Rangers' Darvish deal long time in the making
After establishing Asian scouting presence, Yu efforts increase
ARLINGTON -- Rangers co-owner Ray Davis was spotted walking through the hotel lobby on the last day of the Winter Meetings in Dallas. He stopped to engage in polite conversation, and was told there was really nothing going on at the moment."Oh yes there is," Davis said with a smile. He declined to elaborate. Turns out that Davis and other members of the ownership group had just left a meeting with Rangers general manager Jon Daniels, president Nolan Ryan and others. The Rangers owners had just heard a presentation on why Texas should pursue Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish, who will be introduced at a press conference at the Ballpark in Arlington on Friday night at 7 p.m. CT, to be aired live by MLB.com and texasrangers.com. They had also given their approval for the Rangers to do just that. "We filled them in with an in-depth presentation," Daniels said. "We told them we had done our due diligence and why we felt this was a right fit for us. They were on board with it. They went the extra mile on this." Ownership approval was just one of many big steps the Rangers took in a long and elaborate process that ended on Wednesday afternoon, when they agreed to sign Darvish to a six-year, $60 million contract. The signing of Darvish is the Rangers' biggest triumph in a six-year quest to establish a major presence in the Far East. The process really began just after Daniels was named Texas' general manager a few days after the end of the 2005 season, and then the following spring during the the inaugural World Baseball Classic that was won by Japan. "We had some scouts watching the World Baseball Classic, and they saw Japan play," Daniels said. "They came back and said, 'There are some really interesting players there, and they play a good brand of baseball.'" At the time, though, the Rangers were concentrating their efforts on Latin America, and did not want to "spread themselves too thin," in international scouting. "But we talked about it being logically the next step," Daniels said. The Rangers, whose international efforts were being spearheaded by top assistant A.J. Preller, took that step in December 2007, when they hired former Major League pitcher Jim Colborn to head up their Far East efforts. He had been an Asian scout for the Mariners and had been instrumental in the signing of Ichiro Suzuki. They also hired Joe Furukawa, Haji Watabe and Curtis Jung as scouts to reinforce their operations. "Some of our professional scouts also started making the Japanese League a regular stop," Daniels said. "Then we set a goal before the 2009 season of trying to find one good player out of our Pacific Rim operations every year. We felt if we could find one player every year, it would support what we were doing in Latin America, the Draft and player development. Our guys have done that." They did so by signing Colby Lewis in 2010 and reliever Yoshinori Tateyama last year. But, with the new ownership group and the Rangers back on strong financial footing, the Rangers set their sights much higher this offseason. They wanted Darvish, who was pitching for the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters. They knew there was a possibility that Darvish would ask to be posted after the 2011 season. They knew there were other pitchers from Japan who would be available, as well. But Darvish, clearly the premier pitcher in Japan, was the one they wanted. They had already done extensive homework. Daniels made a trip to Japan last summer to watch Darvish pitch. That created quite a stir, but was relatively minor in the Rangers' overall scheme. Daniels was just one of 12 from the organization who has seen Darvish pitch over the past two years. Others, including Ryan, watched him on video. Besides Preller and the Rangers' scouts in Japan, pro scouts Josh Boyd, Scott Littlefield, Scot Engler, Keith Boeck, Greg Smith and Mike Anderson all made the trip to the Far East to watch Darvish pitch. Daniels wanted scouts there who could compare Darvish to Major League pitchers. "They saw other guys, too," Daniels said. "We didn't know what the total investment would be, but we knew it would be big. We felt like if we were going to make this kind of recommendation to ownership, it better be buttoned-down. Shame on us if we made the presentation, they had questions and we didn't have answers." The Rangers did more than watch Darvish pitch. Led by Furukawa and Watabe, they talked to as many people as possible who knew Darvish to get a better sense of his character, work ethic and personality. They did not talk to Darvish directly out of respect to his team, the Nippon Ham Fighters. But it was clear in Japan that the Rangers were interested. It was also clear to them that Darvish was interested in Texas, a team that was headed to the World Series for a second straight year. "I'm sure all the homework that we did got back to him," Daniels said. "Our image and the perception of the club has changed because of the past two years." Darvish asked the Ham Fighters to post him in December. Under the posting system, a team interested in negotiating with Darvish had to submit a secret bid by Dec. 14. The highest bidder would then receive a 30-day window to negotiate with his agents Arn Tellem and Don Nomura. The record for highest posting bid was established in 2006, when the Red Sox paid $51.1 million for the right to negotiate with Daisuke Matsuzaka. The Rangers met on Dec. 14 to decide on how much they were going to bid. Like every other team, they were going into the process blindfolded and had little idea of what it would take to win the bid. "I'd like to say it's an inexact science, but it's not science at all," Daniels said. "It's a little but like throwing darts." The Rangers focused on the Red Sox's winning bid for Matsuzaka. They decided that was a range they were comfortable with, and it was co-owner Bob Simpson who decided on the specific $51.7 million bid. The Rangers officially made it $51,703,411. The 34 was Ryan's jersey number. The 11 was Darvish's number. The Rangers were hoping for a little luck with their bid. "I wish I had better intelligence on what the other teams were doing, but I didn't," Daniels said. "I told our owners that I wouldn't be surprised if someone bid $60 million, and I wouldn't be surprised if nobody else bid half as much as we do. I said we've got to be OK either way." Rumor is the Blue Jays also bid high. To this day, Daniels said he doesn't know what other teams bid. He has only heard speculation. But on Dec. 18, the Rangers found out that they had won the bidding and had until 4 p.m. CT on Wednesday to sign him. "The first thing we did was send a welcoming letter to Yu and his family," Daniels said. "Then we sent a gift of appreciation and respect to the Hokkaido club. Then we talked with his agents and scripted what would happen next. We knew there was a lot of work to be done, but it was all done amicably in a partnership. Everybody wanted the same outcome." Daniels and assistant general manager Thad Levine met with Nomura and Tellem after Christmas in Los Angeles. They also invited Darvish to visit Texas. "We didn't want to push the physical to the last day, and we also realized he had never been here before," Daniels said. "We wanted him to get a feel for the area, the organization and what we were about. We wanted him to feel welcomed and comfortable." Darvish came over for a few days right after New Year's. He had dinner with Rangers officials, toured the ballpark and the surrounding area, and checked out some real estate possibilities. The Rangers also sent Boyd, their director of professional scouting, over to Japan to meet with Darvish and his family and reassure them over the organization's commitment. Fukuwara was also integral in the process in recruiting Darvish. All along there were general discussions about the parameters of the deal, but the real negotiations didn't begin in earnest until Monday, when Nomura and Tellem flew to Texas. They spent Tuesday at the Ballpark with Daniels and Levine trying to hammer out an agreement.
The length of the deal was crucial. Darvish's agents wanted a five-year deal, while the Rangers, because of the size of the investment, wanted six years. The final agreement was for six years, but also allows Darvish to opt out after five years if he meets certain high-end performance levels mainly based on Cy Young Award voting."We worked from noon until 1 a.m. going through everything," Daniels said. "At that point, we had the general framework for an agreement, but it wasn't done. We still had more work to do. We started the next day at 10 a.m. working through the process. I kept Nolan abreast of everything and he kept the owners updated. "Finally, at 2:30, we had drafted a letter of agreement. I was able to present it to Nolan, and he gave it his approval. We still had some more tweaking to do, and we were still doing that right up to about five minutes before we made the announcement." The Rangers finally made that announcement just before the deadline on Wednesday. Daniels then was able to talk to Darvish by phone from Japan. "He was ecstatic," Daniels said. "He was giddy." So were the Rangers.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.