The Nationals missed out on Mark Buehrle yesterday when he signed with the Miami Marlins, but they will have another chance to land a pitcher to slot into the top of their rotation — a younger, more expensive and more captivating option.
Japanese superstar Yu Darvish announced last night he will be posted today, meaning teams can begin bidding for the right to negotiate with the 25-year-old who has for years been considered the best pitcher in Japan and perhaps the best pitcher in the world not currently playing Major League Baseball.
The Nationals have extensively scouted Darvish, and General Manager Mike Rizzo watched Darvish pitch in person last year. Rizzo would not divulge whether the Nationals planned to enter the bidding on Darvish, but even his refusal to comment suggested they probably will.
“Strategically, that doesn’t benefit us to announce whether we’re going to bid or not on him,” Rizzo said. “We’ve scouted him. We like him. We recognize his ability levels.”
This season, Darvish went 18-6 with a 1.44 ERA and 276 strikeouts for the Nippon Ham Fighters, a statistical season roughly in line with the first six years of his dazzling career. Japanese pitchers have a spotty history in making the transition to the United States, but the Nationals view Darvish, because of his size, athleticism and hard-throwing style, as an outlier to past cases.
If the Nationals could land Darvish, the Nationals would form an electric 1-2-3 combination of Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and Darvish at the top of their rotation — three hard-throwing right-handers all 25 or younger and under team control for years to come.
The expense to acquire him, though, could be a stumbling block. The winning bid will likely require a team to pay the Nippon Ham Fighters somewhere near $50 million – and that’s before contract negotiations begin. The total price to land Darvish could eclipse $100 million. Planning a push for Darvish will require significant coordination with ownership.
“I think you have to first approximate what your tolerance threshold is on what you would pay in total, with the posting fee and with the major league contract,” Rizzo said. “You have to strategically put together a plan to A, Get the player in the post and, B, see if you can afford to pay the fee for the posting and then sign the player to a major league contract.”
The Nationals departed the winter meetings without having made any major moves, but, while nothing appears imminent, they did lay groundwork for possible trades for a center fielder.
The biggest player left on the free agent market after the Angels’ stunning signing of Albert Pujols this morning is first baseman Prince Fielder. A high-ranking Nationals official said the Nationals are not pursuing Fielder, and it would take a significant shift in thinking at the ownership level for them to get involved with the 27-year-old slugger.