Yu Darvish, thought of for years now as the next great Japanese pitching phenom to be headed for America, is expected to be pitching in the major leagues in 2012. Darvish is currently denying widespread reports that he has asked his Japanese team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, to post him for availability to Major League Baseball. Denials aside, it is widely anticipated that Darvish will be placed up for bidding once the Japanese postseason ends.
Should the New York Yankees, long thought to be enamored with the superstar right-hander who will turn 26 next season, be among those bidders? The Yankees, of course, have the money to pursue Darvish if they choose.
Question is, should the Yankees go all in on Darvish? When Daisuke Matsuzaka wanted to leave Japan for the major leagues he was widely thought of as the best Japanese pitcher to ever do so, having posted a career ERA of 2.95 in more than 1,100 innings in Japan.
Matsuzaka came to the U.S. at the age of 26, and the Boston Red Sox paid a $51 million posting fee and a $52 million, six-year contract to sign him. To be honest, he has not lived up to the hype. In his second season, he went 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA. That's however, is the only time in his major league career he posted an ERA below 4.40. In the last three years Dice-K has gone 16-15 for Boston.
Many experts think Darvish is better than Dice-K, and the numbers support that claim.
Darvish went 18-6 with a 1.44 ERA for Nippon this season, pitching a career-best 232 innings. He has pitched to an ERA below 2.00 for five consecutive seasons.
NPB Tracker covers Japansese baseball, and NPB thinks Darvish is about as close to the perfect pitching prospect as you can find. They wrote, in part:
"... the only question marks for me are whether Darvish's best four pitches grade as plus-plus, or merely plus, and how "perfect" mechanics are defined (Darvish has tinkered with his delivery over the years). Aside from that, everything else is there - the physique, makeup, health record and performance record."
The Yankee Analysts recently offered a great breakdown of Darvish. If you are interested in what kind of major-league pitcher the Japanese phenom can be it's worth a read, whether you are a Yankee fan or not.
"With Darvish you are getting a control/power pitcher who can take you deep into games and save your bullpen. He also brings the fire and desire to win and dominate every game he pitches. He's already accustomed to celebrity status in Japan and it won't be any different if he joined the New York Yankees. Whether or not his stuff will translate remains to be seen but he is much better than any talent that has ever come from Japan because of his age and the number of above average pitches he can throw."
The $103 million the Red Sox spent on Matsuzaka between the posting fee and the contract they had to give him is probably just the starting point for any bids to Nippon, or talks with Darvish himself. If they want him that, obviously, gives the Yankees an advantage.
Spending that kind of money on a player who has proven nothing at the major league level is, undeniably, a huge gamble. We saw in 2011, though, that beyond CC Sabathia the Yankees simply do not have reliable starting pitching. And with Sabathia able to opt out of his contract this offseason that leaves the Yankees in an even bigger bind.
New York has been burned before by Japanese imports, with a lot of money going to Kei Igawa and Hideki Irabu with little return to show for it. Likely, those bad experiences will make them leery of Darvish.
Yet, it is a gamble that might be worth taking.
Your thoughts, Yankees fans? Should the Yankees go all in for the young phenom, or should they steer clear of the latest big thing from Japan.