Raw Japan

Slices of Japanese business, politics and life

Whirling Darvish

March 5, 2009

Half-Japanese, half-Iranian, but possibly Major League Baseball’s most coveted Asian prospect, Yu Darvish is pitching the opener of the World Baseball Classic tournament in Tokyo, the main question for many is how long he will continue to be only a local player.

The template for exports was set by Japan teammate Daisuke Matsuzaka, who followed his MVP effort in the 2006 WBC with an eye-popping $103 million contract with the Boston Red Sox, some $50 million of which went to his Seibu LIons, just for letting the right-hander leave Japan.

The amount was reportedly equal to the Lions entire 2006 team budget, and Darvish’s Nippon Ham Fighters may be eyeing that potential pay day without wanting too quickly to usher in his semi-free agency in the baseball-mad nation.

In sports parlance, Darvish, 48-19 since turning pro in 2005 with a miniscule 2.33 ERA, is filthy, and China Manager Terry Collins, a former skipper of MLB’s Angels and Japan’s Orix, was not relishing the chance to begin the WBC against a player he called “one of the best pitchers in the world”. (Ed. note – Darvish winning pitcher in 4-0 victory, allowing no hits in four innings.)

Still, the 22-year-old has not pitched particularly well this spring, nor in last summer’s failed effort to medal at the Beijing Olympics, but a strong WBC may raise Darvish’s eventual MLB payday, assuming he wants to go.

Under cross-Pacific baseball rules, MLB teams cannot contact Japanese talent before their pro team posts them and bids are taken.

Boston’s recent signing of fellow 22-year-old “amateur” Junichi Tazawa, a company team pitcher, has ruffled local feathers and prompted a possible backlash for Japanese who skip their own baseball leagues.

Darvish, who giggled in a recent New York Times interview when asked about being caught smoking underage and posing nude two years ago, is not known as a rebel, but few would expect him to stay the full nine years until his international free agency is truly his own to decide.

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