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.
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.