Rangers raise the stakes again with $51.7m bid for Darvish

After all the rumours, it was Texas, rather than Toronto, who were the highest bidder for Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish.

Toronto can turn their attention to other targets, possibly swinging a trade for a pitcher like Gio Gonzalez, or maybe even setting up a Jose Bautista-Prince Fielder double act in their batting lineup.

As for Texas, the fun has only just begun.  Now it’s on to the tricky process of negotiating a contract.

The spectre of Daisuke Matsuzaka has never been far away in the Darvish story.  Matsuzaka’s decidedly mixed transition to North America has made some question whether Darvish’s star will shine so brightly in MLB as it has in Japan.  The Boston Red Sox’s $51,111,111 bid doesn’t look like money well spent in retrospect, to say the very least.

When it came to posting a bid for Darvish, there were several different approaches that a team could take. They could have shied away from such a vast sum as a risky investment, they could have believed that he is a superior talent to Matsuzaka and therefore potentially worth a similar amount, or believed that he is a superior talent but that $51.1m was paying well over the odds and therefore settled on a significant but lesser figure.

The Rangers went for the middle position of those three, bidding $51.7m.  The current conversion rate has that at approximately £33.1m, intriguingly close to the £35m that Liverpool speculated on the similarly risky (in different ways) Andy Carroll.  Put that down as reason number two why the Red Sox’s owners – also Liverpool’s owners, of course – steered clear of dishing out a similar sum this time around. 

Are the Rangers wise to have entered such a substantial bid?  We’ll need to see out the life of Darvish’s contract (if he signs one) before we have a definitive answer; however currently you can understand why Texas opted for that amount.

For a team that really wanted Darvish, the problem with believing that Matsuzaka was overpriced was that, at some level, the Matsuzaka bid had set the market price for a premium Japanese pitcher.  Everybody could have adjusted downwards in light of Matsuzaka’s Major League performances, but in a blind posting process it’s very difficult to gauge this.

The Rangers have scouted Darvish extensively, have money to spend and clearly wanted to make a big push to sign him.  Consequently it would have been difficult for them to have not entered a bid at or just above the Matsuzaka mark.  Had they gone for a lesser bid ($40m, say) and lost out to a bid of $51m, they would have kicked themselves because effectively they would have lost out on a prime target due to a bad guess (that someone else wouldn’t use Matsuzaka’s posting fee as the benchmark). 

Any blind bid is a guess to some degree, but if they are backing Darvish as a better player than Matsuzaka – which they clearly are – then as they could afford to spend $51m+ they had to go in at that level to fend off the possibility of another team meeting that price.  They could still have been out-bid; however at least their submission would have been as educated a guess as they could have hoped to make.

The reports coming out of Toronto on Tuesday that the Blue Jays’ bid exceeded $50m show that such an educated guess was definitely the correct approach for Texas to take.

Even though the Rangers already have a strong group of pitchers, their pursuit of Darvish shouldn’t be seen as a surprise.  Any team should be looking to bring in the best talent they can acquire when the opportunity presents itself, particularly if you are already a two-time reigning American League champion that doesn’t have glaring holes in their roster. 

Whether it’s the Rangers’ potential pile of pitching, the first base bonanza in St. Louis (Albert Pujols, Mark Trumbo and Kendrys Morales) or the prospect pair in San Diego (Anthony Rizzo and the newly-acquired Yonder Alonso), having too much talent is never really a problem.  A surplus of talent in one spot can be traded for a good player or two for elsewhere, while an injury can quickly make a surplus seem less of a luxury and more of a lifeline.

Before the Rangers reach that stage – the early talk has them potentially trading Colby Lewis to make a space in the rotation – they have to actually sign Darvish.  Posting the highest bid only gains them exclusive rights to attempt to reach an agreement with the pitcher. 

You would have to expect a deal to be concluded.  Both sides have every reason to come to an agreement and they should have a fair idea of the likely parameters of a contract: again using the Matsuzaka mark, in this case a six-year/$52m contract, as a starting point. It is still likely to take the majority of the thirty-day period to reach an agreement, though, as both parties will attempt to use the impending deadline as leverage to finalize aspects of the contract.

If Darvish does indeed sign for the Rangers, the AL West and Wild Card races will become even more intense, while baseball fans generally will be able to enjoy watching this highly-touted Japanese star taking on MLB batters. 

However, spare a thought for the Houston Astros, who will be joining the free-spending Angels and Rangers in the AL West in 2013.  New owner Jim Crane basically had no choice but to move his team from the NL Central, but the subsequent $70m compensation payment he received on his original purchase price of $680m is rapidly beginning to look like small beer compared to the sums being bandied about by two of his soon-to-be division rivals.

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