Yu Darvish’s second season in the major leagues produced a second-place finish in American League Cy Young voting and could be the first step toward a contract extension.
The Texas Rangers ace was a distant runner-up Wednesday to Detroit Tigers right-hander Max Scherzer, who received 28 of the 30 first-place votes in balloting by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
But by finishing second, Darvish is on his way toward possibly being able to opt out of the final year of the six-year, $56 million contract he signed before the 2012 season. That can happen if he wins the Cy Young in the next three seasons or places second, third or fourth in two of the next three.
The Rangers don’t want that to happen. Though no talks have taken place with Darvish about hammering out a new deal, doing so is part of general manager Jon Daniels’ plans down the road.
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“I think that’s possible,” Daniels said during the final day of the GM meetings. “We’re not there yet. We’ve still got four years left in the deal with the chance that it becomes three.
“But when we signed him originally, we said it’s a six-year deal but hopefully a relationship beyond that.”
The second-place finish ties Ferguson Jenkins in 1974 for the best by a Rangers pitcher, and Darvish is the first Rangers pitcher to finish in the top five since Aaron Sele in 1999.
It also marks the best finish for a pitcher from Japan. Seattle Mariners right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma finished third to Scherzer and Darvish.
Darvish led the majors with 277 strikeouts, the most by an AL pitcher since 2000, and 11.9 strikeouts per nine inning. He led the AL with a .194 opponents batting average and 6.22 hits per nine innings.
The right-hander opened the season one out shy of a perfect game against Houston, and finished the season with a 13-9 record and a 2.83 ERA in 209 2/3 innings. Scherzer went 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA in 2141/3 innings to help the pitching-rich Tigers win the AL Central.
“It was an honor to be a finalist for the American League Cy Young award,” Darvish said in a statement made in Japan. “Both Max Scherzer and Hisashi Iwakuma had tremendous seasons. Max is a very deserving winner.”
Said Daniels: “A top-three finish, regardless of where he finished, is a hell of an accomplishment. He had a great year, and I think he’s capable of being even better.”
To get there, said Daniels, the Rangers want Darvish to “be himself,” a refrain that manager Ron Washington often echoed throughout Darvish’s first two seasons.
Darvish is a perfectionist and at times tries to be too fine with his pitches. The Rangers also believe that he still feels some pressure to perform as one of Japan’s biggest stars, and not just a baseball star.
“I don’t think any of us can truly understand some of the different elements and scrutiny he faces,” Daniels said. “He’s an international star. We want him to just be a pitcher and just be one of the guys.”
The Rangers also don’t want to see Darvish fly the coop one year early. An extension could be coming before he gets the chance to opt out of his contract.
“He’s our ace, and he’s one of the best pitchers in the game,” Daniels said. “We put that clause in there knowing that, if he triggers it, that means he was pretty good.”