NEW YORK (AP) – After losing a pair of aces in the last two years, the Texas Rangers are going global to land a new one.
Winner of consecutive AL pennants, Texas also won the Yu Darvish sweepstakes Monday night with a record bid of $51.7 million. Now, the Rangers get 30 days to negotiate a contract with Darvish that would put Japan’s best pitcher at the top of their rotation.
“Obviously, it’s a very exciting night for our organization, our fans and our community,” general manager Jon Daniels said on a conference call.
Major League Baseball announced that the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters of Japan’s Pacific League accepted the highest bid for Darvish. That sealed offer was submitted under the posting system by the Rangers.
“Our ownership went the extra mile on this one,” Daniels said, declining to reveal specifics.
A person familiar with the details said the winning bid by Texas was $51.7 million — more than the $51.1 million posting fee the Boston Red Sox paid for Daisuke Matsuzaka in 2006. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the figure was not made public.
Yahoo Sports and The New York Times reported the amount first.
Darvish is considered the best pitcher in the Japanese professional leagues and several of baseball’s biggest spenders were thought to be interested in him.
If the Rangers can close the deal, the 25-year-old right-hander would join a rotation that already includes five starters: Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, Alexi Ogando and former closer Neftali Feliz, moved out of the bullpen when the club signed free-agent reliever Joe Nathan this offseason.
“If we’re able to sign him (Darvish), then we’ll have a very good problem on our hands,” Daniels said.
It’s a dynamic endeavor for the Rangers, buoyed by a lucrative television contract and back-to-back AL championships under a new ownership group led by Chuck Greenberg and his partner, Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan. But the team is still chasing its first World Series title — and Texas knows all too well that nothing is done until it is done.
Despite a serious effort, the Rangers were unable to re-sign star pitcher Cliff Lee following the 2010 season. They made it back to the World Series anyway and were within one strike of winning it all — twice — before the St. Louis Cardinals rallied to take the trophy.
Then the Rangers lost their latest ace, C.J. Wilson, when the left-hander agreed to a $77.5 million, five-year contract with the AL West rival Los Angeles Angels this month.
“Our commitment of our ownership is to put the best team out there. The last couple of years we just haven’t been able to close it out,” Daniels said.
Bidding for the posting fee closed last Wednesday, and the Ham Fighters had until 5 p.m. EST on Tuesday to accept. The fee will be paid only if a contract agreement is reached with Darvish’s agents, Arn Tellem and Don Nomura.
If no deal is finalized, Darvish returns to the Fighters for another season.
Two months ago, the Rangers let a championship slip away. They don’t want the same thing to happen with Darvish.
In a statement released before the conference call, the Rangers said they were “pleased and excited” to win the rights to negotiate with Darvish.
“Our organization has scouted Mr. Darvish for the last several years and has been very impressed with his abilities and accomplishments. We believe he would be a great addition to the Texas Rangers pitching staff,” the team said. “We look forward to beginning the next step of this process in the very near future.”
Darvish, the son of an Iranian father and a Japanese mother, went 18-6 with a 1.44 ERA last season. He had 276 strikeouts to lead the Pacific League.
The Fighters gave him approval to negotiate with a major league club through the posting system. Matsuzaka and Ichiro Suzuki went to the majors under the same system.
Darvish pitched in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and was a member of the Japanese national team that won the 2009 World Baseball Classic.
The 6-foot-5 Darvish has superb control and throws seven effective pitches. It’s expected he would make a front-line major league starter, though the MLB track record of Japanese aces is shaky.
“Darvish is the No. 1 pitcher in Japan, but we want him to become the ace of the world,” Nippon Ham team representative Toshimasa Shimada said this month.
Darvish turned pro in 2005 at 18. His professional career got off to a rocky start when he was caught smoking in a pachinko parlor on an off day during his first spring training, despite not being old enough to legally smoke nor to gamble at the time.
In 2007, Darvish won the Eiji Sawamura Award presented to the top pitcher in Japanese professional baseball after posting a 15-5 record with a 1.82 ERA and a league-leading 210 strikeouts.
The Red Sox signed Matsuzaka in 2006 to a six-year, $52 million contract, taking the total package — including the posting fee — to more than $100 million.
Associated Press Writer Terry Wallace in Dallas and AP Sports Writer Jim Armstrong in Tokyo contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)