Gil LeBreton

Can Rangers afford Yu Darvish? They can’t afford not to

Trades. Free agency. The June draft. Rule 5.

It doesn’t matter how you get them. Baseball is a game of acquisitions.

You can’t get to the World Series with players you don’t have.

Yes, it cost the Texas Rangers $51.7 million just for the right to negotiate a contract in 2012 with Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish.

It’s the cost of doing business in baseball. You can pay it in yen for posting fees, or you can hand over Dominican pesos to some teenaged shortstop.

In baseball, players are the inventory. You stock your warehouse any way you can.

Which is why the Rangers need to get Darvish’s contract extended sooner rather than later.

While he’s still theirs. While he’s still a part of a pennant-contending mix.

In baseball, possession (of talent) is 10-tenths of the law.

It doesn’t matter if a star player came in July at the trading deadline or from Cuba via the back door of a hotel at the Pan Am Games.

Defection. Possession. Acquisition. It’s how you play the game.

It’s why the Rangers’ spring training clubhouse is filled this week with new and old faces.

Pitcher Michael Hauschild was acquired from the Astros last December via MLB’s Rule 5. Ronald Guzman was signed at age 16 as a tall, skinny Dominican teenager. He’s now 6-foot-5 and weighs about 250.

Pitcher Tyson Ross was a former high pick in the MLB draft (2nd round, Oakland, 2008), as was reliever Matt Bush (overall No. 1, Tampa Bay, 2004). Ross, recovering from thoracic outlet surgery, was signed to a one-year, $6-million contract. Bush, who was signed after being released from prison for a drunken driving conviction, had his Rangers tryout in a Golden Corral parking lot.

Guzman was signed and introduced to the Arlington ballpark crowd on the same day in 2011 as Nomar Mazara. Baseball howled, because Mazara’s $4.95 million signing bonus was a record for a Latin American amateur. Guzman’s $3.45 million was the second highest.

I don’t think, however, that the howling cost Daniels or then-assistant GM A.J. Preller any sleep.

Mazara is already in the team’s starting lineup at age 21. Guzman may not be far behind.

“Acquisition, development and retention — it’s all of the above,” Daniels said Monday. “Whether you’re talking about amateur players or players already in the major leagues, it’s hard to get players. And you never want to take that for granted.”

Darvish, alas, does have his detractors. All are fools.

In the four seasons that he’s pitched in America, Darvish has made the American League All-Star team three times and finished in the Cy Young voting top 10 twice. Opponents have batted .214 against him and he’s averaged 11.3 strikeouts per game.

The lone legitimate knock on him is Darvish’s durability. Tommy John elbow surgery wiped out his 2015 season and the first two months of 2016.

Darvish’s injury history likely would cost him, if he felt inclined after 2017 to test free agency. Plus, he will turn 31 in August.

He’s been treated well in Texas, and why not? Have the Rangers ever signed a better free agent pitcher not named Nolan Ryan?

As Darvish told our newspaper’s Jeff Wilson last week, “I like this environment and I’m enjoying it . . . I like being in an environment I’m comfortable with.”

Daniels doesn’t like to talk about contract negotiations. But he said Monday, “I think the relationship is pretty good between the player and his agent and the organization, and the lines of communication are open.”

The recent red flag for signing pitchers to new contracts was Washington’s Stephen Strasburg, who inked a new deal in May last year and then was hurt when the Nationals needed him in August.

Still, Darvish is going to be rewarded for being one of baseball’s best pitchers. He may not get $30 million per season, but it will be close.

Maybe the Rangers can’t afford him. But they can’t afford to lose him.

Baseball is a game of acquisitions. And as long as the World Series is still within reach, you don’t let Yu Darvish leave your warehouse.

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