Yes, you read that headline right. The Cubs should absolutely, positively bid whatever it takes to get Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish via posting fee, then sign him to a five-year deal.
Like that isn't going to stir up controversy around here, right?
I know, I know. You're still a little leery of all Japanese players after the Kosuke Fukudome experience. That was a lot of money, and didn't work out so well. And you're thinking that Theo Epstein would be cautious about this sort of thing after he spent $100 million plus on Dasiuke Matsuzaka, hoping they'd have a dominant starting pitcher, and instead getting John Maine (Maine is Dice-K's most similar pitcher, according to his baseball-reference page).
And you're also thinking: Japanese pitchers rarely work out the way they're supposed to. Only one Japanese pitcher who has made 100 or more MLB starts has posted a career ERA under 4.00 -- that's Hiroki Kuroda, who the Cubs have been linked to in various rumors. But Kuroda will be 37 in February; there's risk in signing him at that age. Only one Japanese pitcher has managed to make more than 200 starts in the major leagues -- Hideo Nomo -- and even then, Nomo had some spectacular failures and had to reinvent himself a couple of times.
Darvish is different. Follow me past the jump to find out why.
Here are Darvish's career stats in NPB, via his Wikipedia page:
|Nippon Professional Baseball|
First of all, Darvish is 25. He doesn't turn 26 until next August. The overwhelming majority of players that have come to North America from NPB are in their early 30s -- thus assuring that the MLB teams signing them are not getting their peak years. This appears to be the case with Fukudome, who turned 31 about a month after his Cubs debut. Same for Kazuhiro Sasaki, who posted 129 saves for the Mariners from 2000-2003 -- 32 when he came to the USA. Tadahito Iguchi, the second baseman for the 2005 World Champion White Sox? 30 during that year; he had a couple of decent seasons, then tailed off.
I could go on, but you get the point. The only Japanese players who have truly succeeded for an extended period of time are Ichiro Suzuki -- who came to MLB at age 27 -- and Hideki Matsui, who made the transition at 29. Nomo, who had a mid-career slide mostly due to injuries, first pitched for the Dodgers at age 26.
So being posted at 25 is exactly right. Whoever signs Darvish will be getting his prime years.
Now, check out the numbers he has already posted in NPB. He doesn't walk people. He doesn't give up many hits or runs -- he has posted ERAs under 2.00 for five consecutive seasons, and almost had WHIPs under 1.00 all five of those years, barely going over that mark at 1.01 in 2010. Even if you think NPB competition isn't quite what MLB is, that is absolute dominance. No other Japanese pitcher currently in NPB is anywhere close to those kind of numbers. Look, for example, at his ERA compared to the league. There aren't a ton of innings on his arm, either; over that five-year period of dominance he has averaged about 204 innings, not an extraordinary total.
Note that he has never made 30 starts in a season, but has thrown about the number of innings a 34-start MLB starter would, in several of the years. The reason for this is pretty clear -- his total of complete games. But MLB managers don't use starters that way; exactly two MLB pitchers have had 10 or more CG in a season since 2000: CC Sabathia, 10 in 2008, and James Shields, 11 in 2011. If the Cubs do wind up signing Darvish, there's no way Dale Sveum makes him throw that many CG. Nor would any one of us want him to, either.
Darvish is also a very different physical specimen than most Japanese athletes, who tend to be of average size. His baseball-reference bullpen page lists him at 6-5, 215. That's big enough to look pretty scary on a major league mound. By comparison, he is about the same size as Kerry Wood, who is listed at 6-5, 210.
If you have not seen this video, check him out striking out former Cub Matt Murton:
Murton was a decent major league player and is a star in NPB. Darvish made him look silly. But also check out Darvish's mound presence in that video. It's clear that he has a plan out there, even from this single at-bat; he's got an excellent selection of pitches and isn't afraid to use them.
One of the biggest problems with the 2011 Cubs was starting pitching, as you well know. While the Cubs are likely not going to contend in 2012, that is no reason that it isn't the right time to put some of the building blocks in place to contend in the future. With Darvish and Matt Garza at the top of the Cubs' rotation, backed up by Ryan Dempster and Randy Wells, the Cubs suddenly have a solid one-through-four. (Yes, I deliberately left Carlos Zambrano off this list. I have no idea what's going to happen with him and I still think the team is better off if they deal him.)
I've written before about the awful pitchers paraded through the Cubs' rotation in 2011 and the fact that with even league-average performance instead of James Russell, Doug Davis, Casey Coleman, Rodrigo Lopez and Ramon Ortiz, the Cubs could have been a .500 team in 2011. Now, add a potential top pitcher like Darvish... and things could turn around quickly.
It's been speculated that the posting fee for Darvish will be around $30 million -- quite a bit of money, but less than the $51,111,111.11 posted by Theo's Red Sox for Dice-K. Take that and add a five-year deal for around $60 million and the Cubs will have a top starter in his prime years. And if they don't come to a contract agreement, the Cubs get the posting fee back. This ESPN Dallas article explains how it works:
* Teams have until next Wednesday to submit a sealed bid to MLB. Clubs won't have any idea what the other teams are bidding, but the team with the highest bid will be sent to the Fighters.
* They then have four business days to determine if they accept the bid.
* If they do, the MLB club then has 30 days to negotiate with Darvish and hammer out a deal.
* If no deal is reached, the MLB club does not pay the posting fee and Darvish returns to play in Japan for another year.
Go get him, Theo & Jed. This is the splash the Cubs need to make.