After winning the bidding war in the posting process for just a little more than the Red Sox bid for Diasuke Matsuzaka a few years ago, the Rangers just signed Darvish at the eleventh hour for somewhere between $56 million and $60 million guaranteed over six years, just a little more than Dice-K got from the Red Sox.
When I saw these numbers posted on mlbtraderumors.com, it struck me as exactly what I expected Darvish would get when the Rangers high posting bid amount was reported. In fact, I think any rational person with knowledge of past NPB posted player signings could have predicted the same. The only question I was left with was why did it take the entire 30 days to reach the final contract number.
It obviously has a lot to do with human nature, and the fact that you can’t necessarily expect anyone to be fair or reasonable. If the Rangers and Darvish’s agent had 30 days to cut a deal, they were going to take every last minute to cut that deal, even if reasonable minds could have predicted the final contract amount on day one. Unless it went right down to the wire, each side would have wondered if they had left dollars on the table they didn’t have to.
Either Darvish or more especially the Rangers could have driven a hard bargain. For Darvish, he could have demanded more, but there’s no way he ever could have commanded a multi-year contract from his Japanese team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, anywhere near what an MLB team could offer.
Most likely, Darvish at best could force the Ham Fighters to give him $8 million for one year or $18 million over three years. In fact, even more likely, Darvish could have forced the Ham Fighters to trade him to Yomiuri or Hanshin, the big money teams in NPB, who would then have given him the contract just described.
It doesn’t take much to see that almost any offer in the neighborhood of the posting fee would have been a win for Darvish, particularly if, like most players of his caliber, he wants to test himself against the world’s best.
The Rangers, on the other hand, could have tried to drive a harder bargain, since they had nothing to lose except Darvish himself. With no obligation to pay the Ham Fighters a dime if they failed to sign Darvish, they could have offered, for example, $48-50 million for six seasons and said take it or leave it.
Of course, the Rangers really wanted Darvish for obvious reasons. There has never been a more promising pitcher to come out of Japan, and a number of Japanese pitchers have already had great seasons in the U.S. Also, Darvish did a good job of seeming ambivalent about playing in the U.S. over the last couple of years, which created the impression he might decide to stay in Japan unless he got the number he wanted.
I note that this bargaining process is a little like the dance that goes on every year with the amateur draft picks. The owners noticed that giving the top draft picks and their agents more time to negotiate contracts gave them a bit more leverage, and so the owners pushed to move up the signing deadline, which also had the salutary effect of getting the signed players into minor league uniforms sooner.
However, despite all the talk that I recall at the time about how determined the owners were to move up the signing deadline, when it was moved up in 2007 to August 15th, the practical effect was to move up the deadline by only ten or 15 days, since teams couldn’t sign players once they began their college classes. The owners didn’t move it up any further because they didn’t want to be stuck negotiating with draft picks before the expiration of the July 31st trade deadline. They also didn’t want to move it up to early July or late June for fear that fewer draft picks might sign if not given sufficient time to negotiate.
Even at August 15th, the deals generally aren’t made until the last day, often minutes before the midnight deadline. It’s kind of a silly way to do things, but since people will never be entirely rational or reasonable, it’s the way things will always be done when this kind of money is at stake.