Could Jays Afford Yu Darvish?


I know that we here at Jays Journal have many Japanese readers, or at least people who are reading the site from the Japan region, so I’d like to hear from you if possible in regards to this subject. I’ve already gone through the possibilities of Bryce Harper dropping to the Jays in the draft, so I thought to myself who else is out there that could have this kind of impact? Yu Darvish came to mind immediately.

There is a possibility that some people may not be aware of how phenom like Yu Darvish is in the baseball world, so I’ll add his skills and performances, as well as possible impacts.

First of all, Yu Darvish (23 years old) is a big thin guy at 6’5″ 190 lbs. He was born in Osaka, Japan, is half-Iranian,  and bats and throws from the right side. He has pitched for the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters since 2005, when he was only 18 years old. In his first season (short), he was able to end the year 5 – 5 with a decent 3.53 ERA over 94 IP (52 Ks).

The following season, 2006, is when Darvish really grew into his own and never looked back through to 2009. Here are his stats over that period:

  • 2006 (19): 25 GP, 12 – 5, 2.89 ERA, 149.2 IP, 115 Ks, 64 walks, 1.28 whip
  • 2007 (20): 26 GP, 15 – 5, 1.82 ERA, 207.2 IP, 210 Ks, 49 walks, 0.83 whip
  • 2008 (21): 25 GP, 16 – 4, 1.88 ERA, 200.2 IP, 208 Ks, 44 walks, 0.90 whip
  • 2009 (22): 23 GP, 15 – 5, 1.73 ERA, 182 IP, 167 Ks, 45 walks, 0.90 whip

You may ask yourself, so how does this play up if he should come to the U.S.? Well, I’ll compare these stats to Dice-K‘s at the same ages while he was playing for Seibu of the same league:

  • 2000 (19): 25 GP, 14 – 7, 3.97 ERA, 167.2 IP, 144 Ks, 95 walks, 1.35 whip
  • Dice was injured and missed all of 2001
  • 2002 (21): 14 GP, 6 – 2, 3.68 ERA, 73.1 IP, 78 Ks, 15 walks, 1.02 whip
  • 2003 (22): 29 GP, 16 – 7, 2.83 ERA, 194 IP, 215 Ks, 63 walks, 1.18 whip

Although some would contend that you can’t compare these because they’re far apart in terms of years and the players they were facing, I still like this comparison because it gives me more of a compass as to what his effectiveness is in Japan. First and foremost, Darvish is healthier than Dice. That’s a huge point when you consider the amount of money that could be invested in his arm. Second, he’s consistently more effective than Dice was at the same age and walks much fewer batters than Dice did. That bodes well for teams looking to sign him because they’ve seen how much trouble that caused Dice-K when he came to Boston. He has also been more dominant overall and that could be due to his massive size in comparison to most Japanese pitchers. That should interest MLB teams as well, as being on more of a downhill plane definitely results in more effectiveness. By my count, Darvish is a much safer and better investment than Dice was.

The question then becomes, if he did decide to come to the U.S., what is he worth in terms of dollars? Picture the media coverage that would follow Darvish around in MLB. It would be like what Dice has times 2. Jerseys and other items would be sold in Japan like hot cakes, T.V. contracts to broadcast his games would be negotiated, and the popularity of the MLB team he signs with will increase exponentially as a result.How much money is that worth? I’m not sure exactly, but I know 2 facts: it will be more than what Dice-K cost, and it will be more than what 90% of MLB teams can or want to afford.

That brings me to my initial point, can the Jays afford to sign Darvish, and if so, at what cost? Will he want to come to Toronto and would other teams like the Red Sox or Yankees out bid the Jays regardless of what the money involved is?

  • Boston would be more attractive than NY or TOR in Darvish’s eyes because they already have Dice-K, Hideki Okajima, and Junichi Tazawa onboard. The transition would be easier, he could continue to speak Japanese and get lots of help transitioning to the U.S. If he comes to Toronto or NY, he will be the only Japanese player on the team and may have a hard time adjusting. Still, the media hoard that will follow him around will defintiely be able to help ease that a little bit, along with his agent, trainer, and translator.

Dice-K Matsuzaka signed with the Boston Red Sox for $52,000,000 over 6 years, and at a cost of $51,000,000 just to win the rights to negotiate with him. Total cost, $103,000,000. Has it been worth it? Some can make arguments, but I’ll add that you can get 3 years of Roy Halladay at $60 million, so if we compare $120,000,000 for Roy Halladay to the $103,000,000 it cost to have Dice onboard, the Red Sox got ripped off big time.

I’m just going to throw a number out there because it was mentioned by ESPN’s Jim Caple in a story you have to read to know all the ins-and-outs about Yu Darvish’s situation.

$75,000,000 to get the rights to negotiate with Darvish, and another $75,000,000 just to sign him for 6 years. Total cost, $150,000,000.

We know the Jays were willing to go as high at $23,000,000 to get Aroldis Chapman, but $150,000,000 is a huge leap. Still, could it happen? It’s possible when you consider the fact that many factors and income sources have to be estimated to make such a deal worthwhile. How much more will the Jays make in T.V. revenues, merchandising, from the extra people in the stands when he pitches, from the media coverage the Jays will receive as a result of his signing, ect..

Then you have to consider where else the Jays could spend their money. They only have about half of their usual budget allocated for 2010 and beyond and do not have a ton of attractive FAs to spend that money on. It seems that teams are much more proactive now in getting their players sign before the hit the FA market.

And finally, does Yu Darvish fit the overall plan for the Jays – To get younger and better for a long term push at being competitive in the AL East? You bet he does.

The initial $75,000,000 is really a sunk cost that the team would right off as Goodwill. I’m not saying it’s easy to throw $75,000,000 out there, but it’s how that expenditure would be viewed financially. The salary Yu would get would be $75,000,000 over 6 years, or $12,500,000 per season. To me, that seems very reasonable if he’s as good as advertised and can adjust to pitching every 5 days instead of every 6 days. All he has to do to be worth that much is to be slightly better than the performances of Ted Lilly ($10 million per season) or Gil Meche ($11 million per season). I’m pretty certain he’ll be able to pull that off.

Therefore, I can see the Jays pulling this one off if the ownership group wants to make a statement and be as competitive in the AL East as they say they want to be. A group of young pitchers like Kyle Drabek, Yu Darvish, Chad Jenkins, Marc Rzepczynski and Brett Cecil would go a long way to ensuring the Jays are formidable opponents for years to come, that’s for certain.

The only remaining question not covered yet: Will he come to America, and if so, when?

The reason Darvish may be forced to decide to come to the U.S. much sooner than previously thought is that MLB is looking to add an international draft. This has a HUGE impact on guys like Darvish and the Japanese team that holds his rights because it takes away the vast amount of money they could get if he comes to America. Why?

  • If he signs now, his team will negotiate a fee first, just to allow for talks to take place between an MLB team and Darvish;
  • Darvish and his agent then get to negotiate a contract with that MLB team with what seems to be no ceiling at all. Just look at the $50 million plus that Dice-K got with Boston and you see exactly what I mean.
  • Regardless of how you looked at Dice-K, he was an MLB rookie. Had he been drafted in an international draft, an MLB team (probably other than the Red Sox) would have held his rights and would have had all of the leverage in negotiations. Therefore, it is likely that Dice-K’s team in Japan would have received nothing, and would not have let him leave at all as a result. If they did allow him to go because the MLB team was willing to give them some money, Dice-K would have been forced to sign at a fraction of the money he got from the Red Sox.
  • So here’s Darvish, staring an international draft right in the face, knowing full well that it’s likely a team like the Kansas City Royals or the Pittsburgh Pirates could get his rights in such a draft. What does he do? Does he rush to come to America in order to avoid a draft and to sign with a competitive team, or would he rather simply go to the team that is offering the most money?

I believe he will rush to come to America because the stakes are too big, unless he is truly happy in Japan and never wants to leave – a very likely proposition. However, if there is an inkling of coming to America in his heart, he also has the option of being drafted and simply not signing a contract if it’s not to his liking, so I’m not sure it is a guarantee that he’ll speed up his expected American arrival.

I expect Alex Anthopolous will do his due diligence as usual in the case of Yu Darvish. If he decides to come to America, and his rights are up for grabs, I know Alex will put in a bid. Whether or not it’s the winning bid is the big question, but I know they can afford it and I know the results would be electrifying in terms of International coverage of the Toronto Blue Jays from that point forward. What a statement his being a member of the Blue Jays organization would be. We can dream, can’t we?

I put the likeliness of his coming to America at 75%, and the likeliness of his becoming a Jay thereafter at 5% based on the ability to bid as high as required.  That’s still pretty good, and much better than a lottery ticket! Wherever he ends up, Yu Darvish will be a treat to watch. If it isn’t in MLB, we’ll have to enjoy his World Classic performances instead.

Here’s a video explaining some of his exploits and showing his stuff. It’s grainy, but well worth watching.