DARVISH DERBY HAD THE HOT STOVE ABLAZE

Roughly a week from Christmas, with NFL playoff spots being contested and with the NBA set to launch this weekend, a bidding process for a risky pitching commodity from the other side of the world had MLB fans on the edges of their seats. This was the hot stove in all its glory as anticpation and hope ended with the announcement that the Texas Rangers had submitted the winning bid for Japanese star Yu Darvish.

The four-day bidding period was filled with speculation and several teams were named consistently. The Blue Jays and Rangers were reported over and over again to be the front runners, though the Nationals and Yankees got a lot of ink. And, what would a MLB transaction/bidding war be without a “mystery team”? This process spilled over into the subsequent four-day period where the Japanese team (the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters) could decide to either accept or reject the bid. All the above-mentioned teams and more were implicated in one way or another as to their interest and potential bidding tendencies for Darvish.

The accept/decline decision probably wasn’t a hard one to make as the winning bid was a record-setter for a posted player from Japan, $51.7M. The previous high-water mark was the succesful bid Boston put in for Daisuke Matsuzaka after the 2006 season, $51.1M. Despite the mixed results from NPB pitchers who have made the move to MLB, it was expected that Darvish would command a record bid.

Before the winning bid was announced, amid all the speculation, the thought that the Blue Jays had won was the most prevalent. The “mystery team” was looking pretty good, too. Texas was mentioned consistently, but the opinions pointing to Toronto seemed to have the most conviction.

One blogger actually made himself famous, or infamous, rather, by going live with his “inside” information that the Blue Jays had won the bidding. He did this way before Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports broke the story that Texas had the winning bid. Of the 500+ Twitter accounts I follow, a huge portion of them were absolutely crucifying this guy in the moments after the announcement.

Hang in there, Gray Matter! We blog, therefore, we are. I choose to observe, analyze and throw out some opinion. When I put up hard news, it’s a link to a story from a guy/gal with credentials and inside sources. Sorry yours made you into a log on the hot stove fire. I’m not ready to go there just yet.

So now the Rangers have won the right to negotiate with Darvish. That’s right, the $51.7M was just to get in the room to have a conversation. (You probably don’t feel too bad now if you have ever paid for one of those Fan Club packages that lets you spend about 15 minutes back stage with one of your favorite rock bands from yesteryear before the show). Now they get to talk contract. The Red Sox inked Matsuzaka for 6yrs/$52M. This one’s gotta be bigger, right?

If they can’t agree, Darvish goes back to Japan and the Rangers keep their $51.7M. Darvish can try the whole thing again next year if he wants. That’s what the Rangers’ bid bought them, exclusive negotiating rights. If Darvish doesn’t like Texas’ terms, he goes back home.

I’m pretty sure he’ll like them. The Rangers and their strong ownership group like going deep into the post-season and they’re willing to spend to keep doing it. Darvish is said to be frustrated with his NPB team on some level and wanting out. The Rangers lost their ace from last season, C.J. Wilson, to the division rival Angels through free agency, so they have a pitching need. It’s looking good for Darvish to get a big contract from the Rangers.

Now, are the Rangers on the right track here? I’m not so sure about that. Last offseason they lost Cliff Lee, unexpectedly, and they kept on rolling. With a lot of help from Wilson as he stepped up from number-two starter to ace quite nicely. They also got a boost from Derek Holland who gave them 16 regular season wins and an electric post-season performance.

Do they have the people in place to shrug off the loss of Wilson like they did when they lost Lee? Hard to say. Neftali Feliz to the rotation or not? I say it can’t hurt. He kinda let the World Series get away as a closer. Maybe they’re better served getting double-digit wins from him in the rotation to fill the void left by Wilson.

And if you want to make Wilson-Darvish comparisons, like it is a one-for-one deal, I don’t know that I like the Rangers’ position there, either. Wilson is 31 and  Darvish is 25, but after that, Wilson is a proven commodity in MLB where Darvish is another mystery. Wilson is a lefty, Darvish a righty. They both are in their big-money free agent years so that’s pretty much a wash. Wilson may not be a true staff ace but he has back-to-back seasons with 15 wins or more. Darvish could be the Hideo Nomo that we saw in Nomo’s first two years or he could be Hideki Irabu.

We won’t know who he is until long after the Rangers have started paying him proven-commodity money. And he isn’t a proven commodity in MLB at this point.

But that’s why these last few days have been so tantalizing. What will a team pay for a pillar of the franchise? Even if we can’t prove that any NPB pitcher will be one, there are many MLB teams that will put a huge dollar amount on the chance that they can land a game-changer. The Toronto Star reports that the Blue Jays’ bid was over $50M, and it wasn’t enough.

The secrecy and speculation surrounding the posting process only added to the drama and it fit nicely into an already eventful offseason for MLB. Not bad while the winter sports are supposed to be hogging the headlines.

So, are we going to start talking seriously about Prince Fielder now?

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