Weighing in on the Darvish Rumors

» 05 September 2011 » In nichibei, npb »

Since well before I started this site in 2008, there have been persistent rumors in both the Japanese and North American media to the effect of “Yu Darvish will move to MLB this offseason FOR SURE.”

My role in this particular rumor mill over the last three years can be summarized with the below image:

To reiterate my position of the last few years, I’ve consistently predicted against Darvish moving to Major League Baseball, citing the following observations:

  1. Darvish had a pattern of adamantly disavowing any interest in playing in the Majors. This runs counter to other NPB stars like Koji Uehara and Kenshin Kawakami, who openly talked about wanting to play in MLB years before they moved across the Pacific.
  2. Darvish will not be an international free agent until after the 2014 season. It doesn’t make sense financially or competitively for Nippon Ham to post Darvish until it’s clear that they have to.

If I do say so myself, I’ve been right about this so far.

But this year I’m changing my tune a bit. For the first time, I can see him getting posted in this immediately upcoming offseason. Here’s why:

  1. Darvish softened his stance on playing in MLB last year. It does seem that the Japanese media has mostly shied away from directly asking him about an MLB move though.
  2. Last year he admitted to having contact with big-name MLB agents. Last month MLBTR confirmed that he is represented by Arn Tellem and Don Nomura.
  3. He’s in the middle of his fifth straight crushingly dominant season, and is obviously unchallenged by NPB competition.
  4. He’s bulked up from 90kg to 100kg. In Imperial that’s 198 lbs to 220 lbs.
  5. He’s consistently working in the upper end of his velocity range, around 150-156kmph (93-97mph) and seems to challenging hitters more. I wonder if he’s putting on a show for the scouts, since he has shown that he is perfectly capable of dominating with lower fastball velocity.
  6. The number of scouts present at his games continues to increase. Logic suggests that at some point this is likely to become a distraction.
  7. He’s got three full years to go prior to free agency. If Nippon Ham or Darvish can’t get the right deal, they can call it off and try again next year.

There are probably others as well, but I’ll stop with those. I don’t think any one of those single things jumps up and screams “he’s getting posted!” but they all add up to hint that it’s possible. So I can see it happening.

Based on the information we have, I’d also say there’s a chance that Darvish won’t be posted this offseason. In the Japanese press, only the sleaziest gossip tabloids seem to really delve into the details of what might be behind a Darvish move; the more mainstream sports papers usually just report on the scouts that watch him. One of the tabloids, Shukan Playboy, actually did a pretty good job piecing together different bits of the story. Their main objective seemed to be gathering evidence in support of speculation that Darvish would wind up with the Yankees, but perhaps inadvertently, they included a point that seldom comes up in the North American media. An unnamed sports writer quoted in the article said “the possibility that Farsa (Darvish’s father), who is seeking the optimal business chance, could decide ‘the the time is not right’ is not zero.” I take anonymous writers quoted in Shukan Playboy with an appropriate measure of salt, but it’s an interesting counterpoint to most of the English language reporting we get on this topic.

So I could see it happening. I could see it not happening. I don’t think I’ll be surprised either way.

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