ARLINGTON, Texas — Yu Darvish is coming to America to pitch, for the team he really wanted to join for his next challenge.
Japan's best pitcher will play for the Texas Rangers, who scouted him for more than two years and then needed nearly every minute of a 30-day negotiating window before finalizing a $60 million, six-year contract Wednesday. It is a total investment of more than $111 million with a record posting fee.
"The Rangers more so than any other team showed great, not only interest in scouting him, but a lot of personal time in developing a relationship with him," said Arn Tellem, one of Darvish's agents. "That personal connection was very significant to Yu and his family.'
There is also the much-anticipated boost the 25-year-old Darvish could provide to the Rangers, who have been to the last two World Series without winning the title.
"Yu is excited about helping a team that has not won achieve that goal," Tellem said. "He's really thrilled to be coming here. This is where he wanted to be."
In addition to the salary, the Rangers will pay a posting fee of $51,703,411 to the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters of Japan's Pacific League. The last two numbers in that amount are the jersey numbers of Rangers President and Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan (34) and Darvish (11).
"When you talk about those kind of dollars, it's high risk, but I also think he's probably the most upside player I've ever seen come out of Japan," Ryan said. "Having a free agent of that age, and with the fact that he's been durable and has such feel for the baseball, I just think that he's extremely unique."
The Rangers' window to exclusively negotiate with the pitcher began Dec. 19 when their bid was accepted by the Fighters. The contract was finally completed a few minutes before the 4 p.m. CST deadline Wednesday, or Darvish would have stayed in Japan.
Rangers general manager Jon Daniels, who described the move as a "step-out deal" for the team, said negotiations were never contentious. He said there were good reasons for Texas to want a six-year deal.
"How often do you get a chance to sign a 25-year-old free agent? It's a pretty unique opportunity, so you tend to look at things a little differently when you look at somebody that age and the years of the deal take him into his prime," Daniels said. "And secondly, with the nature of the posting process and the size of the post, size of our bid, it made sense to amortize it out over a longer period."
Darvish was home in Japan, where he returned for offseason training after his first and only visit to Texas two weeks ago. The Rangers plan to formally introduce Darvish on Friday night.
On his website, Darvish posted a note acknowledging his new team.
"I will have a press conference first in America and then come back to Japan at which point I will express my gratitude to my fans here in Japan," he wrote.
Darvish had a 93-38 record with a 1.99 ERA over the past seven seasons in Japan. The 6-foot-5 right-hander was a two-time Pacific League MVP and a five-time All-Star. He led the league in strikeouts three times, in ERA twice and won two Gold Gloves.
"The thing that stood out probably is just his passion for the game and trying to be the best he can possibly be," said Ryan, the major league strikeout king who pitched a record 27 seasons.
The deal surpasses what Daisuke Matsuzaka got when he left Japan and signed with the Boston Red Sox just more than five years ago. Dice-K got a $52 million, six-year deal and the Red Sox also had to pay a $51.111 million posting fee that was the highest for a Japanese player before what the Rangers bid for Darvish.
When Ichiro Suzuki used the posting system in 2000 to get to the major leagues, the Seattle Mariners won the right negotiate with a bid of about $13 million, then signed him to a $14 million, three-year contract.
Through last season, 38 Japan-born pitchers had appeared in the major leagues. There were nine last season, including relievers Yoshinori Tateyama and Koji Uehara with the Rangers. Both are still on the 40-man roster in Texas.
Matsuzaka is 49-30 with a 4.25 ERA in 106 games (105 starts) in five seasons with the Red Sox since his high-profile move from the Seibu Lions to Boston in December 2006 when he was 26 years old. He missed most of last season after right elbow surgery and is going into the final year of his contract, worth about $10 million.
Darvish, the son of an Iranian father and a Japanese mother, went 18-6 with a 1.44 ERA last season in Japan, when he made the equivalent of about $6 million. He had 276 strikeouts to lead the Pacific League.
Darvish, who turned pro at 18, pitched in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and was a member of the Japanese team that won the 2009 World Baseball Classic. The right-hander has superb control and throws as many as seven effective pitches.
The Rangers lost their pitching ace in free agency after both World Series appearances. Cliff Lee left after the 2010 season and C.J. Wilson last month got a $77.5 million, five-year contract from the AL West rival Los Angeles Angels.
Darvish still joins a staff that already had at least six other starting candidates going into spring training. Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, Alexi Ogando and Matt Harrison were starters last season. Neftali Feliz is making the transition from closer to starter and Scott Feldman was a 17-game winner in 2009 before right knee surgery.
The New York Yankees earlier this month failed to sign Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima within 30 days after they won negotiating rights with a high bid of $2.5 million. The 29-year-old Nakajima hit .297 with 16 home runs and 100 RBIs last year with the Seibu Lions, who now retain his rights.
Nakajima and Darvish were teammates during the 2008 Olympics and on Japan's championship team in the 2009 World Baseball Classic.