Japan’s best pitcher Yu Darvish and the Texas Rangers agreed before Wednesday’s deadline to a $60 million, six-year contract. In addition to the salary, the Rangers will pay a posting fee of about $51.7 million to pay to the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters of Japan’s Pacific League.
The deal came at the end of a 30-day negotiating window that began Dec. 19 when the Rangers’ bid to negotiate with the pitcher was accepted. Had a deal not been reached by the 4 p.m. CST deadline, Darvish would have remained with the Fighters and Texas would have kept the posting fee.
When the deal was reached in Texas by his agents Don Nomura and Arn Tellem, the 25-year-old Darvish was home in Japan, where he returned for offseason training after his first and only visit to Texas two weeks ago. The Rangers plan to formally introduce Darvish on Friday.
Darvish had a 93-38 record with a 1.99 ERA over the past seven seasons in Japan. The 6-foot-5 right-hander was a two-time Pacific League MVP and a five-time All-Star. He led the league in strikeouts three times, in ERA twice and won two Gold Gloves.
Rangers President Nolan Ryan, a Hall of Fame pitcher and strikeout king who pitched a record 27 major league seasons, was impressed by Darvish’s size and attitude about wanting to compete when they met for the first time earlier this month.
“To me, he represented all I had been led to believe, so I felt really good about it,” Ryan said last week.
The deal surpasses what Daisuke Matsuzaka got when he left Japan and signed with the Boston Red Sox just more than five years ago. Dice-K got a $52 million, six-year deal and the Red Sox also had to pay a $51.111 million posting fee that was the highest for a Japanese player before what the Rangers bid for Darvish.
When Ichiro Suzuki used the posting system in 2000 to get to the major leagues, the Seattle Mariners won the right negotiate with a bid of about $13 million, then signed him to a $14 million, three-year contract.
Through last season, 38 Japan-born pitchers had appeared in the major leagues. There were nine last season, including relievers Yoshinori Tateyama and Koji Uehara with the Rangers. Both are still on the 40-man roster in Texas.
Matsuzaka is 49-30 with a 4.25 ERA in 106 games (105 starts) in five seasons with the Red Sox since his high-profile move from the Seibu Lions to Boston in December 2006 when he was 26 years old.
He has had six stints on the disabled list, including last season when he had right elbow surgery and didn’t pitch after May 16. He is going into the final season of his contract with the Red Sox worth about $10 million.
Darvish, the son of an Iranian father and a Japanese mother, went 18-6 with a 1.44 ERA last season in Japan, when he made the equivalent of about $6 million. He had 276 strikeouts to lead the Pacific League.
Darvish, who turned pro at 18, pitched in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and was a member of the Japanese team that won the 2009 World Baseball Classic. The right-hander has superb control and throws seven effective pitches.
Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux had dinner with Darvish earlier this month and has watched video of him pitching in Japan.
“The mix, he does a lot of things with the ball. His size too,” Maddux said this week. “He’s a big fellow. That’s the biggest impression I got, or the most surprising thing that I saw was how big he is.”
Maddux’s younger brother, four-time NY Cy Young winner Greg, is now a special assistant for the Rangers and is also impressed with what he’s watched.
“He looks real good in the video. I know that,” Greg Maddux said. “His command, his stuff, ability to pitch. … If the ball goes where you want it to go, then everything’s pretty good, and that’s what I saw.”
The Rangers lost their pitching ace in free agency after both World Series appearances.
Cliff Lee left Texas to return to Philadelphia after the 2010 season, when he was with the Rangers just more than three months after his midseason trade from Seattle. C.J. Wilson last month got a $77.5 million, five-year contract from the AL West rival Los Angeles Angels.
Even with the loss of Wilson, Darvish becomes part of a rotation that already had at least six starting candidates going into spring training.
Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, Alexi Ogando and Matt Harrison were starters last season. The Rangers have already determined that closer Neftali Feliz will make the transition from the bullpen to the rotation this year after abandoning such plans last spring. Scott Feldman was a 17-game starter in 2009 before microfracture surgery in his right knee at the end of the 2010 season.
Lewis was drafted by the Rangers 38th overall with a supplemental first-round pick in 1999, was a 10-game winner four years later and then had rotator-cuff surgery. He played in Detroit’s and Oakland’s organizations before going to Japan for two successful seasons and then re-signing with the Rangers in 2010.
“Well, I looked at video of Colby when he was in Japan and I felt like from what I saw, he’d be successful back over here,” Ryan said. “That’s the same way I look at Yu when I watch him on video over there. I think that he’ll do fine.”
Since returning to the Rangers, Lewis is 26-23 with a 4.06 ERA in 64 starts, with 365 strikeouts and 121 walks in 401 1-3 innings in the regular season. He is 4-1 with a 2.34 ERA in eight postseason starts.
Lewis was 26-17 in 55 games in Japan with a 2.82 ERA, 369 strikeouts and only 46 walks in 354 1-3 innings. In 72 major league games before that — with the Rangers, Tigers and A’s — Lewis walked 124 batters in 217 1-3 innings.
The New York Yankees earlier this month failed to sign Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima within 30 days after they won negotiating rights with a high bid of $2.5 million. The 29-year-old Nakajima hit .297 with 16 home runs and 100 RBIs last year with the Seibu Lions, who now retain his rights.
Nakajima and Darvish were teammates during the 2008 Olympics and on Japan’s championship team in the 2009 World Baseball Classic.