By Stephen Hawkins
ARLINGTON — Before the Texas Rangers committed more than $111 million to get Japan’s best pitcher, they spent more than two years watching and getting to know Yu Darvish.
“It wasn’t just sitting behind the plate with a radar gun,” Texas general manager Jon Daniels said.
Sure, that was part of the process of scouting Darvish. But Rangers scouts in the Pacific Rim who watched just about every one of his starts in recent seasons and other team officials also spent time developing a personal relationship with the pitcher and his family.
“They’ve probably seen about 50 games the last two years, they were very thorough in how they evaluated,” said Don Nomura, one of Darvish’s agents. “We knew they were very interested in Yu, and I’m glad it was the Texas Rangers that won the bid.”
That familiarity with each other should help the 25-year-old Darvish with the cultural transition he faces playing in the United States and the major leagues. Arn Tellem, the other agent, said all the effort by the Rangers to build a personal connection was “very significant” to Darvish, who agreed Wednesday to a $60 million, six-year contract with the two-time defending American League champions.
The deal was finished at the end of a 30-day exclusive negotiating window for Texas that began when its record $51,703,411 posting bid was accepted last month by the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, Darvish’s team in Japan’s Pacific League.
Though negotiations went down to the final minutes before a deadline when Darvish would have stayed in Japan without a deal, Daniels said talks were never contentious since they knew each other so well.
“It wasn’t like the clock started on Day 1 and we were a brand new entity. They were open with us and talked with us and gave us access,” Daniels said. “You hear about other negotiations where you’re completely shut off from the player or the family, and it wasn’t handled that way.”
Texas appointed a director of Pacific Rim operations just more than four years ago, and has since expanded to three full-time scouts and a couple of part-timers who scout the area that includes Japan.
With the bigger presence there, the Rangers got to see and bring back starter Colby Lewis, a supplemental first-round pick by Texas in 1999 who revived his career with two seasons in Japan. Right-handed reliever Yoshinori Tateyama, a teammate of Darvish’s with the Fighters, joined the Rangers last year.