If you’re not a baseball fan, or even just a casual baseball fan, you might think that when the Rangers won an auction for the rights to Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish on December 20, at least some of that $51.7 million might have also counted towards his salary.
But no. Every dollar of the “posting fee” will head to the Nippon-Ham Fighters, Darvish’s current team in Japan, as compensation for allowing him to break his contract to play in America. The Rangers then had thirty days to reach a separate deal with Darvish, a time frame which expires at 4 p.m. Wednesday.
If there’s no deal, then Nolan Ryan and the Rangers keep their money, Darvish keeps on pitching for the Fighters* this season, and there could be another auction next December (though should Darvish stay in Japan until 2013, he’d be free to sign with any MLB team).
The quirk of the negotiation is simple: since Darvish will have already cost them $51.7 million, the Rangers might not want to give him as a big a payday as he might deserve. C.J. Wilson, for example, left Texas for a five-year, $77.5 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, but even if the Rangers offered Darvish considerably less than that, their total cost would likely be more than that figure. (The last Japanese player to come to MLB via this same process, the Boston Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, was “posted” for $51.11 million and signed for six years and $52 million in 2007.)
The two sides were talking late into the night on Tuesday, reported Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, with a full contingent of some twenty Japanese media members already here in Texas covering the story.
Wilson noted that while it’s possible Darvish could just go back to Japan, the Fighters might not have a very good club this season, which would give Darvish greater motivation to start his MLB career, especially with a proven championship contender. And as those twenty reporters show, simply being in America should be also be a major windfall for Darvish’s star power and off-field earning potential (i.e. endorsements).
“My expectation is that we’ll get something done,” Nolan Ryan told ESPN Dallas’s Richard Durrett, who, in another story for ESPN.com, said Darvish “is critical for the club’s rotation in 2012 and for the foreseeable future,” and that they wouldn’t have let Wilson go to Anaheim so easily if they didn’t like Darvish just as much.
In that same story, David Schoenfield takes the other side, suggesting that the Rangers already have five starters. Should Darvish sign, one of the current arms would likely end up in the bullpen. (Perhaps Alexei Ogando?)
That being the case, Schoenfield argues, the Rangers could could just as easily take all of that Darvish money (posting fee refund included) and land free agent slugger Prince Fielder, the best remaining bat on the market. MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan has reported it’s unlikely that the Rangers could sign both, though Joe Lemire of Sports Illustrated said the Rangers should.
Sullivan has also written that “the Rangers expect that they will be able to announce sometime on Wednesday that they have signed” Darvish. Perhaps by the time you’ve read this far. (UPDATE: He signed at the last minute, the Star-Telegram reports.)
Correction: A previous version of this article called the team the Ham Fighters. They are called the Fighters. We regret the error.