After coming just one pitch short of winning the World Series twice last October, some people might have thought the Texas Rangers only needed to make minor adjustments to their roster for 2012.
Those folks obviously don’t understand how Chief Executive Officer/President Nolan Ryan and General Manager Jon Daniels operate. And they likely don’t realize what it would take to keep up with teams like the Anaheim Angels of Los Angeles not to mention the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.
The Rangers had several ways they could improve the team – trade prospects from their top-rated farm system for established players, sign an experienced major free agent or go after a dominant young pitcher from another country. They ended up choosing the latter.
Following the loss of ace starter C.J. Wilson to American League West rival Anaheim which also signed fellow free agent Albert Pujols, Ryan and Daniels convinced principal owners Bob Simpson and Ray Davis that a nearly $112 million total investment in Japanese star pitcher Yu Darvish would be worth it.
If the 25-year-old Darvish can produce as a pitcher like Japanese legend Ichiro Suzuki has done as a hitter, Rangers fans may quickly forget what happened to their team in the 2011 World Series.
“He’s got it,” Daniels told Fox Sports Southwest’s Emily Jones. “He’s got that extra thing that star athletes on the big stage have. Some people perceive it as arrogance. I think it’s confidence and you have to have that with all the media he deals with on a daily basis.”
After being selected as the first team that could negotiate with Darvish, the Rangers first had to post a fee of more than $51.7 million to his Japanese team, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, for the 30-day right to negotiate with him. Coming down to the last minute, the team and Darvish agreed on a six-year $60 million deal.
“It’s a really neat time for the franchise,” Daniels said. “Just talking to some of our players and fans, they are fired up. Now hopefully we can let a little of the hype die down and let him do his job.”
Wanted the Rangers
One of the best things about deal is the Rangers still have all their top minor league prospects. The other is that Darvish wanted to be a Ranger.
“In January when I came over here to visit Texas and Arlington, the front office people and all the people I met made me feel like family, they were very friendly and made me feel welcome and their passion made me feel strongly toward the Rangers,” the 6-foot-5, 220-pound right-hander said through an interpreter at a news conference last Friday night.
Darvish visited with the Rangers and toured the area and facilities in early January. The visit included dinner with Ryan, Daniels and Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux.
“It really wasn’t like a dinner meeting,” Darvish said. “It was more like a family atmosphere. That was the biggest part for me was the warmth. It was very gracious. I was very happy with that.”
Darvish pitched for six-and-a-half seasons for the Ham Fighters in the Pacific League of Nippon Professional Baseball, Japan’s highest level of competition. He started 164 games, completing 55 with 18 shutouts. He had a record of 93-38 with a 1.99 earned run average striking out 1,259 batters in 1,268.1 innings.
In 2011, he was 18-6 with a 1.44 ERA. In 232 innings, he struck out 276 batters and walked just 36.
“First of all I don’t think I throw my fastball as fast as you guys all say,” Darvish told reporters. “I have pretty good confidence in my off-speed pitches. I work both of them and will pitch well here.”
Clearly he dominated hitters in Japan. The question will be can he do the same in the United States, considered the highest level in the world.
“He has charisma. He’s got a ton of confidence,” Rangers Manager Ron Washington told Jones. “I don’t think it will take him long to figure out what he’s got to do to get hitters out because he’s been getting them out for quite awhile in his baseball career.
“Although it hasn’t been at the major league level, his talent is as good as there is at the major league level and all I want him to do is to let that talent show.”
Darvish’s signing wasn’t done without plenty of due diligence. Daniels was among 12 Rangers officials and scouts who watched Darvish. Combined, they scouted more than 50 times of his games in the past two years. While they saw what he did to Japanese hitters they also worked to connect with him personally.
“We knew the size of the investment was going to be big, and we were going to have to be really thorough in our presentation to ownership and be convicted if this is what we decided to do,” Daniels told the Associated Press. “Our guys really did their homework, and we feel really good about the process.”
The Rangers also talked to those who played with and against him and people who knew him away from baseball and came away impressed.
“You heard the same thing time after time,” Daniels said. “This is a guy that’s really committed to his craft, that wants to be the best and wants to win on the biggest stage.”
Darvish’s addition gives Washington and Maddux seven quality starters to consider for their five-man rotation. Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison and Alexi Ogando all fared well for much of 2011. Closer Neftali Feliz is supposed to move into the rotation and there’s also holder over Scott Feldman.
What could help Darvish make an easy transition to American baseball is the presence of fellow Japanese pitchers Yoshinori Tateyama and Koji Uehara. Tateyama was a teammate on the Ham Fighters.
“We’ll let him go through the process of getting ready and going through his routine,” Washington told the media. “He’ll get a feel for what we’re looking for and we’ll just move forward from there. For me baseball is universal. We just want him to come in and be Yu Darvish and just help the Texas Rangers continue to move forward in the success we’ve been having the last few years.”
How well Darvish responds to everything he’ll face in spring training could go a long way to determining how well he handles things when play starts for real in April.
“What you hope is that he comes to spring training and that he’s comfortable and that he fits into the routine and doesn’t put a lot of pressure on himself to try to prove that he’s worthy of the consideration that he got and also of the attention that is going to be brought to him,” Ryan told the Associated Press. “If he comes in and doesn’t put a lot of pressure on himself, the transition should go fairly well.”
How you do think Darvish joining the Rangers will affect baseball odds this season?