The Toronto Blue Jays and the rest of the baseball world have moved beyond Yu Darvish. Phone calls are being made, starting pitchers with bona fide Major League track records such as Gio Gonzalez and Matt Garza are finding their names back in the rumour mill on this Tuesday morning and – hey – does anybody have Scott Boras's phone number?
What's Prince Fielder up to?
Shortly after 11 p.m. Monday, baseball commissioner Bud Selig's office issued a press release stating that the Texas Rangers had won the sealed bidding or posting process for Darvish, a 25-year-old, free-agent Japanese right-hander. The winning bid, which gives the Rangers a 30-day window of exclusivity to negotiate with Darvish, was $51.7-million according to Yahoo! Sports, or $600,000 more than the Boston Red Sox paid to negotiate with Daisuke Matsuzaka in 2006.
Unfortunately for the Blue Jays and general manager Alex Anthopoulos – who in a Tuesday morning conference call with reporters refused to confirm that the team made a bid - pulling their fan base back from the edge of the precipice won't be easy. The Blue Jays have done a poor job of managing expectations this off-season and anybody who says that isn't part of the game in the age of social media hasn't been paying attention. There has been a marked shift to the negative in the dialogue surrounding the team since Anthopoulos dampened enthusiasm at the winter meetings by talking about "payroll parameters," by essentially twinning the rise in payroll with an increase in revenue and leaving no doubt that revenue comes first.
Anthopoulos did so again Tuesday, saying: "we have plenty to work with," but in the next breath stressing the need to be "creative." "Right now where we are – what we have to work with – the trade market makes the most sense for us," said Anthopoulos.
Some will cite this as the end of Anthopoulos's honeymoon period; and it is true that dialogue has shifted. Honestly, does it matter whether the Blue Jays are found to have made the second or third-highest bid? Everybody says Darvish is better than Matsuzaka, yet the winning bid was less than a million more than Matsuzaka's bid. So to be safe, why would the Blue Jays not bid $2-million more? Or $3-million more? It is true that the sealed bid is only a foot in the door. The winning team then negotiates a contract. So why, with deep-pocketed owners like Rogers Communications, didn't the Blue Jays kick the door down?
"Not everyone values players the same way," said Anthopoulos, speaking only in general terms.
And so it will be left for others to spin the story. There are those who will hold out hope that hints from Boras, the agent for Fielder, that his client might accept a shorter contract with a higher annual average value will make the Blue Jays players in that market; that if the Blue Jays were ready to commit $50-million just to talk to a guy who would end up costing another $65-million to sign, why not just give the money to Fielder? That works, if you believe the Blue Jays were ready to pony up for Darvish. And it was Anthopoulos himself who stressed: "The focus is on winning the post." In his words, a team decides the total amount it is willing to commit to the player, makes its bid and with the money that is left over "takes a shot on signing the player."
The Blue Jays have work ahead of them and if you feel the need to re-calibrate, consider this: the Blue Jays have committed just $48-million to 12 players, and, other than arbitration-eligible pitcher Brandon Morrow, the core is signed. The organization has impressive minor-league depth and was a surprise player in trade discussions that saw pitcher Mat Latos go from the San Diego Padres to the Cincinnati Reds for a package of gilt-edged prospects. Now that Darvish is off the market, the free-agent ranks have thinned to the point where trade talks will take precedence.
The Blue Jays can still find another 200 innings on the trade market. Same with bullpen depth. An impactful bat will be more difficult.
As for the last words on Darvish? Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports, who broke the story minutes ahead of everybody else, reported that Darvish celebrated "by doing what he does often: he worked out." Passan says that "he (Darvish) is not going to arrive with a gut and double chin like Daisuke did after the Boston Red Sox plunked down $103.1-million only to see him slog through games before blowing out his elbow." Darvish's gents, Don Nomura and Arn Tellem, issued a release calling the Rangers "an extraordinary franchise in an exceptional city with equally exceptional fans," and while the posturing has begun – Tellem is said to want at least as much as the $75.5-million over five years that CJ Wilson received from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, while the Rangers are said to want to hold the line at $12-million – the fact that Darvish isn't represented by Scott Boras offers hope of a deal.
Scott Miller of CBS Sports, meanwhile, sees a new battlefront emerging to challenge the New York Yankees and Red Sox as must-see TV. The Angels committed $351-million in free-agent money in two hours at the winter meetings earlier this month, and their payroll for 2012 will be $170-million while the Rangers payroll is now expected to hit $120-$130-million. Less than three years out of bankruptcy, the Rangers are parlaying huge dollars from a regional sports network into a sustained appearance in the post-season.
"Armed with billion-dollar new cable television deals, the Angels and Rangers are the game's newest Superpowers," Miller writes, "and their sights are set on each other." Could the team still be a player for Fielder? "I don't know if 'on hold' is the right term, but this (signing Darvish) definitely has an impact on things," said Rangers GM Jon Daniels. "We entered into the process understanding that."
Understand this: signing Darvish is a gamble in baseball terms, even if he appears to be cut from a different cloth than his predecessors. But it is a flexing of serious financial muscle and a sign of intent. Tough not to read the message behind that, and in Toronto on this particular Tuesday morning it's tough not to be a little envious.