The Seattle Mariners entered the 2011 offseason believing it needed to add a veteran starter to a young rotation led by 25-year-old Felix Hernandez. Somebody that could nurture Michael Pineda and Blake Beavan entering their sophomore campaigns and potential rookies Danny Hultzen and James Paxton.
The candidates seemed to include former Mariner Jamie Moyer, Jeff Francis and Erik Bedard. All pitchers who could be had relatively cheap and all with ties to the Northwest.
Then Thursday happened.
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim agreed to terms with Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson for a combined financial commitment of $331.5 million. Forget about adding the most dominant hitter of his generation in Pujols, adding Wilson to a rotation that already included 2011 Cy Young runner-up Jared Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana upped the ante to the three other current members of the AL West.
If the Mariners want to make an equally large statement, they will have to one up the Angels by putting in the highest bid for Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish who was posted by his team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, on Thursday.
Teams have until the 5 p.m. Wednesday posting deadline to submit blind bids to the Ham Fighters. The highest bid will either by accepted or rejected by the Ham Fighters. If it is accepted, the team that submitted the winning bid will acquire a 30-day exclusive negotiating window with Darvish to sign him to a major-league contract.
Darvish, 25, posted the best season of his young career in 2011 for the Nippon Ham Fighters. In a league-leading 28 starts, Darvish went 18-6 with a 1.44 ERA in 232 innings. He struck out 276 and walked just 36 batters all season. His WHIP was a miniscule 0.82.
Considering the fact that the Mariners are the only franchise in all of MLB to have a majority owner of Japanese descent in Hiroshi Yamauchi, the team has always been interested in acquiring Japanese players.
Chief among those has been recent franchise icon Ichiro Suzuki who was signed in 2001. Suzuki though, now 38-years-old, is in the last year of his contract and in the twilight of his career after suffering through the worst season of his career. It would take a remarkable turn-around season by Suzuki just for GM Jack Zduriencik to consider re-signing Suzuki at this point.
That’s where acquiring Darvish comes in. Darvish would be the Japanese star replacement, taking over where Suzuki left off. A seamless transition for the next five or so years (depending on the term of his contract) that would ensure the Mariners maintain a hold on their Japanese fan base and corresponding market.
Darvish won’t be without his suitors. Toronto, Texas, Washington, Miami and possibly the Yankees will all be involved on signing Darvish.
But the Mariners need to take control of this posting. They must be aggressive. If Yamauchi hasn’t already stated that he wants the team to sign Darvish at all costs, Zduriencik needs to go to the owner and tell him that Darvish is a necessary addition to not only supplement an improving rotation but to take up the mantle that Ichiro is soon to leave abandoned.
I doubt Yamauchi would proclaim at that point that he doesn’t want to add a star like Darvish to his team no matter the cost. Yamauchi is a fan of baseball and especially the players of his native land. That’s why he bought the Mariners in the first place. He stepped in to keep the team from moving out of Seattle.
A Darvish signing would essentially kill two birds with one stone. His signing (hopefully along with that of Prince Fielder) would give the Mariners and their fans an answer to what the Angels have done as well as give the team a Japanese star to take over when Ichiro retires.
Get it done Zduriencik.