Tag Archives: japan

Got Yu Where I Want Yu (aka Imagine Me and Yu part Deux)

Gosh, say what you will about the money spent on Yu Darvish, but for those of us masquerading as bloggers, he’s paying for himself 10 times over in puns alone…

In my previous article I discussed how much money it was just to talk to a guy with NO major league experience.  I maintain that stance.  However, that’s more my skepticism with the posting system as a whole than the actual monetary value of Japanese players.  That being said, the Rangers managed to put together a phenomenal deal to actually sign Yu Darvish.  Considering the two sides were a) close on the monetary value (the issue was the extra year) and b) in a situation where he sort of HAD to come over, the whole deal of the contract really boiled down to pride and respect.  Which means, in my opinion, that in some ways making a deal that was respectful and smart likely took much more effort than we laypersons would think.  A GM doesn’t wan’t to get into a ‘Dice-K, Diva’ situation with all kinds of crazy perks and more importantly, a GM/Owner does not want to be in the situation where the incoming foreign player feels ‘disrespected.’  This is what happened to Daisuke Matsuzaka (for a variety of reasons) and I maintain that everything from the smallest issue (picking his masseuse) to the obviously stupid (pitching in the World Baseball Classic- a lot) was a detractor from anything Dice-K could have contributed under his substantial contract.

Yu Darvish, by most accounts and legal documentation, is different.  He made a point upon arrival to tell Rangers GM Jon Daniels he did not want a large ‘posse,’ merely a trainer (who he worked with in Japan) and interpreter (who is a top Rangers scout).  I have ranted about Daisuke not only because I am a disgruntled Red Sox fan, but also to highlight the simplicity and relative sense of the Darvish deal.  From the Rangers financial perspective, as I said in first piece, the deal makes sense merely by the splash a big foreign player can make.  Based on the structure of the deal itself, I think both sides will be very happy.

Darvish has the potential to be an ace, that is for sure.  Nolan Ryan seems excited.  In my readings, many experts and projections see his worst-case scenario being a #2 pitcher or top-tier #3.  Which got me thinking- I like the deal, think he will succeed reasonably well, and I KNOW there are guys with similar upside/realities who get paid a whole lot of money – how would Darvish compare?  His deal, simply, breaks down like this:

2012: $5.5 million
2013: $9.5 million
2014: $10 million
2015: $10 million
2016: $10 million
2017: $11 million

The last year of the deal has an opt-out clause (two explanations here and here) involving Yu’s placing in the Cy Young balloting.  This makes sense for Darvish and seems fair, as Darvish will be allowed to seek more money than his (fairly reasonable) contract originally states if he really does turn out to be an ace.  But I know what you’re saying, “Will, how many pitchers are making over 9 million dollars a year, really?  There are a lot of bad pitchers in baseball,” you say.  And you are correct.  However, I found that by doing some research on the internet, I came across some facts (in the wilderness of the web, there is truth to be found).  Here is the USA Today report of 2011 pitcher salaries.  I’ll pull a few names out to discuss.

don't ask why.

I include the sabermetric measure of WAR (Wins Above Replacement) for these guys because it is a relative, comparative measure.  For those of you who don’t know what WAR is, it essentially is a number comparing how valuable a player is to the team compared to a ‘replacement’ level player from the bench or minor leagues.  You can read a far, far deeper explanation at fangraphs or Baseball-Reference, two of my favorite sites (also where I got contract info), who do an great job going into the statistical breakdown of the metric.  But I digress.

Kyle Lohse (2.5 WAR) made $12,187,500 in 2011 and will make $11,875,000 in 2012(To give you a bearing, Roy Halladay had a WAR of 8.2 in 2011, Jon Lester a 3.7 – in two very different seasons.).  Based on his contract, Yu Darvish will NEVER make that much money with the Rangers!  Do I think Darvish will step in and be as good as Halladay? NOt at all.  Can he come over and be a (much) better pitcher than Kyle Lohse?  You better believe it.  Seriously, you better.

Mark Burhele (3.4 WAR) made $14 million in 2011.  He was another big-name pitcher to sign this offseason, landing with the new look Miami Marlins.  And good for them.  I admire Burhele and his consistency and work ethic.  He eats innings and puts his team in position to win games.  Heck, he was a point of comparison for my rant against the posting fee for Darvish!  But let’s look at that contract a bit closer.  Initially, Mark will bring in $6 million in 2012 – oh, wow, nice- what a steal… wait.  He will then make 11 mil in 2013, 18 in 2014, and 19 in 2015 – seasons in which he will be ages 34,35 and 36, respectively.  As I said, I admire Burhele and the way he works.  But he’s going to be old, no two ways about it.  If you look at the posting fee as a necessary but separate move from the contract, Darvish’s deal compared to the lefty’s is a bargain.

I highlighted the last two because they are solid-if-unspectacular hurlers who made big bucks by being free agents in a good market.  Are they overpaid?  Certainly.  but compared to some, they too are bargains.  So when you look at the Darvish deal compared to, say John Lackey and Barry Zito, things truly come into perspective.  Zito was at least at the top of his game (sort of) when he signed his disasterous deal.  He made $18.5 million in 2009, 2010, and 2011.  His COMBINED WAR in those years was 3.5 (he’ll make $19,20, and 18 million in 2012, 2013 and 2014).  Lackey’s deal with the Red Sox paid him $18.7 million in 2010, $15.95 million in 2011 and $15.25 each year until 2014, when he will be 35. That sound you hear?  It’s Red Sox fans collectively trying to pull every last hair out of their scalps.  (SIDE NOTE: Jake Westbrook makes 8 million a year… and I’m betting Darvish is equally if not more effective than Jake’s 1.1 WAR).

I apologize for all of you who were hoping to avoid any and all sabermetrics in your reading.  To you, I say this: Go see Moneyball.  Brad Pitt is super handsome and it is an excellent movie overall.  It also makes sabermetrics sexy, so there.  I had my reservations about the amounts of money being thrown around in the pursuit of Yu Darvish.  Cut me some slack- I am a tired and true Red Sox fan, I’ve seen the downside to this before.  But upon a closer inspection, I realized just how reasonable the deal was if I separated the posting fee as a business move and the contract itself as a baseball move.  Baseball is both a competitive and comparative sport (hence the Wins Above Replacement).  Whether or not you closely follow baseball or know about sabermetrics, I hope the money and WAR serve as a decent barometer for what is considered a decent pitcher.  Compared to some of the disaster and absurdity we’ve seen in the last few years in pitcher contracts (Mike Hampton, anyone?), if Yu Darvish can consistently throw the ball over the plate, he can at least have the distinction of being at the bottom of the ‘bust’ list.



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Imagine Me & Yu, and Yu & Me…

I crack myself up.

(NOTE: I plan on doing a before/after thing, so expect further discussion when Darvish agrees to a deal)

To truly appreciate sports, you must first appreciate that, now more than ever, sports are a business.  We must color every judgment with this knowledge.  David Beckham did not come over to the states to win an MLS championship (a laughable notion), he came to sell tickets and increase the fame of both he and his wife.  Of course, most athletes are a competitive sort- that is without question.  But we have a most telling example in the most recent baseball offseason.  The Saint Louis Cardinals just won the World Series.  They did so without one of the best starting pitchers in the National League, Adam Wainwright.  There was no “looking for the best opportunity to win” no “loving the situation and people Saint Louis provides,”  no excuse for why Albert Pujols ended up signing with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (the most irritating name in all the MLB).  If you heard anything from the lips of Pujols or his scumbag lord of agents Dan Lozano that didn’t consist of “Money, money, money. Get that dolla’ dolla’ bill,” they were lying.  I am long past letting things like overblown contracts bother me.  I highlight this idea because it is important to set the stage of the baseball/business blurry line when discussing the signing of a big-name Japanese player, in this case Yu Darvish.

Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it.  Sports, not just baseball, has been in remedial history class for years.  Stupid contracts are replicated, GM’s stubbornly cling to long-lost notions and it takes teams a long time, relatively, to learn from their mistakes.  But this pessimism is from the view of the fan.  Sports, as I’ve said, are much more than that.  This Yu Darvish deal, or ‘pre-deal’ I suppose, highlights this divide between fandom and finance just as the Daisuke Matsuzaka deal did several years ago.  At its bare bones, decisions such as the signings of Matsuzaka and Darvish make little sense. Why gamble so much (over $50 million!!!) just to talk to players who have never faced the competition or stress of a major league season? Certainly, once one of these players makes it known they wish to play in the MLB, they have little choice but to negotiate a deal with the top-posting team, but 50 million dollars is still a whole lot of dough to cough up just to sit at a negotiating table.  A player like Roy Oswalt, a Texas native, is looking for a one-year deal and has an 11 year history of excellence.  Mark Buehrle signed a 4-year deal for slightly more than Darvish’s posting fee.  So for that price, a team could get a.) a 12-year veteran who has had 11 straight years of 200 innings(!) or… b.) the rights to negotiate with a guy who, while admittedly younger, has never faced a major league batter, in a major league stadium- ever.

I wonder if he'd sign this picture if I saw him. It pretty much sums up my memories of his time in Boston

Here is where the divide between baseball and business is highlighted.  By any baseball metric, Daisuke Matsuzaka’s tenure with the Red Sox has been a failure, a colossal waste of money and time (both the team’s on the field and the fans’ watching at home.  The man was as exciting to watch as a snail derby).  However, it is nearly impossible to accurately measure what the value of having the Red Sox brand expanded so judiciously in Japan and Asian cultures, as despite his mediocrity in the MLB, Dice-K is and was a legend in Japanese baseball and a hero of the World Baseball Classic.  Red Sox (and especially Dice-K starts) games were shown, despite the hour, on thousands of televisions in Japan.  Merchandise for the Japanese player flooded both his native country and the large Asian communities in the Northeast region.  Bringing in Daisuke Matsuzaka engaged a whole new faction of potential fans (or customers, more accurately) just as similar moves with Hideki Matsui and Ichiro Suzuki had in previous years.  Regardless of a fan’s passion for baseball, many followed and engaged with the teams and these players due to a fervent national pride.  It didn’t hurt that in all occasions, the teams were good and/or had a large community to pull from (Seattle, New York even all the way back to Hideo Nomo were all good teams in relatively large markets).  Texas appears primed to pull off a similar maneuver, regardless of how Darvish pans out.  Nomo burned out.  Dice-K never fit in, really.  I could be way off base with my skepticism on Yu’s success in the majors.  Darvish is of a very different build (he’s tall and lanky) and temperament (not a whiny diva, by all accounts) than Dice-K, and may very well develop into a top-flight major league starter.  But that’s not the point.  The Texas Rangers, in case you missed it, have made the World Series back-to-back years and are stocked with good young players. They have an ENORMOUS television deal.  They have a beautiful stadium and a solid fan base.  Their brand is on the rise, both due to winning and overall exposure.  The signing of Yu Darvish, while it certainly will be an attempt to cover the loss of C.J. Wilson, will primarily help the Rangers in a much deeper, fiscal sense.  Fans will hope he excels.  Ownership will just hope he sells.

As always, enjoy the Black Keys.  They’re going to release Blakroc 2 soon.  If you don’t know what that is, the Black Keys spent a summer basically just hanging out with really cool rappers and laying down some awesome tracks.  Check it.


P.S. – want proof of how frustrating Dice-K was?  Check out some of these awesome graphs over at fangraphs.com, especially the BB:K rates and the ‘heat zones’ for where pitches ended up

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