A quick look at baseball free agency history shows us that there have been quite a few big ticket free agency acquisitions from the Far East. As of right now only one is considered a Hall of Fame player, none have won Cy Young Awards, and only Ichiro has won an MVP award (although Matsui won a World Series MVP award this year). Overall though the money being spent on Japanese free agents has largely been wasted.
The reason I bring this up, there are two potentially pricey Japanese free agents on the market this off-season. First is everyone’s darling Yu Darvish, who both on paper and in videos looks like a number two or number one pitcher on any staff. I consider the talent pool in Japan nearly on par with AAA. With the influx of Japanese born players into MLB, the talent level has decreased, now players over there are beefing up their stats for a trip to America.
Darvish should be capable of becoming a major factor in American baseball, at only 23 he has simply dominated Japanese hitters on what is considered a poor team in the Nippon League. This season he went 15-5/1.73 and 167 strikeouts in 182 innings. So now consider it was against AAA talent and what do you expect to see out of him in his first US season? I would guess 15-10/3.75/1.25 with around 190 strikeouts in 205 innings. That also might be his average numbers. Now what are you willing to post to get him? You know it’s going to be over $50 million, just to have the rights to negotiate with him. Then on top of that he is going to want at a minimum Stephen Strasburg money. Is it worth it?
For the richer teams, it’s definitely worth it, even if he doesn’t pan out, the merchandising and advertising alone makes it worth it. However a team like the A’s, which would be a great place for him, has no chance, they just can spend that kind of money to bring in a player who may or may not flop. The risk is greater than the reward. Instead Darvish will likely sign with one of the big boys, the Yankees or the Red Sox, with my money going to the Yankees. However they might be a bit gun shy, remember the Kei Igawa and Hideki Irabu experiments? Both were utter and complete mistakes.
Yesterday comes word that another pitcher Hisanori Takashi is also going to test the US market. Unlike Darvish, Takashi is older (11 years older) and at 34 his best days are probably behind him, although he did have a nice season this past year going 10-6/2.94 with 126 strikeouts in 144 innings. Sounds appealing right? Not so fast, a quick look at his career stats shows his max innings pitched in any one season to be 186. With the average falling around 145 innings per season for his career. Can his arm take the pounding it would get from a full season here? At 34, I have serious doubts about that. However, someone is going to post nearly $20 million just to negotiate an $8 million a year contract. Will he pan out in the US? I kind of doubt it, I just think overall his numbers have been pedestrian in a AAA equivalent league.
In the world of baseball cards, Japanese players still bring in a pretty coin for signatures and game used cards. Many routinely hitting triple digits. The thing is there have been so many failed experiments, I just don’t understand why you would want to take the plunge. For my taste the risk far outweighs the reward. For every one Ichiro Suzuki, there are 30 Kei Igawas. I think the end of the Japanese stranglehold on money coming out of the MLB is about to come to an end, as more and more players just don’t pan out in the United States. Below is a Yu Davish patch from the Sterling product line. It can be yours for $200.