Yesterday, Eno Sarris covered the potential cost of Yu Darvish by using Major League comps, eventually settling on a Jordan Zimmermann comp to go along with the $100 million price tag. While this is certainly not a financial commitment for the faint of heart, the rumour mill is saying that the Blue Jays have submitted the top bid for the Japanese star. However, Nippon Ham is under no obligation to take the highest bid, and there have been rumors swirling around the Rangers as well. While we will find out who the official winner is by Tuesday, let’s take a preliminary look at how Darvish would fit on these two teams, and which fit is best.
The Rangers have won 186 regular season games over the last two seasons, winning the American League Pennant both years to go along with a pair of AL West titles. Last year’s team remains largely intact, with ace C.J. Wilson the only major loss. However, this does leave a serious hole in the team’s rotation. The franchise does have a couple of potential elite arms in the minors in Martin Perez and Tanner Scheppers, but they have combined for just 69.2 innings in Triple-A, with Scheppers battling injuries. Michael Kirkman also no longer appears to be an option after pitching primarily out of the bullpen in Triple-A and with the big club last season.
That being said, the Rangers still have four very good arms in their rotation in Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, Alexi Ogando and Colby Lewis. Unfortunately, there was a game-changer last week. Their main competition in the AL West, the Los Angeles Angels, signed Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson. Last season, the Angels finished only 10 games back of the Rangers, and have probably added that many wins with Pujols and Wilson alone. That is before even mentioning a full season from Mike Trout, the return of Kendrys Morales, and potential trade returns from their glut of infielders. The Rangers front office is one of the last I would expect to make a rash decision and throw a bunch of money at Darvish to counter the Angels’ aggressive spending, but it’s hard to get that type of thought out of your head.
While there are still some good pitchers available on the open market like Hiroki Kuroda, Edwin Jackson and Roy Oswalt, none of them quite offer the intrigue of Darvish. On the other hand, the Rangers are in win-now mode with Josh Hamilton, Michael Young and Ian Kinsler set to become free agents over the next two seasons. It may be wise to go after an older, but more proven arm like Kuroda or Oswalt. Neither of these two offer the upside of Darvish, especially long term, but are probably a safer bet if the Rangers are serious about winning the World Series next year. Given the current composition of their club, Darvish is a good, but not great, fit for the Rangers.
The Blue Jays are an even more curious fit, and are hard to read due to the fact that they have been tied to basically every semi-available player in baseball. Since Anthopolous took over, they have been stock-piling draft picks and minor league talent with an eye on the future. A big financial commitment to Darvish would indicate that this future is imminent. This isn’t to say that the Jays don’t have the talent to compete with the big boys in the AL East, because they are close, but it seems that starting pitching isn’t the most pressing area of need, certainly not at a $100 million price tag. While the current MLB rotation of Brandon Morrow, Ricky Romero, Henderson Alvarez and Brett Cecil isn’t exactly a murderer’s row, there is a ton of talent in the minors between Deck McGuire, Asher Wojciechowski, Drew Hutchison and former top prospect Kyle Drabek. Further down the line, Aaron Sanchez, Noah Syndergaard, Daniel Norris and Kevin Comer are promising prospects. Of course, pitching is extremely volatile and a lot can go wrong between now and when these guys are potentially ready for the majors, but that is a lot more depth than most teams.
Compare this to glaring needs at first base, left field, and potentially second base depending on what happens with Kelly Johnson. Over the last two seasons, the Jays have received essentially nothing from 1B/DH thanks to Adam Lind and his wOBAs of .309 and .315. There is also no long-term option in the minor- league system. Something like $100 million could go a long way to shoring up the position this off-season (Prince), or in the future. In left field, Travis Snider has underperformed with a career .318 wOBA but is still only 23 years old, while Eric Thames isn’t expected to be much more than a 1.5 WAR player.
There is of course the chance that the Rogers-backed Jays have enough money to add Darvish and fill their other needs, or that they think highly enough of Darvish that they would be willing to move some of their other pitching prospects for some bats when the time comes. At first glance it would appear that the Jays would be jumping in a year too early with a Darvish acquisition, but Anthopolous certainly isn’t one to pass on an opportunity when he thinks he can improve his team.
There is also the financial aspects to consider. A Darvish signing would electrify Jays fans across the country who have been waiting for a marquee free agent to land in Toronto for a long time. Given the Blue Jays massive potential television market, this isn’t insignificant. There is also a financial benefit overseas to having a Japanese star. The Mariners and Yankees are the biggest MLB teams in Japan due largely in part to the presence of Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui on those rosters. That is certainly something to think about when comparing Darvish to other players.
Overall, it appears that while the Rangers make sense, there are a few other players that can help them capture that elusive World Series title. In Toronto, the window is a bit bigger, so the 25-year-old Darvish would help the Blue Jays compete next year and in 2016. It’s usually easier to trade for hitting, so if Anthopolous sees something in Darvish that he really likes, it’s hard to doubt him given what he has accomplished thus far in his career.