For the Texas Rangers the calculus is simple: re-sign Yu Darvish, and 22 year-old Japanese phenom Shohei Otani will follow him to Arlington.
I have no inside information. I am not friends with Otani or Darvish or either of their families. This is simply wishful thinking to the ultimate degree, but, to me, it makes too much sense not to have a grain of plausibility. So allow me to explain.
Let’s begin with Yu Darvish, 30, who is in the final year of a six-year contract with the Rangers. Unless he signs an extension in the next three months, Yu will hit the free agent market as a 31 year-old and will likely command a 6 -to 7-year deal in the neighborhood of $30 million Average Annual Value. On the season Darvish has a 3.03 ERA (4.10 FIP) in 89 innings pitched, with a 93/35 K/BB ratio.
In other words, he has been very good.
Shohei Otani is currently a member of the Nippon Ham Fighters — Darvish’s old team — of the Japanese League. A two-way player, Otani is a lifetime .279/.351/.502 hitter with 42 home runs in roughly a thousand plate appearances; as a starting pitcher, where most (if not all) evaluators believe he will end up, Otani has a lifetime ERA of 2.49 and 595 strikeouts in just 517 IP.
In comparison, at the same age-18-to-21 timeframe in Japan, Darvish posted a 3.36 ERA with 585 punchouts in 452.1 IP. Essentially, Darvish was the better strikeout pitcher and Otani was better at preventing runners from scoring. I do write that sentence with the caveat that I am not at all familiar with the pitching or offensive climates in Japan, neither when Darvish was playing there nor now, and thus I am uncertain which was the better offensive era.
Regardless of that knowledge, it is clear that Otani is the best international talent in the world at present. He also intends on coming to the states to play baseball as early as next season, saying in an article written by Scott Miller on March 6th:
“Personally, the new CBA rules do not mean much to me, and it is not going to stop me from going over to the States,” Ohtani tells B/R. “The only thing that worries me is the other young players that might try to go overseas after me. I don’t want to set the bar too low for them and have to get underpaid because of my decision.”
In an attempt to drive down ownership’s cost of acquiring labor, the Collective Bargaining Agreement has undergone two changes over the last six years, and neither have been in favor of the talent.
Under the 2011 posting system, teams put in blind bids for exclusive negotiating rights with Japanese players. That year the Rangers outbid the field by about two-to-one if memory serves correctly, posting a massive $51 million to the Ham Fighters just to get a seat at the table with Yu Darvish. They then signed him to a 6-year, $56 million contract on top of that, making the total investment roughly $107 million.
By the time Masahiro Tanaka got posted, in 2013, the CBA changed. Under that system the total posting fee was capped at $20 million, so multiple teams put in the maximum offer. Out of those teams, Tanaka ended up signing with the Yankees for 7 years and $175 million ($25 million AAV), making the total investment around $200 million.
Now it’s Otani’s turn, though he is a victim of the latest CBA — which has further reduced the benefits for international free agents. Under the current system, every foreign-born amateur under age-25 is treated identically, meaning they can only be signed out of the allotted international bonus pool money teams spend on all overseas talent. That only amounts to, on the high end, about $8-$10 million per club.
Strangely, though, this may actually work to the Rangers’ benefit. If it’s understood that teams aren’t going to be able to spend very much money on Otani, and if Otani is okay with this (rather than just staying in Japan until he’s 25, or whatever, so he’d get a bigger payday), then it would suggest he is after a situation where he feels the most comfortable.
This is where Yu Darvish comes back into play, since by all accounts Darvish is both (a) Shohei’s workout partner during the offseason and (b) his favorite player/hero.
Even in spite of a mediocre Rangers season, with a roster filled with mostly prime- to post-prime players, there have been little birdies from other organizations who have told Michael Tepid that Darvish “doesn’t want to leave Texas,” a revelation that might mean something and might not mean anything at all. If it’s true, however, then Rangers President and General Manager Jon Daniels has some soul searching to do this summer.
On May 4th I wrote that the Rangers baseball season was already over, a reactionary but honest assessment of the state of the club moving forward. In it, I posited that Texas ought to just sell everything they could during the trade deadline, which naturally includes Yu Darvish, who is the most valuable commodity on the market, as the crown jewel.
But that was without information of Darvish perhaps wanting to stay, which would change everything.
I’ve written ad nauseam about Yu’s talent as a world class starting pitcher, though I think I’ve always been more concerned with what he symbolizes. As long as he remains on the roster the Rangers are going to contend for a World Series. It may not bear out in the standings each year — like this one, where the Astros are running away with the American League as a whole — but the front office will go into every season with the intention of winning. The decisions they make in free agency and in trades will be with the goal of contending. That is what Yu Darvish means.
His value is even more substantial if he were also to facilitate Shohei Otani to come to Texas. As a package deal, it would be a coup. Don’t tell me I’m not allowed to dream.
Since there are fairly draconian restrictions on how much money teams can spend on international amateurs, Otani will get only a fraction of what Darvish or Tanaka received under the old rules. Again, I have a hard time believing this doesn’t give the Rangers a bump over the other 29 teams in MLB. They literally have Darvish, a star who was once in the exact shoes Otani is currently in, who apparently likes it in Texas, who is in (close) contact with Shohei, and who would be the perfect ambassador for his transition to the States.
This, of course, operates under the assumption that Darvish actually wants to re-sign. It assumes that the Rangers have mutual interest in bringing back one of the ten-best pitchers in the game. It assumes that Otani even gives a shit about playing on the same team as his idol.
To assume everything here is a stretch, but I’m not exactly breaking my back to reach these conclusions. I’m more preparing for a light jog. If I am being absolutely clear, I anticipate good news on the Shohei Otani front, which would also suggest I anticipate good news regarding Yu Darvish.
I am a Rangers fan, so you have zero fucking reason to take this leap I’m making as anything beyond common wishful thinking. I am projecting that it won’t come down to dollars and cents, when in reality players generally go to the team who offers the most money about 99% of the time. I don’t blame the athletes for this because that would make me a hater, and we all know if any of us were in such a position we would do the exact same thing.
Nonetheless this will stand until I am proven otherwise, and I’m pretty excited to revisit it over the next 12-18 months to see how right (or dead wrong) I turn out to be. During down baseball years, where the Rangers aren’t doing so hot, I cling onto just about anything involving them besides the actual games themselves. And Shohei Otani is the most worthy distraction of 2017 as far as that goes.