Yu Darvish: What the Texas Rangers' Winning Bid Means for MLB Free Agents

Matt TruebloodSenior Analyst IDecember 20, 2011

Yu Darvish: What the Texas Rangers' Winning Bid Means for MLB Free Agents

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    Yu Darvish will become a Texas Ranger, according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports. An actual deal could be weeks away, but as of Monday night, the Hakkaido Nippon Ham Fighters had accepted the winning bid (submitted by Jon Daniels, Nolan Ryan and the Rangers) of $51.7 million. Texas now has 30 days to work out a deal with Darvish.

    The implications of this development can scarcely be overstated. With the addition of Darvish, the Rangers become once again the favorites to win the American League West in 2012. They have saved themselves prospects and draft picks by adding a potentially elite right-handed ace to their starting rotation, without having to trade for one or sign one via domestic free agency.

    As elated as the Rangers are, the Toronto Blue Jays are as crushed by the news.

    They were aggressive suitors for Darvish themselves, and in fact, the international feel of both the team and its city would have ensured a greater sheer benefit from Darvish's arrival than the Rangers will reap. Texas is simply in better position to leverage a major addition into competitive success and sustenance, and that led them to bid a record amount for the right to negotiate with Darvish.

    This move changes the tone of the MLB offseason in a number of ways. Here are five ripple effects we can expect to see in coming weeks.

1. The Rangers Are out on John Danks, Matt Garza and Gio Gonzalez

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    The Rangers had been pursuing rotational improvements all winter, having let C.J. Wilson depart as a free agent and land with the rival Angels of Anaheim. Reports had linked them to Matt Garza of the Chicago Cubs, John Danks of the Chicago White Sox and Gio Gonzalez of the Oakland Athletics.

    Now they're certainly not going to be interested in any of the above.

    That hurts each of the GMs trying to move their young pitchers. Strictly speaking, the Rangers could have offered the best package of prospects in return for each of them. Third base prospect and future All-Star Mike Olt would have been involved in any of the deals, save perhaps one for Danks. He would have fit the needs of each of the would-be sellers to a tee.

    Aside from losing their most primed potential partner, each of the teams in search of a destination for their top arm loses leverage in negotiation.

    The Cubs have their eyes on Anthony Rizzo of the Padres, a first base prospect now blocked after the Mat Latos deal brought erstwhile Reds slugger Yonder Alonso to San Diego.

    Rizzo will almost certainly become part of a package for which the Cubs surrender Garza, but the team lost a lot of its ability to demand other key players when the Rangers bowed out of the Garza sweepstakes by grabbing Darvish. The same, or similar, goes for each of the other aforementioned hurlers.

2. Free-Agent Pitching Pins Are Soon to Start Falling

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    Sometimes in MLB free agency, the market seems to hold its breath. Signings come in flurries, as agents and teams try to get a sense of the market development before leaping into any deals.

    Earlier this month, it was Jose Reyes' signing with the Marlins that shook some fruit loose from the tall tree and set off a chain reaction of signings. Many of the top free-agent position players came off the board in the 10 days thereafter.

    Darvish may do the same for the pitching market. Not only were teams waiting to see where Darvish would land before trading their top guns, but many felt they needed to wait out the process with Darvish before fully assessing free-agent values and decisions.

    The Rangers now have Darvish, meaning they will have little or no interest going forward in Edwin Jackson, Roy Oswalt or Hiroki Kuroda. Those and other free-agent starters could fall like dominoes now that Darvish is ostensibly settled.

    Jackson, by the way, is a free-agent bargain waiting to happen.

3. Prince Fielder Loses Big

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    No one was less happy with the final destination for Yu Darvish than Scott Boras.

    The player-representation maestro seemed to have a nice, neat house of cards built, on top of which he was ready to place a $150 million-plus contract for client Prince Fielder as a capstone.

    The exhale the Rangers gave when their top objective became reality blew down Boras's house.

    Fielder is a great player, the kind that very rarely hits the free-agent market. He should command at least 75 percent of what Albert Pujols made, but given the loss of perhaps his top big-money suitor, a more realistic number might now be $125 million.

    That can still be saved. Boras could probably put Fielder on the Chicago Cubs for $140 million over five seasons, which would give his client the highest annual salary of any player in baseball. The Blue Jays might do a spite deal for Fielder, trying to salvage the situation from their own public perspective.

    One way or another, Boras usually figures something out, but the Rangers' big bid took a bite out of the market for one of baseball's best hitters.

4. Alexi Ogando Is Probably Headed Back to the Bullpen

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    With Darvish in the fold, the Rangers project the following starting pitching rotation going forward in 2012:

    1. Yu Darvish - RHP
    2. Derek Holland - LHP
    3. Neftali Feliz - RHP
    4. Matt Harrison - LHP
    5. Colby Lewis - RHP

    Notably absent from that list is Alexi Ogando, who finished 2011 on a skid that proved his lack of repertoire depth and durability make him an inefficient starting option. He would have been fine as a beck-end rotation man, but he fits much better in a bullpen setup role.

    That's the position he will now possess, as Darvish puts an end to the Ogando experiment in the Texas rotation.

5. The Blue Jays Are at Square One

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    It's strange to imagine that the Blue Jays had more at stake than the Rangers did in this affair.

    Certainly, they were less invested: If they had been the most ardent suitor for Darvish, they would have him right now. The Rangers also had more to gain from the addition, as it could keep them atop the AL totem pole in 2012. The Jays probably aren't even among the top five teams in the league right now, and adding Darvish only would have bumped them halfway into serious contention.

    Yet, it feels like the Jays wanted Darvish worse, and will miss him more than the Rangers would have.

    The city has a sizable Japanese population, with whom a big move like this would have been wildly popular. Attendance (of the lack of it) has been a major issue there for a decade, and the brilliant but incremental approach of GM Alex Anthopoulos doesn't seem to be working in terms of regaining the heart of the city.

    The Jays could spend big bucks on Fielder, but are a better bet to acquire Matt Garza or Gio Gonzalez and move forward on the same path they have followed. They can only hope that a playoff appearance in 2013 or 2014 can whet enough baseball appetites to lure the fans back to Rogers Centre.