The identity of the team that won the right to negotiate with Yu Darvish has yet to be revealed, but it was not the Nationals. Washington did not submit a posting bid, according to multiple people with knowledge of the situation, opting to stay on the sideline of a sweepstakes that will cost whomever lands the Japanese superstar upward of $100 million.
Darvish, widely considered the best pitcher in the world not currently in the major leagues, became available last week via the posting system. Starting last Thursday, teams submitted blind bids to Darvish’s team, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters. The bidding ended Wednesday at 5 p.m., at which point MLB notified the Fighters of the highest bid only, not the winning team. The Fighters have four days to mull whether they want to accept the highest bid. Once they accept, the winning team has 30 days to negotiate a contract with Darvish.
It is expected to cost somewhere between $100 million and $140 million in total to sign Darvish, with somewhere around $50 million going to the Fighters in the posting fee — a price the Nationals apparently found too exorbitant for a player without any track record in the majors.
The New York Yankees and the Chicago Cubs reportedly submitted bids, and the Toronto Blue Jays are reportedly perceived as the favorite to land the pitcher.
Another deterrent is the nature of the posting fee. The team that wins the bid must pay the Fighters the fee in one lump sum, no installments. Basically, it will have to cut a check for about $50 million.
In Japan’s professional league, where the quality lies somewhere between Class AAA and the majors, Darvish, 25, has compiled an ERA of 1.88 or better for the past eight seasons. In 2011, Darvish struck out more than 10 batters per nine innings while walking fewer than two. He throws a wide array of pitches, including a fastball that has reached 98 mph.
The Nationals have scouted Darvish extensively for years, sending scouts to Japan more than 10 times. General Manager Mike Rizzo watched Darvish in person in 2010. The consensus they arrived at was that Darvish should not necessarily be compared to previous Japanese pitchers — he was bigger, he threw harder and he was, frankly, better.
In the end, though, the Nationals determined the cost and risk to acquire Darvish outweighed the potential benefit. (Not to mention the inherent risk of paying any pitcher eight figures, given the chance of injury.) He may end up leading a staff someday. But he may not, and the Nationals did not want to pay a steep price to find out for themselves.