Darvish sweepstakes filled with intrigue
Deadline for Major League clubs to submit bids has passed
It won't have the same open-the-envelope-please drama of a televised awards ceremony. The prize isn't a sparkling statuette that will sit on a shelf or in a trophy case somewhere.
The deadline for Major League teams to submit bids for 25-year-old Japanese right-hander Yu Darvish passed at 5 p.m. ET on Wednesday, crammed with enough suspense and mystery to fill a John le Carre novel.
This much is known: Darvish has put up eye-popping numbers for the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters. He has a dazzling array of pitches. He has decided, entering the prime of his career, to make himself available to face the best competition in the world.
After that, the picture becomes murky.
Even though some teams have scouted him multiple times and he also pitched for Japan in both the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the '09 World Baseball Classic, there's no way of knowing for certain how his undeniable talent will translate on the opposite side of the globe.
Since being signed by the Mariners, for example, Ichiro Suzuki has put up Hall of Fame-caliber offensive numbers for a decade. Hideki Matsui made a pair of All-Star teams and was named MVP of the 2009 World Series for the Yankees. Hideo Nomo, who started the Asian invasion when he signed with the Dodgers in 1995, pitched two no-hitters.
At the same time, pitchers Hideki Irabu and Kei Igawa never came close to living up to their reputation after signing with the Yankees, and Daisuke Matsuzaka, one of the most ballyhooed of the Japanese players to make the switch, got off to a solid start for the Red Sox but has since faded and is now rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.
The secrecy of the process also lends itself to intrigue. After a player has been officially "posted" by his Japanese team, Major League clubs turn blind bids into Major League Baseball for the right to negotiate. The Red Sox, spurred by rumors that the arch-rival Yankees were also pursuing Matsuzaka, paid $51.11 million just to be able to talk to him before the 2007 season. It then took a six-year, $52 million contract to sign him.
Estimates on what it will cost to secure Darvish's rights vary wildly from a low of $20 million to $50 million or more.
Assuming the high bid is accepted by the Fighters -- they have four days to decide -- the winning MLB team will then have 30 days to get a deal done. If not, their posting fee will be returned.
Unlike the Matsuzaka auction -- when it was widely assumed that the last teams standing would be the Red Sox and Yankees -- interested clubs are masking their intentions this time around.
The Blue Jays, Rangers, Mariners, Marlins (even after signing Mark Buehrle), Nationals and, of course, the Yankees and Red Sox have all been rumored to be in the picture.
But new Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington was quoted as downplaying his team's chances. Yankees sources have been widely quoted as pooh-poohing the thought that they'll be players in the Darvish sweepstakes. Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo has been noncommittal. And so on.
Which, because this is such a high-stakes poker game, only makes sense. To advertise a willingness to spend lavishly on Darvish does nothing but drive up the price.
After the high bidder is determined, the Fighters will be notified. Because of the time difference, it's likely that the winning team won't be publicly identified until sometime on Thursday.
The timing for Darvish to come out appears to be good. Of the top free-agent pitchers available, only Buehrle and C.J. Wilson (Angels) have signed. Clubs who lost out on an ace could be tempted to roll the dice on Darvish rather than settle for a less-acclaimed starter.
It's not hard to see why. He's 6-foot-5, 220 pounds. He was 18-6 with a 1.44 ERA for the Fighters last season. He struck out 276 and walked just 36 in 232 innings and had a 0.82 WHIP.
He reportedly throws both two- and four-seam fastballs, a cutter, at least three different breaking pitches and some scouts also say he throws a changeup. He's said to change speeds well, command both sides of the plate and approach hitters with an educated game plan.
Some team will spend a lot of money to see if he can make the adjustment to pitching in the Major Leagues. Not to win a sparkling statuette, but to make a move that could help them bring home a big, shiny trophy.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.