Yu Darvish: A Rare Opportunity for the Yankees

Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum, Jered Weaver, David Price, Stephen Strasburg.  What do all these pitchers have in common, aside from the fact that they are young stud starters?  They were all drafted in the first round by the team for which they now play.  Not only were they all drafted in the first round, they all fell within the first ten spots.

The Yankees, as a team constantly at the top of the standings, never get a chance to pick so early in the draft.  In fact, the last time they did was way back in 1992, when they drafted a promising young shortstop by the name of Derek Jeter.

For years, Yankee fans have been dreaming of having their own Strasburg, a young phenom pitcher with only the best years of his career to come.  This is why the emergence of Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes was so exciting.  It is also why it is all the more upsetting that the two have yet to approach their once vast potential.

Of course, it is possible to find pitchers that will eventually turn into a Lincecum or a Kershaw in the later rounds (see: Jon Lester; round 2), but the likelihood of that happening is far less than that of a pitcher going near the beginning of the draft.  It is the very reason the Yankees have gone the high-risk, high-reward route in the past with guys like Andrew Brackman or Joba.

It is brought up daily on Yankees forums.  How can the Yankees trade for Felix Hernandez?  What pries Kershaw away from the Dodgers?  Trading for a pitcher of this caliber simply does not happen.  Teams have no inclination to give up on such a great pitcher who still has years of probable effectiveness and team control left.

The only way such a deal would be made is if a team were to present a blow-away offer.  This offer would have to include several high-end, major-league ready talents.  Think Jesus Montero, Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, Eduardo Nunez, and possibly more.  At that point, the personnel cost is simply too great.

Of course, there is another avenue to acquire such talents; the international market.  The aforementioned King Felix himself was a product of the international market.  The flame throwing right-hander was signed out of Venezuela by the Mariners way back in 2002.  And how has he repaid them?  Well, he is a perennial Cy-Young candidate under a team friendly contract through 2014.

When was the last time the Yankees had such a pitcher?  Go all the way back to the 1970’s and Ron Guidry.  That was the last time the Yankees had a young pitcher who could compare to the previously mentioned names.

And because it is so rare that the Yankees get the chance to acquire such a pitcher, Yu Darvish presents an opportunity too great to pass up.  By no means am I saying that Darvish will definitely mimic the production of these young stars.  That would be a ridiculous proposition. But the talent is there.

Two years ago, before Stephen Strasburg threw a pitch in the major leagues, it was obvious that he was something special.  At the time, there was always the risk that he would burn out, or that he would succumb to injury (he did end up having Tommy John surgery).  Nevertheless, imagine what kind of contract he could have received had he hit the open market, even before throwing a pitch in pro-ball.

Forget for a second that Darvish is Japanese.  Think about only the scouting reports.  By all accounts, here is a 25 year old pitcher with a mid-90’s fastball, wicked secondary stuff, a good build, and strong mechanics.  These guys do not grow on trees.  And this is before taking into account what he has done in Japan.

Yes, Japanese league lineups are about the equivalent of a Triple-A lineup here in the states, so he will not reproduce his five consecutive seasons of sub-2 ERA in the AL East, or any division for that matter.  His ERA, vast strikeout totals, low walk totals, etc. cannot be taken as predictive.

What can be considered, however, is the fact that he has stood up to a large workload year after year.  Just look at his career numbers via JapaneseBaseballPlayers.com.

Age W L ERA G IP SO
18 5 5 3.53 14 94.1 52
19 12 5 2.89 25 149.2 115
20 15 5 1.82 26 207.2 210
21 16 4 1.88 25 200.2 208
22 15 5 1.73 23 182.0 167
23 12 8 1.78 26 202.0 222
24 18 6 1.44 28 232.0 276

In 28 starts in 2011, Darvish threw 232 innings.  It is the fourth time in five years that he has broken the 200 IP plateau.  And it is easy to point to his delivery and 6’5″ 220 lb. frame as reasons for this durability.

Of course, the wariness in chalking up ~$100 million for an unproven starter is understandable.  After all, the track record of Japanese pitchers in the past making the transition to the majors is iffy at best.  Just look at how Daisuke Matsuzaka has rewarded the Red Sox for his $51 million posting fee and $52 million contract.

But no two pitchers are the same.  Roy Halladay is different than A.J. Burnett in the same way that Darvish is different than Dice-K.  Many feel that the Yankees are treating Darvish cautiously after having gone through the Kei Igawa and Hideki Irabu sagas.  But again, it is unfair to lump all the Japanese pitchers together.  There will be no scout who would agree that either of those two were the same league as Darvish is presently.

With a posting fee that will likely fall in the $42-$47 million range, and a Dice-K type contract, this would be a significant investment.  But unlike all other pitchers of Darvish’s caliber, this would cost the Yankees only money, not the whole farm as well as money.  And money is the Yankees biggest advantage.

There is no team for which Darvish is a better fit.  No team can eat a bad contract like the Yankees can.  Say hypothetically that Darvish does not pan out, and essentially turns into a $100 million flop.  Yes it would hurt, but the Yankees could easily eat such a loss.

Unlike any other team, save for maybe the Red Sox, this could be a debilitating deal.  The opportunity cost of such a deal is so different for the Yankees.  The money they would pay for him is so slim relative to the already bloated payroll.

The Yankees will spend money, as well they should.  At times, their spending has been rather impulsive.  None of Kei Igawa, Pedro Feliciano, Rafael Soriano or Alex Rodriguez should have been given the contracts the Yankees have handed them in recent years.  Entering the bidding for superstars such as Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder also would be impulsive, as neither would be filling a need.

Darvish, on the other hand, presents the Yankees the chance at an ace-level pitcher for the next five or six years.  Even if Darvish does not reach his full potential and settles into the middle of the rotation, his acquisition would have to be considered a success.

We all know the dearth of quality pitching on the Yankees roster.  Just imagine a dynamic 1-2 duo of CC Sabathia and Yu Darvish heading into the ALDS.  Imagine Darvish does make the transition to the majors and challenges hitters with his fastball, slider, curve and change.  It is an opportunity the Yankees rarely see.

Now, I am no scouting expert.  I have watched video of Darvish and poured over true scouts’ opinions on the half-Iranian, half-Japanese prodigy; all I know of him is secondhand knowledge.  If Yankees scouts see true problems in Darvish’s ability, then by all means they should concede the bidding.  If, however, apprehension over Darvish is a result of being burned in the past, irrationality has taken over and the Yankees would be missing an extraordinary opportunity.

Every team in the majors will put together a season in which they will make a serious run at a title.  Few teams will do it year after year.  Balancing the win-now mantra and think of the future philosophy is one of the finest lines in sports.  Every opportunity to rise up is given to the inferior teams, whether it’s through revenue sharing or slotting in the Amateur Draft.

And this is the reason a team like the Yankees must take advantage of what leverage they do have over the lesser teams.  And that leverage is money.  Normally, a pitcher like Darvish would disappear near the start of the first round of the draft.  But in this case, money, not previous success, talks.  And the Yankees should let their money talk louder than anyone else.

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9 Responses to Yu Darvish: A Rare Opportunity for the Yankees

  1. subwayjoe says:

    Good read, but I don't know if even the Yankees could or would want to swallow $100 million just like that. Darvish has to look extremely sharp by most if not all scouts before I would pull the trigger on a deal like that.

  2. Great article Alex. I think you really did a good job summing up the situation here. People like to complain about Igawa and use him as a reason not to sign Darvish, but at the end of the day Igawa didn't do any damage to the Yankees at all.

    It's also important to remember that the money they pay for the posting fee doesn't count toward the luxury tax. So spending $82 million on Darvish is not the same as spending $82 million on C.J. Wilson

  3. Very good Alex.
    The money will go somewhere anyway, with the amount of money Yankees have It's affordable to go for this high-risk agent.

    We'll continue spending money in guys like Pavano, Feliciano, Burnett, they seem like a no risk just give them a lot of money and get the best of them, but look what are they giving.

    Definitely Yankees should go after Darvish, It's only Steinbrenner's money that they would spend somewhere else. Even If Darvish isn't a Weaver, Lincecum or Kershaw getting numbers just a little bit better than Matsuzaka would be good. For example 2007 15-12 4.40ERA 1.32WHIP and 2008 18-3 2.90ERA 1.32WHIP. I know those are his best years but everything indicates Darvish is a way better and I just said getting something little bit better.

    Also like Rob said not all the money goes to the luxury tax and not forget we wouldn't give away draft picks.

    • Alex Taffet says:

      Agreed 100%. If the money is bound to be spent, why not spend it on a pitcher with as much potential as Darvish? With everything taken into account (luxury tax exemption on the posting fee, age, etc) he makes a lot more sense than going after a C.J. Wilson type. And as you said, even if he does not become an ace-level pitcher, he would be well worth it.

  4. Gonzalo says:

    Alex and Rob, What do you think about Wandy Rodriguez??? My first two options would be Darvish and Buehrle, I just want to know your opinion about him and If you think Yankees would go for some kind of Jonatan Sanchez trade.
    Astros are always wanting to trade him and get rid of his entire salary, I know he is in the NL but his highest ERA from the last 4 years is 3.60 and he is lefty.

  5. Alex Taffet says:

    I have always been a fan of Wandy for a while now. He's a good bet for 180-200 quality innings, lefty, and under a reasonable contract (2 years and just over $20 million, with a team option for 2014). As you said, he has put up his great numbers in the NL Central, so he probably won't replicate them in the AL East. That said, his K/9 is usually ~8 and has been remarkably consistent. He should be able to put up an ERA under 4, which would be very valuable in the 2 or 3 spot in the rotation. If he could be had at the right price (ambiguous, I know), then the Yankees should definitely inquire.

    As for the Sanchez trade, I can't see them going for a pitcher such as Sanchez. He has potential, but is far too much of a risk. What the Yankees need in a trade is stability.

  6. David K. says:

    What everyone seems to forget when talking about Igawa and Irabu is that A.J. Burnett and Carl Pavano were equally big busts, maybe even worse busts in some sense. If we went after Burnett and Pavano, who were risky investments, why shouldn't we go for Yu Darvish? Unlike Irabu, this guy is a big time winning pitcher. Irabu had a losing record in Japan.

  7. Robert Mackenzie says:

    Alex Taffet, Bravo Sir! Excellent article, you just made a fan. Everything I have been thinking but I could never have written it better than you just did. I hope the Yankee Brass is listening, maybe you could send this to their offices. I will be looking forward to reading more from you in the future. Keep plugging Yu it would be a shame to see him go to the divisional opponent Blue Jays or the power house Rangers. I know you have winning the posting at $42-47mil but wouldn't it be a shame to miss out on him due to say 3 million. I say bid $50.25mil lower than Dice-K's bid but high enough to win it. Also not sure if you know but seeing that the Yankees are over the luxury tax threshold and would have to sign Yu to 5 years for $60 mil as opposed to signing CJ Wilson for 6 years $90 mil what would be the difference in Luxury tax savings. What I mean is it $1 paid for every dollar spend over the cap? I'm not sure how it works, but if it's dollar for dollar then that would be a significant savings by signing Yu vs Wilson. Again awesome article please write more.

    • Alex Taffet says:

      Thank you very much Robert. The luxury tax kicks in at a certain point, and in 2012 it will probably be ~$180 million. At any rate, the Yankees will be over it again in 2012. Via wikipidia "A team that goes over the luxury tax cap for the first time in a five-year period pays a penalty of 22.5% of the amount they were over the cap, second-time violators pay a 30% penalty, and teams that exceed the limit three or more times pay a 40% penalty. The cap limit for 2010 is $170 million, and the cap for 2011 is $178 million.[13]"

      So even if the Yankees pay about $100 million overall for Darvish, it will be less in the long run because half of it will not count towards the luxury tax. As Darvish is much younger and seems to be more talented, he seems like the better investment. Of course we will not know the exact numbers until after both deals are finished, but that is what it looks like at this point in time.