Seattle Mariners Free Agent Candidate: Yu Darvish

Yu Darvish, SP (RH)

6-5, 185 lbs

25 years old

 

What we like:

Large frame, power repertoire

Appears to have added weight since last season

Pounds the strikezone with a variety of offspeed pitches

Best pitcher in NPB history?

 

What we don’t like:

History of fragility

High cost

 

As  the years go by, it seems more and more likely that Yu Darvish will be posted. He’s spent the last two offseasons flirting with Major League Baseball, to the point where last year it seemed so certain that he’d be posted that we wrote a post about Darvish as a potential free agent candidate for the Mariners.

It doesn’t seem like a lot has changed for Darvish in terms of repertoire, but his stock has risen nonetheless. A year ago there were concerns about possible fragility, or whether or not Darvish could handle an MLB workload. Those concerns seem to have been disintegrated by the fact that Darvish pitched a career-high in innings, and posted a career-low ERA.

He’s a year older, but a year further separated from any concerns about his durability.

Even still, Darvish will enter next year at only 25 years old, which is quite a bit younger than most players who leave Japan for the states.

So why does he make sense in Seattle?

Darvish could easily step into any rotation slot behind Felix Hernandez, maybe ousting Michael Pineda from the number two spot. The Mariners have a need in their rotation, and may be able to contend in 2012 with a few astute acquisitions. Darvish may be the best player to come from Japan since Ichiro came to the Mariners, and could give the Mariners the kind of star that makes Seattle and Safeco Field a destination for international travelers.

Darvish isn’t built like the typical Japanese pitcher that comes to the united states, as he’s very tall and has long limbs, which figure to offer him a great deal of leverage that isn’t available to shorter pitchers like Daisuke Matsuzaka.

When Daisuke came to MLB, he couldn’t dominate hitters with his fastball anymore, and as such, hitters had no reason to chase his offspeed pitches out of the strike zone. While Darvish may no profile as a guy who strikes out 9+ batters per nine innings in MLB like he has in Japan, but even if he isn’t quite the power pitcher he was overseas, he’s got physical attributes that will allow him to change hitters eye levels and disrupt their timing to get outs, without using traditional exaggerations of mechanics that are often used by Japanese pitchers.

I guess the biggest thing going for Darvish, compared to other Japanese pitchers, is that his skills and repertoire are more akin to what we tend to expect from American pitchers.

That said, there is enormous risk in signing Darvish, who figures to command somewhere in the range of $100 million in terms of both his posting fee and base salary.

There is no doubt that Daisuke Matsuzaka was a sensation when he came to the United States at a similar cost. And though the Red Sox have a much higher budget than the Mariners, essentially being forced to reserve a rotation slot and high compensation for Matsuzaka may have heavily altered the way that the team made decisions through recent offseasons.

All that stated, Darvish may be the surest thing to come to the United States from a Japanese mound. He’ll be an amazing spectacle, and I predict a pretty good pitcher. However, even if he’s tremendous, he may not turn the Mariners into a playoff team in the next two years. If he doesn’t, he’d be halfway through a high-dollar contract, while the Mariners could have used the money they paid him to help their offense.

Last year the Mariners didn’t seem nearly as well stocked in their farm system in terms of pitching. Michael Pineda has surfaced in the bigs and succeeded, Taijuan Walker has developed a lot, James Paxton has signed and been fantasic, and the team drafted Danny Hultzen second overall.

It’s not to say that the team will likely see all four of those pitchers remain or become top of the rotation starters, but between the four of them they’ll cost less than half of what Darvish will over the next five seasons in all likelihood.

Even though Darvish’s Iranian has loose ties to the Seattle area, it seems unlikely that it will lead to some kind of pseudo-hometown discount.

Things are different this year, and paying top-dollar for Yu Darvish doesn’t make sense for the Mariners this year, or going forward.

 

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