The Darvish Effect

» 30 June 2008 » In mlb prospects, npb »

There’s a lot of hype and speculation around Yu Darvish, the anointed successor to Daisuke Matsuzaka as Japan’s ace and the next big MLB import. It’s easy to understand why: Darvish is 21 years old, 6’6, throws a 95MPH fastball as well as five other pitches, and has dominated the Pacific League. If anything, Darvish is a slightly better prospect than Matsuzaka was at this stage.

Unfortunately for hot stove fans, I think it’ll be a long time before we see Yu Darvish in an MLB uniform.

Here’s video from an interview with Darvish conducted prior to last year’s Japan Series. It’s in Japanese, but I’ve translated some highlights below.

“Won’t it be uninteresting for the Japanese children? To give the kids something to enjoy, it’s important for local stars to stay.”

“There aren’t supposed to be players born in Japan who what to go to the majors from the start. You start in Japanese Pro Baseball first.”

“I want to continue playing in Japanese Pro Baseball.”

(source video)

*Note: I’m not satisfied with my translation there. I may revisit this one.

In a sense it’s refreshing that Darvish is committed to Japanese baseball. As much as I like Uehara and Matsuzaka, they’ve been talking about playing in the Majors since day one. It’s nice to see that Darvish is focused on NPB, at least for now.

I don’t think it’ll last though. If Darvish continues to perform at the level he’s at, I have a hard time believing he wouldn’t want to challenge himself at the MLB level. The interest is certainly there on the MLB side.

From a practicality standpoint though, it’s going to take a while. Darvish still needs to accumulate six more years of service time beyond this season before qualifying for international free agency. So that’s a long way off.

Which brings to the question of whether Nippon Ham would post Darvish. I think posting is actually Darvish’s most likely route to MLB, but let’s examine this.

Let’s assume that Darvish would command a posting fee similar to the $51,111,111.11 that Seibu got for Matsuzaka. Actually let’s bump that up a little and guess that Darvish will fetch $60M for his team. This is just a wild, totally, unscientific guess for the sake of argument so don’t take it too seriously.

If Nippon Ham were to post Darvish after this season, they’d essentially be selling their right to employ him for the next six years for $60M. I think Darvish is worth far more to the Fighters than this. Financially speaking, he’s a huge asset as he’s Japan’s most popular player, and can sell tickets, merchandise and attract fans on television and the internet. I don’t have numbers on what Darvish actually pulls in, but I think he is the single biggest draw in NPB.

Darvish is also at the core of the Fighter’s competitive efforts. Nippon Ham is experiencing kind of a golden age right, now coming off back-to-back Japan Series apperances (winning in 2006), and are competitive again this year. Darvish is one of the players that got them to competitiveness after years of being a doormat. As other key figures like manager Trey Hillman (KC Royals), Tsuyoshi Shinjo (retirement), and Michihiro Ogasawara (Yomiuri Giants) have departed, Darvish has become even more central to the team’s success.

The only way Nippon Ham will post Darvish is if it comes down to posting him or losing him to free agency. I suspect it’ll eventually come down to that, and Nippon Ham will have to make a choice like the Indians have to make with C.C. Sabathia this year, and the Rangers made last year with Mark Teixiera. I could be wrong, but I think we’ll see him in an MLB uniform in 2014 or so but not before then. By then he’ll be 27-28 and have some mileage on his arm, but still be solidly in his prime.

The good news is that we get to see him play in Japan for several more years, and represent Japan in international competition. The media attention Darvish has garnered in America has seemed to generate some interest in Japanese baseball. I hope this will be beneficial for the sustainability of NPB.

I’ll post a more complete profile of Darvish at some point in the future, and track his performance throughout the season. For now, here are his career numbers (through 2007) and some brief game footage.

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