Part I: Costs
According to supposedly credible rumors, Japanese pitching phenom Yu Darvish has asked his team, the eponymous Nippon Ham Fighters, to post him. The Ham Fighters, who have always been supportive of Darvish and his wants, have obliged, and will be posting Darvish come this off-season. While Darvish has said on numerous occasions that he doesn’t want to talk about his future plans until the 2010 season is over, I find this telling, personally, and indicative that he is indeed ready to be posted- as the old saying goes, if you have nothing to hide, why don’t you speak freely? This, of course, isn’t a truism, but if Darvish wanted no part of being posted, and wanted no part of leaving the Ham Fighters (Yeah, they are technically just the Fighters, but Ham Fighters is so much better, so…), I would assume that he would have stated as much.
The first thing to be aware of, concerning obtaining the services of Yu Darvish, would be his posting price. As we all recall, when Daisuke Matsuzaka was posted, the Red Sox eventually paid $51,111,111.11 to the Seibu Lions for the rights to negotiate a contract with him. Though he is well known as a promising pitcher, I cannot foresee Darvish being posted for so much money. The most obvious reason, of course, is that the international economy is a lot weaker now than it was a few years ago.
At the time he was posted, Dice-K was in his prime, an established All-Star in the Nippon Professional Baseball league, one year removed from leading the NPB in strikeouts, two years removed from leading the NPB in ERA, and three years removed from leading the NPB in both strikeouts and ERA. That’s not to say that Darvish doesn’t possess a lot of hardware of his own. In 2009, Darvish led the NPB in ERA, and in 2007, he led the NPB in strikeouts. Both years, he won the NPB Pacific League MVP Award, and in 2007, he won the Eiji Sawamura Award, the NPB equivalent of the Cy Young Award. Suffice to say, both are/were highly talented pitchers. Matsuzaka edges out Darvish, in terms of success, as you can see:
The biggest difference between the two, however, seems to be the media attention. Dice-K was born in 1980. For whatever reason, numerous future NPB stars were born the same year. With Dice-K being the most talented of a fairly deep pool of players, the entire age bracket breaking into the NPB became known as "Generation Matsuzaka". Think of it as if "Generation K" were a phenomenon happening across the entire MLB. Yu Darvish, talented as he is, cannot claim to have an entire generation of NPB baseball players named "in his honor". The less media attention a player receives, the fewer accolades are going to be showered on him, the less valuable he is, in the minds of many.
According to Peter Gammons, an unnamed scout has said of Darvish, "He's good, not great. He throws 91-94, but there's a lot of fear involved. He can come in and intimidate hitters in Japan. That won't fly here. He'll be pretty good, but he's not a premium guy." Apparently, a Yankee scout concurred with Gammons’ unnamed scout source. Whether or not their opinions are accurate or not, in this case, matters little. They simply serve to keep Darvish’ posting/signing fees down.
Japanese sources mention that there are eight MLB clubs interested in Darvish. The only clubs mentioned by name are the Yankees, Mets, Nationals, Rangers, and Braves. All signs point towards the Mets and the Yankees- the only two clubs mentioned with payrolls over $100 million dollars- not spending exorbitant amounts of money in the off-season, and possibly even doing whatever possible to shed payroll. Throwing tens of million dollars at Yu Darvish and the Nippon Ham Fighters, in an attempt to blow everyone else out of the does not seem like something that will happen. The remaining three clubs, the Nats, Braves and the Rangers, are not known for being particularly large spenders, another sign that Darvish won’t cost as much as Dice-K did a few years ago, in terms of posting fees.
At the end of the day, I don’t know how much his posting fee will be. Given the above-mentioned factors, I am going to estimate that they will be between $20 and $40 million dollars. The contract will likely span five years or so, and probably will be somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 to $15 million dollars per year, or thereabouts.
Part II: Would He Be Worth It?
I wouldn’t say that Daisuke Matsuzaka has been a bust, but his MLB career certainly hasn’t been as successful as his NPB career was. For his first few starts, Matsuzaka said that he was having trouble getting the proper feel of the MLB-regulation size baseball, which is larger than the different balls the NPB uses, heavier, and has larger stitching. After a few starts, however, he seemed to have gotten over this issue. His 2007 season was very good, but his 2008, 2009, and 2010 seasons were marred by injuries to his shoulder, hip, and throwing arm, limiting his innings and overall effectiveness. A major contributor to this, seemingly, is the Japanese philosophy that throwing doesn’t cause damage, but instead, strengthens the pitcher. In other words, the heavier a pitcher’s workload, the stronger he is, and the stronger he becomes. In Japan, while pitchers don’t necessarily throw as many innings in a year as their American counterparts, it is commonplace for pitchers to throw well over 100+ pitches per game. In one highly publicized incident, Matsuzaka, during a three day Japanese tournament threw a 17-inning, 250 pitch complete game on day one, had a limited inning relief-outing on day two, and threw a no-hitter on the third day.
Yu Darvish certainly is no stranger to the high pitch count, and going deep into games. In 2009, he averaged 8.05 innings in his 19 starts for the season. The difference between Darvish and Matsuzaka, in this instance, is their age differential. Before coming to the Major Leagues, Dice-K had seven full seasons of NPB experience. Darvish, on the other hand, only has four. There is a lot less wear-and-tear on his body, making him less prone to breakdown in the way that Matsuzaka was susceptible to.
Now, what does Darvish bring to the table? Frankly, a lot, as provided by NPBtracker.com:
- A four-seam fastball that sits comfortably between 90 and 95 MPH. It has topped out as high as 97 MPH in regulation NPB games, and, supposedly, at 100 MPH during the 2009 World Baseball Classic.
- A shuuto (two-seam fastball, but with more movement) that hovers around 90 MPH.
- A slider with a very good break to it, that is thrown anywhere between 75 and 85 MPH.
- A cutter thrown between 85 and 90 MPH.
- A tumbling forkball that is thrown between 85 and 90 MPH.
- A change-up that sits around 80 MPH.
- A looping curveball thrown anywhere between 60 and 75 MPH.
- In the past, Darvish threw a screwball as well, but he abandoned it after injuring his shoulder throwing it, in 2006.
This clip shows his pitching mechanics, in real-time and slow-motion. . This clip, despite the crappy music (sounds like Motorhead?), shows his pitches at work, and, I must say, some of those pitches are downright filthy.
Should Darvish be signed, he brings a few things to the table:
Regardless of how you see his future panning out in the MLB, he's a very good pitcher. Certain scouts, as mentioned above, aren't as sold on him as others, but regardless, at worst, he seems to project as a middle-of-the-rotation pitcher. As such a pitcher, can he be worth the posting and contractual fees? Considering he will be turning twenty-five next season, and will be entering into his prime, I think the odds of a pitcher with his background of success being worth a couple of tens of million dollars over a few seasons is fairly likely. Given that 1 WAR is roughly worth $5 million dollars or so, if Darvish averages 2 WAR over five seasons- a prediction that is very underwhelming, to say the least- that is around $50 million dollars worth of value, roughly speaking.
He's "the next big thing". He is going to bring media attention, and with that, revenue. The Mets would have to share those marketing profits, as the Red Sox have had to share the marketing profits they have gotten because of Matsuzaka, but at some levels, attention transcends revenue. When Chien-Ming Wang was promoted to the Yankees, it isn't all that much hyperbole to say that all of Taiwan became Yankee fans. Now, Japan certainly isn't as much of a one-trick pony as Taiwan is, when it comes to baseball, but positive attention by the Japanese media and fans on the Mets, because of Darvish's high-profile signing with them, can only help the fortunes of the team, not hurt them. As I've said before, and will always say, I'd like the Mets to not only be more active in the Asian market, but I'd like to see the team become the premier team, when it comes to scouting in Asia.
Part III: Conclusion
All in all, signing Yu Darvish would be a very good thing for the Mets. An understatement, I know, but...Like the splash that Omar Minaya wanted to make when he first became GM, by signing Pedro Martinez and giving the Mets an aura of credibility once more, I think that the signing of Yu Darvish, by whoever the next GM is, could have similar effects, for the team on the field, and for the image of the team in general. With Johan Santana being out for the first half of 2011, at the very least, the relatively thin front-of-the-rotation free agent class this upcoming off-season (and next, assuming the likelihood of certain pitchers to re-up with the teams they are currently on) and the lack of starters who have the potential to develop into front-of-the-rotation in the Minor Leagues within the next year or two, signing Darvish probably is the quickest and easiest way for the Mets to inject themselves with potentially average-to-great talent.
(The title, of course, traces it's origins to Metsguy, and his feelings on how hard the Mets should have pursued Aroldis Chapman this past off-season. Thanks for the pseudo-meme, Metsguy.)