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The Texas Rangers went above and beyond with their holiday shopping this offseason. In need of starting pitching, the Rangers took part in the bidding war for Japanese ace Yu Darvish, and won with a $51.7 million post. This gives Texas one month to negotiate a contract with the pitcher, who is inevitably expected to sign in the range of $12-15 million each year for five or six seasons. Darvish has zero experience in Major League Baseball, nor do any of the similar Asian players who have ventured here over the years.
From a Red Sox perspective, Darvish clearly parallels Daisuke Matsuzaka, who Boston signed in a similar fashion back in 2007. Despite a promising start to his American career, Dice-K went on to struggle over the last couple of seasons and now finds himself shelved after Tommy John surgery. With that experience as an easy comparison, the Rangers are clearly taking a risk with Darvish, but his signing will prove to be an important risk that will pay off for Texas and drastically change the shape of the American League.
The Rangers need Yu Darvish in order to win their division next season. The Angels obviously made a big splash by signing Albert Pujols to add to their middle of the lineup, but honestly even with Pujols I would still expect the Rangers to finish on top of the West. It was the Angels’ signing of C.J. Wilson that drastically changed everything. Wilson goes from being the ace of the Rangers and the most important part of their entire pitching staff to being the third starter in a loaded Angels rotation. Last season the duo of Jered Weaver and Dan Haren was statistically the best combination of starting pitchers in the American League. Adding Wilson to that rotation truly gives Los Angeles three aces, not to mention their fourth starter Ervin Santana who threw a no hitter last year.
The best options at the top of the Rangers rotations after the departure of Wilson are Derek Holland, Colby Lewis, and Alexi Ogando. While they certainly can hold their own, they don’t match up at all with Los Angeles. The need for Darvish outweighs the risk for Texas. If he delivers a quality of pitching anywhere near what he showed in Japan, he will be worth the money because he gives Texas a chance to compete while they still have their core of players, including Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler, Michael Young, and Mike Napoli. Their offense will always at least match that of the Angels, but Darvish has the potential to complete a pitching staff that also includes Joe Nathan, Mike Adams, and Koji Uehara in the bullpen. In fact, the Texas weakness of pitching is strengthened with Darvish in a similar way that the Angels improve their weakness in offense with Pujols. He has the potential to carry the Los Angeles offense as Darvish can lead the Rangers’ pitching.
I believe that Darvish will be a great pitcher in Major League Baseball. I don’t think he will win a Cy Young while he pitches for the Rangers, but I think he will at least be in the conversation multiple times. I think it is reasonable to expect 14-16 wins next year, with an ERA around 3.00. If Darvish puts up those types of numbers over the length of his career with the Rangers, and Texas manages to win a championship in that time, he will be well worth the price they paid to acquire him.
Putting the debates how Darvish will perform in America and how the Rangers match up with the Angels aside, his arrival also makes a great impact on the American League. Both the Angels and Rangers have loaded up this offseason, spending money at will like the Red Sox and Yankees are accustomed to. Meanwhile both Boston and New York have been relatively quiet this Winter, both using smaller acquisitions and limiting spending at least for now. The two superpowers building in the West come at an interesting time, as Major League Baseball is preparing to change their playoff format to include two Wild Cards in each league. Initially I saw this change as a guarantee that every season the Sox and Yanks would make it to October a lot easier, but now it seems that both Los Angeles and Texas should be winning around 95 games next season. With both Boston and New York growing older, perhaps duo out west will create a new bigger divisional rivalry over the next several years. One way or another, names like Yu Darvish and Albert Pujols just made the American League a lot more interesting.