Royal Blue and Yu


The offseason is the time for speculation, speculation, complaining, and maybe, just a little optimism. I for one, like to take the time to try and learn something new about a sport that I didn’t know much about before.* This year, I started taking a look at the Japanese league after hearing that the Royals might be interested in a particular pitcher who played in a league across the pond.

*I liken my drive for sports knowledge to Larry Bird’s drive to be a better basketball player. He came back after every offseason with a new feature he’d added to his game. Don’t laugh. Larry Bird and I have the same competitive drive. That sounds about right.

I learned a few things that interested me. You may already be knowledgeable about Japanese baseball, but I wasn’t so I’m going to talk about it a little.

The first thing that jumped out at me was the fact that players have to play 9 years in the Nippon Professional League before becoming eligible to test the waters as an international free agent. The league is more relenting on its players who wish to become domestic free agents.* Players interested in becoming domestic free agents are allowed to sign with another team after 8 years of service.

*Duly note the implied sarcasm.

I mean, it’s not like I wasn’t cognizant of the fact that Ichiro was an old rookie when he came to the MLB, (Man, think of what that guy could have done if he’d been in the majors from the get-go.) but I didn’t realize how long those guys had to play before they could try to make their mark on the American game. The Nippon Professional League also requires that a player be on the “big-league” roster a minimum of 145 days before it can be counted as a professional “year.” Minor league and IR time don’t count either.

There’s also the ridiculous bidding that goes on for the mere right to sign a player. In 2006, the Boston Red Sox paid $51,111,111 for the right to a 30 day negotiating period with Daisuke Matsuzaka. He then signed a 6 year/52 million dollar contract. This is an example of a monetary issue that often happens to these players as well. While the above contract might not seem something to sniff at to the average fan, it’s actually a fairly cheap agreement for a pitcher who was supposed to come over and be a dominant ace.

We all know how much of an “ace” Matsuzaka turned out to be, but it still doesn’t besmirch the fact that MLB teams typically sign a Japanese league free agent to a much cheaper contract as a result of the posting fee. That doesn’t seem fair to me as it’s not the player’s fault that a team has to pay an obnoxious amount of money just to earn the right to negotiate with him*.

*Here’s a look at one of many informational sources on Nippon Professional League free agency rules.

This brings us to Yu Darvish. He’s been a dominant pitcher in Japan and has a lot of excitement surrounding him. This is largely because he hasn’t thrown as many innings as Matsuzaka and seems as if he’s toying with the Nippon Professional League at this point. The Royals are one of a multitude of names that have come up as potential suitors.

I don’t think the Royal have a chance to sign him and this doesn’t bother me because I don’t think they should anyways.

Here’s why:

People keep talking about how Matsuzaka’s struggles will force the bidding war for negotiating privileges down to a reasonable level. It all depends on what you consider “reasonable.”

There are reports that negotiating rights will still fall in the upper 30 million dollar range. Then there’s still the manner of signing him. While it’s true that the Royals have money to spend and will probably once again have a miniscule payroll in 2012, that’s still a ton of money to spend. The Royals have dipped their hands in the international market in the last few years with the signing of players like Salvador Perez and Noel Arguelles, but a run at Darvish is going to cost a lot more than the type of international free agent Dayton Moore is used to going after.

For example’s sake, let’s say that the Royals paid 38 million dollars to sign Darvish. Let’s also say that the Royals then signed Darvish to a “Matsuzaka” deal of 6 years at 52 million. The combination of the contract and the negotiating bid would mean that the Royals were putting a 6 year/90 million dollar investment into the chance that Darvish was an ace. That’s 15 million a year invested in a guy who has done well in the Nippon Professional League but has no experience in the American game.

He could be a stud, but that’s what people thought Matsuzaka would be and we all saw how that turned out.

I don’ t know about you, but I don’t want to be paying 15 million dollars a year for another Daisuke. Boston made a mistake, but they were able to afford it.

There’s also the simple fact that Darvish is probably going to want to come to a market that’s a little more sizeable than the one Kansas City has to offer. We just don’t have the type of draw that other cities and teams have at this point.

All in all, if the Royals are determined to spent that type of money, I’d rather see them spend it on a proven commodity rather than a question mark.

That’s not to say that I don’t think Darvish is an interesting option for some other teams with bigger payrolls. If he comes, it’s highly likely that he’s going to be cheaper than Matsuzaka was. He could be an amazing talent.

I just don’t think the Royals could absorb the hit if they signed him and it turned out he wasn’t.

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