Aug 04, 2011, 09:03AM

Yu Darvish: The Next Great Texas Ranger?

If he can learn from Daisuke Matsuzaka's mistakes.

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Yu Darvish will be compared to Daisuke Matsuzaka for most of his career. If posted this offseason as expected, Darvish will likely require a fee greater than Dice-K’s $51,111,111 million just to begin negotiations. Looking back, that obscene number seems ridiculously high for a pitcher of Matsuzaka’s caliber, but Darvish isn’t completely different, and in turn he will command a similar sum of money. The 24-year-old right-hander has thrown to an ERA below 1.89 for the last four years, logging over 200 innings in all but one of those seasons. While Dice-K has the “nasty stuff” and “famous Gyro Ball,” Darvish has consistent, top of the rotation stats that every major league team should look at.

Matsuzaka’s numbers were never bad, in fact they were quite spectacular, especially towards the end of his Japanese career. His 2.13 ERA in 2006, his last season with the Seibu Lions, was an all-time low, catapulting him into the American spotlight. Just because he had gotten used to the NPB, however, doesn’t mean he was ready for Major League Baseball. Ingrained with eccentric Japanese training methods, the Red Sox immediately took him out of his familiar workout routine and into their own. The abrupt change, to go along with a different sized baseball, a new league with tougher hitters, the language barrier that could only be broken with a translator and one teammate, Hideki Okajima, and the brutal, lengthier season led to his failure in Boston.

Matsuzaka could be looked at as a prototype, the precursor to Darvish. Everything that went wrong for the former could go right for the latter. Since Matsuzaka’s departure, the regulation NPB baseball has grown larger, similar to the size of a Major League ball. Darvish will be 25 this offseason, which means he’ll be much more malleable in terms of learning new customs and workout regimens. Major League clubs might look at the Matsuzaka debacle, though, and decide it’s best for the right-hander to train however he sees fit. And even though the hurler’s in his seventh season as a professional, he should be handled with kid gloves going down the stretch, and treated like a top prospect instead of an ace.

Once he does get posted, whether it’s this winter or next, there will be a frenzy to land negotiating rights. Quality starting pitching has been barren on the free agent market in recent years, Cliff Lee being the only prize of last offseason and John Lackey of the one before (…barf). Big money teams, including the Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays, and Rangers, have been in need of rotation help for years. Boston went into 2011 confident in their top five, but are now only counting on two of them. Lackey has been worse than Barry Zito, Matsuzaka is out for the year with Tommy John surgery, and Buchholz has a back made of Clay. Toronto, led by savvy GM Alex Anthopoulos, hasn’t had an ace since they dealt Roy Halladay to Philadelphia. New York, meanwhile, has a sketchy pitching staff backing up CC Sabathia, who’s going to opt of his contract this offseason anyway, causing even more trouble for the Yankees.

The Rangers, however, could develop into the favorites for the Japanese phenom. GM Jon Daniels scouted the majority of the NPB personally earlier this year, and had this to say about the island nation, "I was there to get a feel for the lay of the land and the baseball culture, the same way I did in the Dominican a few years ago. If we’re going to invest in that universe of players, we need to understand where they’re coming from.” Yoshinori Tateyama and Koji Uehara, two other Japanese pitchers on the Rangers, would surely welcome another native with open arms.


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