Texas Rangers

Tanaka contract could motivate Rangers’ Darvish

Missing from the annual Texas Rangers winter awards banquet Friday night and from the annual Fan Fest a day later, though with a permission slip from general manager Jon Daniels, was right-hander Yu Darvish.

The 2013 Cy Young runner-up relayed from Japan to club officials that he was so entrenched in his workout routine that 12,000 miles on a plane and four days away from his personal Globo Gym would be a detriment to his preparations for the 2014 season.

For a pitcher coming off a back injury, and for a team already with a key member of its rotation out for at least four months, there was no life-or-death need to stuff the 6-foot-5 Darvish into an airplane seat. Not even a first-class seat.

Darvish, though, even at his most focused, had to get snapped out of it Wednesday when the New York Yankees dipped into their bottomless cash reserves and found $155 million to pay countryman Masahiro Tanaka.

By all accounts, Darvish and Tanaka are friendly. They have worked out together in past off-seasons. Darvish probably is glad for his friend, who has never thrown a pitch in the major leagues.

But the contract probably isn’t sitting too well with Darvish either.

He didn’t come to the major leagues, leaving behind his status as the best pitcher in Japan and his rock-star image, to play second fiddle to another Japanese pitcher. He didn’t come to the major leagues to play second fiddle to anyone.

Darvish wants to be the best pitcher ever from Japan and the best pitcher in the majors. He’s not there yet, but those who follow Darvish closely and have for years say the Tanaka contract will serve as motivation to get him to the top of the heap.

Don’t think for a second that salary isn’t a part of the equation. Players want to be the highest-paid right-hander or left-hander or first baseman or whatever. It’s symbolic, and that symbolism can be found in just about every big deal every year.

The quickest path for Darvish to land a nine-figure contract is to win a Cy Young Award one of the next three seasons. The top pitching hardware will allow him to exercise the out on his six-year, $56 million contract after Year Five.

The Rangers actually hope that happens. They want one of their starters to be the best in the league. That likely equates to good things for a team with World Series aspirations.

And the Rangers are planning to discuss a contract extension with Darvish to keep him from slipping away. Daniels said as much Saturday morning, though a new Darvish deal isn’t yet on the front burner.

“At some point we’ll sit down and talk to him, just like we would everybody,” Daniels said. “I don’t see a rush necessarily. We’ll address it at the right time.”

There are four years left on the deal as things stand now, three if Darvish continues to perform as an elite pitcher. There’s also time for him to take a step back, suffer a significant injury, or decide to become the full-time curator at the Space 11 Darvish Museum in Kobe, Japan.

(That’s right: He’s 27 and has a museum dedicated to himself. Some with the Rangers have said that it’s the work of his father, but Darvish apparently didn’t object too loudly.)

Current trends are expected to continue, and the Rangers expect Darvish to be an ace worthy of ace money. The Tanaka contract alone won’t dictate Darvish’s terms, but rather the entirety of all the big-money deals the past few years and the next few years.

Clayton Kershaw’s new seven-year, $215 million deal is the current gold standard. Tanaka’s is the fifth-largest given to a pitcher, but it could be dropped from the Top 5 next year by free-agent-to-be Max Scherzer.

You know, the guy who beat out Darvish for the Cy Young last year.

In 2016, David Price could hit the open market.

“Everything will be factored in,” Daniels said. “When we have that conversation, I hope we’re in a position to compare him to those kind of guys. Kershaw and Scherzer [and Price] have won Cy Youngs.”

A Darvish with extra motivation — and those who have followed his career closely say he will be motivated by the Tanaka contract — could very well join the Cy Young club and send his price tag soaring.

Maybe waiting to try to extend Darvish isn’t the best financial plan.

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