Senior Baseball Columnist

Rangers roll dice on Darvish, look to give Halos run for their money


If the Rangers don't sign Darvish by Jan. 18, they'll get their $51.7 million back. (US Presswire)  
If the Rangers don't sign Darvish by Jan. 18, they'll get their $51.7 million back. (US Presswire)  

So will Yu Darvish make 'em forget Nolan Ryan in Texas?

Wait. Forget that. Better question: Will Yu Darvish make 'em forget Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson in Texas?

For the kind of dough the Rangers will be laying out, he'd better make 'em forget what the Angels have done ... and then this October make 'em forget what happened to Texas in the previous two autumns.

As the Angels this winter have gone all whirling dervish, the Rangers had to go Darvish.

Finally, the Rangers had seized control of the division from the Angels. They were younger. Better. Smarter. Then Arte Moreno cleaned house and opened his wallet this winter, and despite Texas having a deeper farm system and more recent rings, the heat is back on the Rangers.

What we have here in the AL West isn't quite Yankees-Red Sox, but it's game on and moving in that direction. To Pujols and Wilson, the Angels committed $351 million in about two hours' time in the wee hours two weeks ago during the winter meetings. It was like watching The Hangover: Dallas. Only thing missing was a tiger in Los Angeles general manager Jerry Dipoto's bathroom.

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"Not necessarily," Rangers GM Jon Daniels said on a midnight conference call Monday when asked whether the Angels forced Texas' hand on Darvish. "Our commitment from ownership, from management, from our club is put the best possible team out there.

"We've had some success the last two years, but we haven't been able to close it out. That's our goal. Put the best possible club out there and win a championship."

Toward that end, the Rangers now have committed $51.7 million just for the right to negotiate with Darvish. Mix in a Wilson-like Angels' contract, and Texas is going to be spurs-deep at well over $100 million to a guy who baseball executives think could be the next great thing. (If the Rangers and Darvish cannot agree on a deal, the pitcher returns to Japan and Texas gets all of that $51.7 million returned).

The ramifications here are head-spinning. The Angels' payroll will blow up to somewhere around $170 million in 2012. The Rangers' payroll is expected to zoom up to around $120 million. We've never seen an arms race quite like this outside of the Boston-New York-Philadelphia corridor. Certainly not out West. Armed with billion-dollar new cable television deals, the Angels and the Rangers are the game's newest Superpowers. And their sights are set squarely on each other.

Even the subplots have juice. Mike Napoli never living up to manager Mike Scioscia's high expectations behind the plate, then becoming a cult hero in Texas while essentially rapping the Angels upside the head each night in October.

And the Angels snatching Wilson for five years and $77.5 million? The Rangers wouldn't go a dime over $60 million to him. Essentially told him to hit the road, Jack. Now they're looking at investing probably a minimum of $30 million more than Wilson even got from the Angels -- counting posting price and contract -- in Darvish.

Think C.J. won't have some extra fire when facing the Rangers next summer?

"We're looking for any opportunity we can to improve the club both short-term in the next year or so and long-term," Daniels said of the c-ya C.J., hey Yu strategy. "I don't want to put the cart before the horse, but we looked at this as an opportunity to go find a player we thought really was a fit for us.

"Ownership supported it, and we were able to take the next step."

Now, Darvish will be expected to do something Wilson -- and others so far in Texas -- couldn't: Push the Rangers to the next step. The only thing left is to win a World Series. Advancing to a second Fall Classic in two seasons helped Texas cross one goal off of its list: The Rangers did not want to be known as a one-hit wonder.

But, neither do they want to be known as the Buffalo Bills.

As the Angels have amped up, the Rangers have no choice.

Which, once Pujols dropped to the worst possible spot for Texas, means either Prince Fielder ... or purportedly the best pitcher in a free agent market filled with mostly empty shelves in the starters' aisle.

We can only hope Darvish doesn't list "gyroball" as one of his pitches. Yes, he's supposed to be different, he's only 25 (as opposed to Wilson, 31) and scouts tell you he's stronger than Daisuke Matsuzaka.

It's a calculated gamble by the Rangers. Because they have one of the game's smartest front offices, it's worth believing that they're onto something great here.

But at the same time, we were fed the same breathless hooey about Daisuke, and what I can tell you about him five seasons in is this: There is no gyroball. There never was. Turns out, bring in a pitcher from overseas, people will believe damned near anything.

What do the Rangers know about Darvish? Daniels says they scouted nearly every one of his starts last season when he was producing one of the best summers of his career, going 18-6 with a 1.44 ERA and 276 strikeouts in 232 innings.

But more than that, Daniels said the Rangers have watched him closely over much of the past three seasons, planning for this moment. Most of what they've seen has been brilliant: Darvish, whose fastball averages 92-95 mph, has hung sub-2.00 ERAs in each of the past five seasons.

He's 6-5, 225 pounds and brings a tantalizing slider along with his sharp fastball. It is worth cutting through the hype once again here to note: The aforementioned numbers -- the ERAs, the punchouts -- do not translate by themselves. Until he regularly faces major-league hitters, and until he does it successfully and consistently pitching every five days, he is an unproven who simply becomes a leading candidate for AL Rookie of the Year. Nothing more.

That said, the Rangers have the makings of a fascinating -- and, potentially, lethal -- 2012 rotation. Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, Alexi Ogando, Matt Harrison ... and then there's closer Neftali Feliz, whom the Rangers have told will start.

Things break right, the Rangers have the numbers to match up, especially against the Angels' front three of Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Wilson.

And who knows what else the Rangers might do yet this offseason (cough, cough ... Prince?).

"I don't know if 'on hold' is the right term, but it definitely has an impact on other things," Daniels said of how the Rangers will conduct business while negotiating with Darvish. "We entered into the process understanding that."

The Rangers have until Jan. 18 to sign Darvish.

They've got until May 11 before they meet the Angels for the first time in 2012.

And I'll tell you this: Yankees-Red Sox is no longer the only must-see TV in the Big Spenders' Division.


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