Having posted their ace, 25-year-old Yu Darvish, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham-Fighters are accepting bids for the right to sign Darvish to a contract today until 4pm today. The Chicago Cubs, among many other teams, are expected to bid on the one-in-a-generation Japanese talent.
Although the blind bids are due today, Darvish’s team has four business days to accept the highest bid, so we may not have a final decision until late next Tuesday. I did a little research on Daisuke Matsuzaka’s post back in November 2006, and it looks like there were about 11 days between the start of the posting period and the announcement that the Boston Red Sox had won the right to sign Matsuzaka. Obviously things could be different this time around, but that at least suggests that we might be in for a wait on finding out who won.
From there, the winning team will have 30 days to negotiate a contract with Darvish.
There has been a great deal written about Darvish over the last few weeks as anticipation for his post grew, culminating in his team’s decision to officially post him late last week. One of the most interesting pieces, written by SI’s Tom Verducci several weeks ago, analyzes the transitions of Japanese stars to Major League Baseball, and concludes that there may be something to the generalized notion that the players rarely adjust well over the long term.
The Red Sox were acutely aware of the strain of pitching more often (every fifth day, rather than every sixth or seventh day) over a longer season against deeper lineups with more power, to say nothing of different baseballs, ballparks, training regimens, cities, travel demands and cultures.
So the Red Sox did everything they could to pamper Matsuzaka. They gave him a no-trade clause, a physical therapist, a massage therapist, an interpreter, a media liaison, eight first-class airline tickets per year between Boston and Japan, a housing allowance of $100,000 per year, a car service, box seats at Fenway Park and uniform number 18, a traditional number for an ace in Japan. They also gave him rest whenever they could. Of the 61 games he started in 2007 and ’08, Matsuzaka pitched on the sixth or seventh day 35 times, or 57 percent of the time.
And despite all those preventive methods, Matsuzaka crashed into The Wall.
Over his first two seasons, Matsuzaka was 33-15 with a 3.72 ERA. But starting with Year Three, Matsuzaka has been 16-15 with a 5.03 ERA while suffering shoulder, hip and elbow injuries. He is not expected to pitch again until the second half of next season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
How players from NPB translate to the majors — as well as putting an economic value on that bet — figures to once again be a key part of baseball’s free agent season this year. A half dozen or more players from Japan will be available to major league clubs either as free agents or through the posting system in which a player’s negotiating rights are put up for a blind auction. The standout of the crop is expected to be 25-year-old Nippon Ham Fighters righthander Yu Darvish, if indeed his club makes him available through the posting process.
Said Rangers assistant GM Thad Levine, “The anecdotal assessment suggests starting pitchers have a two-year window of success followed by a rapid decline, followed thereafter by disappearance. Even a lot of the relievers have had success quickly, reaching a hot peak followed by a rapid decline.”
The entire article is very much worth a read, particularly today, as we anticipate what might be with Darvish.
So, just how high might today’s bids climb? Countervailing forces make it pretty hard to predict. On the one hand, Darvish is the best international pitcher to be made available, perhaps ever. On the other hand, the last pitcher to come out of Japan with as much hype as Darvish was Matsuzaka, who was ultimately deemed a failure. Then again, Darvish is a far, far superior pitcher to Matsuzaka. And, with the new CBA dramatically restricting spending in the draft and on international free agents (note that the restriction, which doesn’t kick in until next year, doesn’t apply to Japanese professionals or players over 23), teams may be more willing to allocate their money to things like a huge posting bid on Darvish.
Taken all together, it’s easy to see why some are predicting that Darvish’s posting bid exceeds that of Matsuzaka – which was more than $51 million. Jon Heyman says he’s heard from an anonymous MLB executive that the total cost for Darvish, between bid and contract, could exceed $112 million. That suggests a posting bid approaching $60 million. For what it’s worth, Heyman guesses the final tally will be lower than $112 million.
For his part, there are rumors that, if the winning bid is too high, Darvish will be disinclined to sign, partly in protest of a system he believes unfairly restricts Japanese players, and partly because the higher the posting bid, the lower the contract he’ll be offered.
For now, we wait, as a number of MLB teams probably are, their offseason plans temporarily on hold pending the announcement that they’ve got the chance to lock up a top pitcher, but that their wallets are considerably more light for the rest of the Winter.