It doesn't matter how close the Toronto Blue Jays came to winning the bidding process for Yu Darvish. Not in this market and not at this time, when so many people crave a statement of intention on the part of club owner Rogers Communications beyond having general manager Alex Anthopoulos once again explain what he means by "payroll parameters."
The word came down at 11:11 p.m. ET on Monday: the 30-day window of exclusivity to negotiate with Darvish, the electric, 25-year-old free-agent right-hander with the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, was granted to the Texas Rangers for a reported $51.7-million. The Blue Jays never confirmed a bid, although Sportsnet.ca, which is owned by Rogers, quoted sources as saying the Blue Jays submitted "an aggressive posting bid."
This morning, they are left with a shattered fan base that will not want to hear that most major-league teams have become more critical of the Japanese market in light of Kei Igawa's failure with the New York Yankees and Daisuke Matsuzaka's flirtation with fourth-starter status.
Evidence of that was presented last winter when the Oakland Athletics crapped out in their pursuit of free-agent pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma – submitting a winning bid of $19.1-million, then failing to sign Iwakuma, leaving his agent Don Nomura to question the sincerity of their interest.
But Darvish is no Iwakuma, the baseball world is told. There will be little in the way of solace taken in this market from the fact that the Yankees and Red Sox made what were reportedly only middling bids for Darvish, despite the fact that the Red Sox are managed by Bobby Valentine, who spent seven years in Japan talking up Darvish and the past two years doing so on ESPN without apparently convincing his new team to pony up.
Scouting players is an imperfect science and if signed, Darvish, an angular right-hander of Iranian and Japanese parentage with a devastating arsenal of power pitches, is the ultimate high-risk/high reward project. He is said to have better pure stuff than Matsuzaka, who in 2006 cost the Boston Red Sox a total of $103.1-million for both posting fee ($51-million) and contract (five years, $42-million in base salaries with escalator clauses.)
Darvish's ceiling in terms of salary will likely be somewhere between Matsuzaka's average of $8.4-million and the average of free-agent contracts signed this winter by major-leaguers C.J. Wilson ($15.5-million) and Mark Buehrle ($14.5-million.)
That's a lot of money for somebody who hasn't pitched in the majors. But the Blue Jays have just a shade over $48-million committed to 12 players for 2012, with pitcher Brandon Morrow the only arbitration-eligible performer likely looking at a significant increase in pay. Making Darvish fit under last season's team payroll of $70,567,800 would have been a challenge, but to make it work ownership wouldn't have had to hit the $120-million total that has become an article of faith among Blue Jays fans ever since president and chief executive officer Paul Beeston did some blue-sky musings a few months ago.
And that's really what this is about, isn't it? Managing expectations. The Blue Jays spent a great deal of time, energy and money scouting Darvish. Anthopoulos only made one trip to see him pitch, but his chief scout and right-hand man, Tony LaCava, saw Darvish pitch at least twice and the Blue Jays scouted him extensively down the stretch.
But some time between then and the winter meetings two weeks ago – a week before last Wednesday's deadline for posting sealed bids for Darvish to the commissioner's office – the phrase "payroll parameters" entered the Blue Jays lexicon and somebody will need to do some spinning to prevent this setback from being painted as evidence of tighter payroll.
Perhaps Anthopoulos isn't all that enamoured of Darvish. Perhaps he made an honest misread of the market and was beaten by a higher offer. Maybe the focus now shifts to acquiring a pitcher on the trade market, with Gio Gonzalez of the Oakland Athletics and Matt Garza of the Chicago Cubs both linked to the Blue Jays.
But the Blue Jays somehow need to clarify whether it was a baseball decision or a business decision; until that happens, people will suspect the worst.