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Hot Stove: Yu Darvish Signs With Texas
Dan Port | Wednesday January 18th, 2012
Phenom Yu Darvish will call Arlington home in 2012. (Icon SMI)
Phenom Yu Darvish will call Arlington home in 2012. (Icon SMI)

Nearly a month after winning his rights with a record $51.7 million bid, the Texas Rangers have agreed to terms and have signed 25 year-old Japanese righthanded pitcher Yu Darvish to a six-year deal worth a reported $60 to 70 million total.

The contract announcement came just hours before the deadline for the Rangers to sign Darvish or surrender him back to his Japanese team the Nippon Ham Fighters, receiving their bid money back.  The contract terms were not immediately clear, but the dollar total was somewhat low, though the cost to the Rangers will be well over $100 million when the bid fee is included.

Darvish is considered the best Japanese pitching import in history, impressive praise considering the hype that surrounded past imports like Hideo Nomo and Daisuke Matsuzaka when they joined major league teams.  Despite his young age and the uncertainty of acquiring a player with no American baseball experience, the Rangers appear ready to consider Darvish as one of their top starting pitchers and someone who can help alleviate the dropoff of losing former ace C.J. Wilson to the Angels via free agency.

The transition to Major League Baseball success could be a somewhat smooth one for Darvish, despite some expected complications.  Darvish's Japanese statistics are outstanding and in five seasons he rose above his competition in a way that Nomo, Dice-K, or any other Japanese pitcher never did.  Some of the more notable numbers in his career stats are his since-2007 average of over 204 innings per year (somewhat unusual for the six-man pitching rotations utilized in Japan), his 0.98 career WHIP and 1.99 ERA, his 55 career complete games, and his 3.78 strikeout-to-walk (K/BB) rate.  Furthermore, he is coming off of the best season of his career, in which he went 18-6 with a 1.44 ERA and 276 strikeouts in 232 innings and also allowed just 36 walks, good for a 7.67 K/BB mark.

However, as strikingly positive as those numbers are, Darvish still comes with concerns.  He utilized an array of pitches overseas (up to six different types, per some reports) and will almost certainly be asked to reduce that number.  His fastball reportedly tops out in the mid to high-90s (miles per hour) and his best off-speed option appears to be a low-80s slider/power-curve with good downward break.  Also in his arsenal are a low-90s cut fastball, a mid-80s slider, a slow curve that often sits under 70 mph, and a low-90s "shutto" (essentially a high-speed reverse-slider or screwball) that rides in on righthanded hitters. This variety of pitches could make him a very interesting pitcher for spectators, but it could also complicate game plans for the Rangers and pitching coach Mike Maddux.

Another concern for Darvish could be the conversion to American culture, often a difficult adjustment for players coming over from Asian or Latin American countries.  However, the transition could be aided by some of his teammates who have pitched in Japan, including reliever Koji Uehara, who is a Japanese native, and fellow starter Colby Lewis, who had two successful seasons for Hiroshima before returning to the United States in 2010.

Also helping Darvish's transition is that he will not be relied on as an instant ace, as the club has a nice stable of possible starting pitchers in Lewis, Neftali Feliz (who is converting from closer), Alexi Ogando, Derek Holland, Scott Feldman, and Matt Harrison.  Furthermore, his high groundball rates and the backing of a strong Rangers lineup should, ideally, help him settle in comfortably at the middle of the Rangers rotation.  His ceiling his extremely high, but he will be given time to settle in comfortably, assuming the media hype doesn't carry over to on-field performances.

From a fantasy standpoint, Darvish could be a high-reward pick but shouldn't be relied on to be anything more than a mid-tier starting pitching option.  Teams with a collection of more reliable arms could reach a bit on Darvish and hope for a big season, but he's a much more sensible pick in the middle rounds, possibly around nine or ten in a standard mixed league.  Some owners may covet him more, but they would be gambling on his potential rather than proof of big league success.

Overall, Darvish is an intriguing signing, but his dominant seasons in Japan may not immediately carry over to Major League Baseball.  If or when Darvish reaches his full potential, he has the skills and youth to become a big part of the Rangers starting rotation and an MLB star for the next several years, and the team, along with fantasy owners willing to select him, could reap huge rewards as a result.  But as some foreign imports have proven, big league success is never a guarantee.
Dan PortDan Port has been a writer and article editor for Baseball Press since the fall of 2009. He's a Wisconsin native and Los Angeles resident, as well as an aspiring novelist, moderately successful gambler, and avid craft beer aficionado. You can reach him at dan@baseballpress.com or check him out on Twitter @danport and at DanielPort.com.