The New York Yankees need starting pitching for next season, that's obvious. Right now the team will rely on CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, and then pray and hope that Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett have huge bounce back seasons, but even then there still remains at least one void in the starting rotation and the question is who should fill it? I think a viable candidate and one I'm a proponent of is Japanese sensation Yu Darvish.
One of the main reasons I'm all-in on Darvish is this free agent class lacks top talent among starting pitchers. There is a lot of talent in this class, it just lies in positions the Yankees aren't going to be pursuing ... big names like Albert Pulojs, Prince Fielder, and Jose Reyes are available but they play at positions the Yankees don't need (DH, first base, or shortstop). When you look at the free agent market for starting pitchers it gets depressing. There is C.J. Wilson, who is seeking Sabathia kind of money (no thanks). There is Mark Buehrle in the twilight of his career (I'll allow it) and then there are retreads, stop-gaps, or bounce back candidates like Freddy Garcia, Aaron Harang, and Brandon Webb.
Enter Darvish. The Japanese phenom, who is reportedly seeking an opportunity to play in Major League Baseball. That opportunity that won't comp cheap to any prospective suitors, which is why the Yankees are right in the mix.
The question is, should the Yankees pursue Darvish? To which I say, emphatically, yes!. You can read many articles that are against the New York Yankees ponying up big bucks just for the right to speak to Darvish, including one at SB Nation site Pinstripe Alley. Frank Campagnola highlights three issues for the Yankees and why they should resist the allure of Darvish: the posting fee, the length of the contract (which he fairly assumes will be roughly six years), and the uncertainty of Darvish.
But I disagree. Darvish is a better prospect than any of the Japanese pitchers who came before him -- his numbers in Japan are absolutely staggering. With the Nippon Ham Fighters he was 93-38, with an ERA below 2.00 for the last five years he pitched there, has 1,250 strikeouts in 1,268-2/3 innings and he's gotten even better the last two years
So who is Darvish? (Information gleaned from Project Prospect)
He's a very tall, lanky prospect listed at 6-foot-5 who is entering the prime of his career, (he will turn 26 years old next season). Darvish has six different pitches and is consistently in the 93-95 mile per hour range. Darvish has shown a plus ability to control all of his pitches and does not walk many batters. Darvish also is athletic and excels in the field. Darvish, and this is of utmost important to the Yankees, is someone who has been successful in stressful situations, which potentially bodes well for playoff scenarios and just the overall rigors of playing in the New York media market.
But what is most important about Darivsh is that he is entering his prime and that he hasn't been over-extended in the same manner that Dice-K (and others) have been before their rights were secured by Major League baseball teams. From Project Prospect:
"Darvish has avoided the notorious overwork that plagued Matsuzaka’s amateur and early pro careers. Like Matsuzaka’s teenage years, young Darvish pitched at Koshien, Japan’s national high school baseball tournament. Unlike Matsuzaka, he doesn’t quite have a 250-pitch, 17-inning complete game on his resume. Darvish’s longest outing was a 166-pitch game that he lost on a walk-off home run in the 10th inning. Also, unlike Matsuzaka, Darvish was eased into his pro career: he threw 94.1 innings and 149.2 innings in his first two pro years. Matsuzaka, by contrast, threw 180 innings as an 18 year-old rookie — 347.2 in his first two seasons — and set a career high with 240.1 innings in his third. In essence, Darvish has fired fewer bullets.
The Yankees should make a play at Darvish. It's only money. As much as baseball fans hate to read that, it's true. To the Yankees it's only money. And they have lots of it. Unlike Wilson, Darvish will not cost the Yankees a first-round draft pick. And unlike many teams, if Darvish isn't what they hoped he would be, the Yankees can afford to eat his contract and wait for the next Cliff Lee to become available in free agency. Sure, we're in a down economy and no one (many Yankees fans included) wants to hear that the Yankees could afford to lose $130 million dollars without batting an eye, but it's the truth.
There are other reasons they should consider Darvish: his talent is undeniable, his age is ideal, and he has played well on big stages: stages that rival the big stage he will be on every time he puts on pinstripes.
Lastly, the Yankees are desperate for starting pitching. Darvish comes full of questions as well, but so do the other pitchers on the free-agent market. None of them, however, has Darvish's upside.
Another vote for the Yankees to pursue Darvish
Players like Buerhle and Oswalt are in the twilight of their careers. How much longer will they be viable starting pitchers, and it's not like they are coming cheap.
Many talented players have struggled with the transition to New York so that is not something experienced Major League Baseball pitchers will be immune to. Anyone the Yankees sign could struggle adjusting to the New York media (and Oswalt specifically seems like a candidate for this transition).
Wilson who is a very nice left handed pitcher, but has struggled mightily in the playoffs. Signing Wilson will also come at a hefty price, cost the Yankees draft picks, and from what I've seen in Wilson that's far too much to give up (Did I mention that Wilson is also already 30 years old?)
I don't know what Darvish will be in Major League Baseball, no one really does. But what I know about Darvish is that of the available options he has the best chance of making a true difference to the Yankees starting rotation over the next 5-6 years, and that's why he should be wearing pinstripes in 2012.