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Yu Darvish, Daisuke Matsuzaka and the bravado deficit

Japan starter Yu Darvish pitches against South Korea

Japan starter Yu Darvish pitches against South Korea in the first inning of their World Baseball Classic game. (March 17, 2009) Photo Credit: AP

Time plays tricks with the human memory. I appreciate that.

Having written that, what I recall from five years ago, when the Seibu Lions posted Daisuke Matsuzaka, is the excitement over his impending arrival in Major League Baseball. The electric gossip about who was going to win the bidding for him.

The excitement among Red Sox officials, Mets officials, Rangers officials...heaps of bravado, really, about which team was going to outspend and outwit the others and land this prized catch.

The Yu Darvish bidding will come to a close today - we'll find out the winner sometime between tonight and Tuesday _ and I've heard virtually no such bravado from teams that desire to land the Japanese right-hander. 

We know why: The Matsuzaka Experience proved a humbling one for the Red Sox. And that was a grand success (at least Matsuzaka contributed significantly in 2007 and 2008 and a little in 2009 and 2010 ) compared to the Yankees' signing of Kei Igawa that same offseason.

My pick to win the Darvish bidding, at this moment, is Toronto. Blue Jays ownership will spend when it feels like it, and Toronto's baseball people seem to like Darvish a great deal. The Jays are ramping up toward competing with the Yankees, Rays and Red Sox in the AL East, all the more so with an extra playoff berth available in either 2012 or 2013, and if Darvish lives up to his expectations, then...you know, he makes the Jays a much better club.

We know why it's a risk, though. Hideki Matsui experienced one of the most successful transitions from Japan to MLB, and nevertheless he told me (during his rookie season, 2003) just how dramatically different the life felt, particularly the vastness of the travel and, on the field, how the MLB pitchers used more of a horizontal plane (like the two-seam fastball) than did the Japanese pitchers, who throw more splitters.

It's proven even tougher for pitchers, thanks to the increased size of the baseball and the increased workload; most Japanese pitchers start just one game a week.

Whoever winds up with Darvish will probably commit in the neighborhood of $100 million for him, when you total the posting fee and Darvish's contract. And when that club introduces Darvish at a news conference, you can count on seeing as much reassurance as you do bravado: "No, this guy is different. He's got superior stuff. He'll be able to handle the transition."

We'll find out next year, assuming he signs (and you'd bet heavily on him signing), whether Darvish can live up to his new team's words - and therefore increase the bravado index for the next great Japanese pitcher that comes along.

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