Many in baseball have suspected the Nationals will vie for superstar Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish if, as expected, he requests for his current Japanese professional team to release him from his contract. General Manager Mike Rizzo did nothing to dispute that notion today, saying he sent scouts to Japan this season to watch Darvish pitch.
“We scout every player that we have interest in,” Rizzo said. “Yu Darvish specifically is a player that has a great talent level. We’ve scouted him over the years. I’ve scouted him personally over the years. Our pro scouts have scouted him this year specifically. We’re open to acquire talent in any way, shape or form that we can. If it’s international talent, we’re certainly willing to acquire international players.”
Rizzo has not seen Darvish himself over the past two years, but the Nationals have long shown interest in Darvish — by last year, one of their top scouts had seen him pitch nine times.
Darvish, 26, could be the most talented pitcher in the world not currently employed by a major league team. In six years in Nippon Professional Baseball, Japan’s highest league, Darvish has compiled a 2.12 ERA in 1,036 1/3 innings, striking out almost as many hitters (974) as he allowed on base (297 walks, 760 hits).
The price to acquire would be steep. Darvish would be made available to major league organizations by his team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, via the “posting” system. Teams would submit bids, and the highest bidder would earn the right to negotiate exclusively with Darvish. Between the bid and the contract, the team that acquires Darvish will pay at least $100 million by most estimates.
Darvish would have to make a difficult transition, one few high-profile Japanese starting pitchers have been able to navigate with sustained success. Kei Igawa flamed out immediately after the Yankees spent $46 million to acquire him. Daisuke Matsuzaka frustrated the Red Sox for the past four seasons after the paid $103.11 million between his posting fee and contract, and after undergoing Tommy John surgery Matsuzaka will miss much of next season.
But if the Nationals want to beef up their starting rotation, there is one significant advantage to going after Darvish – beyond his apparently massive talent – as opposed to a top free agent like Texas Rangers left-hander C.J. Wilson.
The Nationals finished with the 15th-best record in the majors, which means their first-round pick is not among the top 15 picks and therefore protected if they sign an elite free agent. Should the Nationals sign a Type A free agent, they will lose the 16th overall choice in next year’s draft to the team the free agent played for in 2011.
“It would be part of the discussion,” Rizzo said. “It does have an impact. You lose the 16th player in the draft, and that’s important. It would be part of our decision process, and it does have an impact on us.”