No bid on Darvish? No big deal

No bid on Darvish? No big deal
December 16, 2011, 7:19 pm
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So it turns out the Nationals did not submit a formal bid for Japanese pitching sensation Yu Darvish. (That's according to Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post. I haven't been able to confirm it myself yet, but I have no reason to doubt the validity of Kilgore's report.)

In the end, though they liked Darvish's repertoire and chances of becoming a big-league starter, the Nationals weren't confident enough in the right-hander's ability to dominate at this level to commit an enormous amount of money toward acquiring him.

And you know what? There's nothing wrong with that line of thinking. It actually makes a lot more sense than getting into an out-of-control, blind bidding war over a player who has never thrown a professional pitch in the United States.

Stop for a moment and think about just how much money another team -- the Blue Jays appear to be the consensus choice right now -- is going to end up paying for Darvish. The posting fee alone is going to approach or even exceed 50 million (and that must come in one lump sum). Then Darvish's actual contract is expected to fall into the same range.

That's roughly 100 million to acquire a pitcher without any way of knowing how well he'll perform in the major leagues. Do you know how many pitchers in big-league history have cost 100 million? There are only seven on that list: Johan Santana (137.5 million), Barry Zito (126 million), CC Sabathia (122 million), Mike Hampton (121 million), Cliff Lee (120 million), Kevin Brown (105 million) and Daisuke Matsuzaka (103 million combined posting fee and contract).

Of those seven pitchers, how many can you honestly say were worth the money? Sabathia is the only one at this point, though Lee could also prove worth it if he continues to pitch the way he did this year for the Phillies.

The other five are among the biggest busts in history, not one of them coming close to performing at a level commensurate with his contract.

Which category will Darvish fall into? There's no way to know for sure, but the odds certainly favor the latter of the two. Sabathia and Lee were as close to sure things as you'll find in baseball when they signed their contracts. Darvish is no sure thing, at least not yet.

And if you're the Nationals, trying to bolster a roster that already looks capable of approaching contention in the National League, the only way you're going to spend nine figures on one player right now is if you know that player is an absolute sure thing.

It's tough enough finding sure things among active major leaguers. It's near-impossible to do it on the international market, especially in Japan, where the track record for pitchers in particular has not been good.

Hideo Nomo (123-109, 4.24 ERA in 318 career starts) is the only Japanese-born pitcher to win more than 51 games or make more than 200 starts in the big leagues. Only six Japanese-born pitchers have made more than 100 starts in the majors: Nomo, Tomo Ohka, Masato Yoshii, Hiroki Kuroda, Matsuzaka and Kaz Ishii. Of that group, only Kuroda (3.45) owns a career ERA under 4.24.

Could Darvish break the mold and out-pitch any of his fellow countrymen? Sure. He's a more imposing physical specimen than the rest of that group and features a repertoire more common with American-born power pitchers than Japanese-born deception artists.

But would you be willing to put up 100 million to find out? Especially if you knew you could devote those same funds to players who you've already seen succeed in the major leaguers?

The Nationals weren't willing to do that. Hard to fault them for taking a more-cautious approach in this case.