Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Texas Rangers contenders – Toronto Blue Jays pretenders

Late Monday evening the Texas Rangers won the right to negotiate with Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish by submitting a winning bid of approximately $51.7 million that was accepted by the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters. The Rangers now have 30 days to work out a deal. If they can't sign Darvish by then, he returns to the Fighters and they return the $51.7 million to the Rangers.

The Toronto Blue Jays who were very interested have nothing to show it.

The Rangers, winners of the last two American League pennants, but losers of the last two World Series sent a message to the rest of Major League Baseball that they are a major market baseball team.

The Blue Jays enjoyed a few days of suggesting to the baseball universe and their fans that they were finally moving from pretender to contender status in the American League East. It’s the strange case of two Major League Baseball franchises and the mixed message they managed to send out to the baseball world in the past week.

Darvish wasn’t a free agent. Baseball doesn’t have an international amateur player draft, so his team, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters of the Japanese Baseball League, posted his rights. MLB teams submitted sealed bids for the rights to negotiate with Darvish and The Fighters accepted the highest bid.

"Darvish is the No. 1 pitcher in Japan, but we want him to become the ace of the world," Nippon Ham team representative Toshimasa Shimada said this month when Darvish rights were made available to the highest bidder.

Much of the attention as to which teams were interested in bidding on Darvish focused on the Rangers and the Blue Jays, the two teams who had their general managers fly to Japan to see the 25-year old pitch.

It might have made as much sense for the Boston Red Sox, whose new manager Bobby Valentine, managed in Japan against Darvish, but the Red Sox weren’t interested.
They were bitten once before by this process in the signing of Daisuke Matsuzaka to a six-year $52 million contract in 2006.

The Red Sox paid Matsuzaka’s Japanese team, the Seibu Lions, a posting fee of $51.1 million. Matsuzaka was injured for most of the 2011 season. He was effective for the Red Sox in 2007 and pitched to a record of 18-3 in 2008. However, he has missed large parts of the last three MLB seasons with injuries.

As much money as Boston likes to spend on talent, the next time the Red Sox invest more than $100 million on a Japanese pitcher they’ll be looking for a great deal more than the 69 wins Dice-K has given them over his first five years. The Red Sox learned a valuable lesson of caveat emptor - or buyer beware.

The Rangers have come close to winning the last two World Series and lost their best starting pitcher C.J. Wilson to division rivals the Los Angeles Angels. The Angels also signed Albert Pujols.

"Obviously this is a very exciting night for our organization, for our fans and for our community," Texas Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said in a conference call an hour after Major League Baseball officially announced the Rangers had submitted the winning bid.

"This is just the first step in the process, but an important one," Daniels said.
"It's one that we hope will lead to signing Yu Darvish to a contract, but we understand the negotiations are just beginning. Our ownership group went the extra mile to support us on this."

ESPN Dallas reporter Jean Jacques Taylor may have summed it up best when he suggested: “This is about low-key owners Bob Simpson and Ray Davis, who gave Jon Daniels permission to reportedly drop $51.7 million on the Nippon Ham Fighters just for the right to negotiate a deal with Darvish, who reportedly wants a five-year deal in the neighborhood of $15 million per year.

“Finally, the Rangers are a big-market club in every sense of the word.”

Simpson and Davis had to send a message to Angels’ owner Arte Moreno that they’re not going to sit around and watch him buy a championship team.

It’s becoming clear the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox aren’t the only big market franchises willing to spend whatever they have to do win today. The Rangers and Angels are in the same boat.

The Toronto Blue Jays won the 1992 and 1993 World Series. On the eve of the 1992 season the Blue Jays added free agents Jack Morris and Dave Winfield and won the World Series. A year later, with Winfield having departed and Jimmy Key gone to free agency, the Jays signed Dave Stewart and Paul Molitor. Again, they won the World Series.

The 2011 Blue Jays won 81 games. The 1991 Blue Jays won the American League East but lost in the American League Championship series to eventual World Champion, the Minnesota Twins. The 1991 Blue Jays were one or two players away from winning a World Series, the 2011 Blue Jays are many, many players away from contending for a playoff spot, and are nowhere close to being legitimate World Series contenders.

If the Blue Jays had won the rights to negotiate with Yu Darvish they were looking at spending north of $120 million on one player. The Blue Jays are not a baseball team that can afford to invest anywhere close to $100 million on any baseball player.

The Blue Jays 2011 payroll was just a shade over $70 million. What made the Blue Jays reported interest in Darvish questionable was a press conference Blue Jays general Manager Alex Anthopoulos held shortly after the baseball winter meetings. Anthopoulos talked at great length about the Blue Jays payroll parameters.

"That’s probably not a question for me, it’s not impacting us in ’12, but I think in ’13 and beyond it’s going to impact us, certainly we’re going to be receiving less," Anthopoulos replied when asked whether the new baseball CBA would affect his payroll parameters. "I don’t get involved in those conversations with accounting, but there’s no question that’s going to be phased out and we’re going to lose dollars there.

"I’m sure that has some type of bearing and impact.

"If there’s something we need to go over for … with certain cases we’ll jump up beyond that," he said. "There’s no question that there’s areas I’ve been asked to be, and I can work within those areas. Whatever I’m handed to work with, I can make it work." Anthopoulos said.

The general managers of the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels and Rangers appear to have few, if any, so called “payroll parameters”. Each of those teams 2012 payrolls will be well north of $125 million; the Blue Jays 2012 payroll may not hit $80 million.

That’s not to suggest the Blue Jays can’t contend for a playoff spot in 2012, but that is to say Anthopoulos is operating under a competitive disadvantage when it comes to his signing of talent as opposed to the “big market” American League franchises.

The Blue Jays may not be pretenders but to suggest they’re contenders would be wrong. The Blue Jays aren’t quite ready to put their feet in the deep end just yet.

For this is Howard Bloom

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