast doubt on whether Rangers Ballpark – perhaps the most hitter-friendly stadium in the majors – would be the ideal starting point for Darvish’s North American career.

“If he signs with Texas, playing in that small park will not help him,” Robert Whiting, an author and expert on Japanese baseball, said earlier this month. “I am afraid if Darvish goes to a hitter’s park, his game may suffer. Chan Ho Park was an ace at Dodger Stadium, not so good in Texas.”

Darvish must make the adjustment from pitching once a week to the every-fifth-day schedule. According to the database at the Japanese baseball website ScoutDragon.com, Darvish made just one start this year on four days’ rest, which is customary in the U.S. major leagues; he pitched 12 times each on five and six days’ rest.

Ira Stevens, the founder of ScoutDragon.com, believes Darvish will adapt to American culture more easily than many other Japanese players, since his parents met as students at Eckerd College in Florida and are very familiar with the U.S. Darvish’s father is Iranian, his mother Japanese.