Wrapping up a week in which Japanese pitchers dominated Major League Baseball headlines, I've come to one conclusion: Any general manager who pays $100 million plus to bring a Japanese pitcher to the United States is more caught up in making a splash than a smart business decision.
As much as I'm a believer in scouting international talent, the smart way to handle the Japanese market is to wait until the player of interest is a free agent. It's what the Orioles' Dan Duquette did this week by signing left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada, who did not command a posting fee.
Wada was the Japanese league Most Valuable Player in 2010. He's a four-time Nippon Professional Baseball All-Star and he only cost $8.15 million over two years. That's a far cry from the estimated $125 million it will cost to sign Japanese star Yu Darvish to a five-year deal.
Think about it: The best pitchers in this year's free agent class, the ones who have proven they can get major league hitters out like C.J. Wilson and Mark Buehrle, didn't even command that type of cash. What makes any GM think an unproven pitcher like Darvish is anything but a huge gamble?
Sure, he's expected to be nasty. He's the Lamborghini of the Japanese league. Everybody wants a Lamborghini, but are you willing to pay the same amount as the car just for the right to visit the dealer?
The business of posting Japanese players in order to compensate the Nippon Professional Baseball teams they are leaving is the worst idea ever implemented in major league history, other than the 1976 White Sox uniforms featuring shorts.
Many agents, like Scott Boras, have criticized the posting system because it doesn't allow the player to shop around his talent. I think it also closes small market teams off from the Japanese market because they can't afford to gamble on exorbitant posting fees for a player who might not pan out.
There has to be a better system. There is currently a Major League Baseball committee looking into ways to improve the process.
The highest bidder in the Darvish sweepstakes will be announced Tuesday. It's presumed to be the Blue Jays, but the Rangers could also come out on top. According to SI.com the highest bid for Yarvish was the largest amount posted for any one player since the posting process began in 1998.
Considering the Red Sox paid $51.1 million in 2006 just for the right to negotiate with Daisuke Matsuzaka, we know Darvish's bid is higher than that.
Matsuzaka's contract plus posting fee cost Boston $103.1 million. The righty went 33-15 in his first two years in Boston, but over the past three has only started 44 games and has a 5.03 ERA.
Guess who did not bid on Darvish?
The Red Sox.
Hmm, I wonder why?
Matsuzaka is a perfect example of the hype that can spiral out of control with Japanese pitchers. Remember the magical gyro ball he threw? It really was just a screwball.
The reality is we really don't know how these pitchers will fare against major league hitting where the best in the world play. Also, as we saw in Baltimore with Koji Uehara, conditioning is a huge issue. More Japanese pitchers have failed to adjust than have succeeded. The main reason is in Japan starters pitch once a week versus every five days in the U.S.
Darvish has pitched on that extended schedule in Japan for seven years. It won't be easy to train his arm to bounce back one or two days sooner.
As for the Orioles, I hope Wada makes the adjustment. Everyone knows how starved the Birds are for starters. Unlike Darvish, the Wada experiment is low-risk. If he works out, great; if he doesn't, I can live with eating the $8.15 million salary.
I still would love to see the O's go out and get that Lamborghini sooner than later. This offseason isn't realistic, but at some point Duquette will have to open the wallet in free agency to bring in a No. 1 starter. I just hope whoever it is, he's major league road-tested.