The Texas Rangers believe they have secured the ace that has been missing from the franchise for many seasons, and the biggest sports star in Japan has signed with the major-league team at the top of his wish list.
Right-hander Yu Darvish and the Rangers agreed to a six-year, $60 million deal Wednesday afternoon only minutes before a 4 p.m. deadline at the end of a 30-day negotiating window.
The Yu-phoria officially began minutes later.
“Oooh, baby,” read a text message from a high-ranking club official moments after the term sheet was signed and submitted to Major League Baseball.
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Darvish will be introduced at a news conference Friday evening at Rangers Ballpark. He will wear No. 11, his uniform number in Japan, and will join a rotation that now has more starters than openings.
But the dominos that will fall in spring training and the likelihood that Prince Fielder won’t be signed because of the final price tag for Darvish, including a $51.7 million posting fee, were footnotes at a press conference announcing the deal.
“It’s not fair for me to say I see him as the No. 1, but he certainly has the potential,” team president Nolan Ryan said. “I don’t want to put that kind of pressure on him, but he’s very unique.”
Darvish, 25, went 93-38 with a 1.99 ERA in his career in Nippon Professional Baseball, and is coming off a season in which he went 18-6 with a 1.44 ERA for the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters.
The Rangers have been on Darvish for several seasons, but intensified their scouting the past two. They had 12 scouts and front-office members watch him pitch in 2011.
But their scouting went beyond the diamond. The Rangers made sure to build a personal relationship with Darvish, and that’s what made them his favorite team when he was posted in December.
“The Rangers, more than any other team, showed not only great interest in scouting him but a lot of personal time in developing a relationship with him over the last couple of years through all their scouts that visited him in Japan,” said Arn Tellem, Darvish’s U.S.-based agent. “There was an instant connection between Yu and his family and the Ranger organization that endured through these negotiations.”
Daniels said that there were never any contentious moments in the process, which started with the Rangers being announced as the highest bidder Dec. 19. But they chewed up almost all 30 days to get the deal done.
The deal guarantees Darvish $56 million, with $4 million available in roster bonuses and another lump sum to be had if he wins a Cy Young Award.
Darvish can also opt out of the deal after five years and become a free agent if he meets a list of demanding performance thresholds, Daniels said.
Also included in the contract is an interpreter and a trainer, but that was the extent of the personal touches he wanted included in the deal.
“Our mentally going into this was, ‘Let’s do what we need to do to make him successful on and off the field,’ ” Daniels said. “Yu wants to be one of the guys. He was not looking to be pampered. He wanted to be treated fairly and treated like a good teammate.”
The signing is likely to prevent Darvish from being a good teammate to Fielder. The Rangers met with the free-agent first baseman Friday in Las Colinas, and learned that his price tag remains exorbitant.
Daniels didn’t completely rule out adding the slugger, but also didn’t seem very optimistic.
“I’m intimately aware of our budget because of the process that [we] just went through,” Daniels said. “It’s very unlikely.”
The front-office members weren’t the only ones thrilled about bring Darvish on board.
Left-hander Derek Holland — who is expected to be in the Opening Day rotation with Darvish, Colby Lewis, Neftali Feliz and either Matt Harrison, Alexi Ogando or Scott Feldman — has been impressed with film of Darvish.
Second baseman Ian Kinsler was so excited that he said wished spring training started next season.
“Just his build, his confidence in the way he goes about pitching and the way he plays the game is going to translate well,” Kinsler said. “I definitely think that is ready for the challenge.”