This is the question that no one in the baseball world really knows the answer to: Who is Yu Darvish?
Bobby Scales described Darvish as freakishly athletic, almost like Carlos Zambrano. The Japanese superstar liked to mess around with switch-hitting, and had an extra glove because he can also throw left-handed.
Scales didnt really know if this was a joke, because it came through an interpreter, but the 6-foot-5-inch pitcher said his favorite sport used to be ice hockey, until he outgrew playing goalie.
Micah Hoffpauir called Darvish a good dude. Darvish didnt speak much English, but understood the language, and could keep up with Hoffpauirs slow Texas drawl. The two played practical jokes by putting pine tar inside each others shoes.
These two ex-Cubs went overseas to play for the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters last season and got to see what the hype is all about. At the age of 25, Darvish is already rich and famous, but the next great challenge is in the United States.
A major-league official confirmed that the Cubs submitted a bid before Wednesdays deadline, though the amount and their true interest level was unclear. Another industry source with ties to Japan said that the Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays were among the most visible teams scouting Darvish last season.
Theo Epstein has promised that the Cubs will be aggressive in the international marketplace. But the president of baseball operations went through this process before with the Boston Red Sox. Between the posting fee and free-agent contract, it cost more than 100 million to import Daisuke Matsuzaka.
Darvish helped his country win the 2009 World Baseball Classic, and has dominated Japans Pacific League for years, going 18-6 with a 1.44 ERA and 276 strikeouts last season.
I have no idea if his talents will translate at the major-league level, said new Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine, who became a popular figure in Japan while leading the Chiba Lotte Marines. But hes a quality pitcher. He has size. He (has) velocity, breaking balls, very good hands. He makes the ball do a lot of crazy things on its way to the plate.
(Hes a) great competitor. If those things translate into another uniformwho knows?
Matsuzaka helped the Red Sox win the 2007 World Series during his first year in Boston, and went 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA the following season. But across the next three years, he barely reached 250 innings combined before being shut down for Tommy John surgery.
The New York Yankees made a 46 million investment in Kei Igawa and have watched him appear in 16 major-league games. He has spent most of the past five seasons in the shadows, pitching at Double- and Triple-A affiliates.
By association, there will be skepticism about Darvish. He has an Iranian father and a Japanese mother and must already know something about bridging cultures.
Hoffpauir who played parts of three seasons on the North Side and will return to Japan next year believes in Darvish.
Being around him and watching him go about his business, Hoffpauir said, I dont see any reason why the guy doesnt succeed in the States. You put him on a team like the Yankees, hes going to be a No. 2 or No. 3 guy.
You put him on a team like the Rangers, hes their No. 1 guy immediately. Hes got great stuff. Hes got a phenomenal work ethic.
Scales whos unsigned for next season and focused on getting another job with a major-league organization said the two games could not be more different, (even) down to the way they do laundry in the clubhouse.
Thats where all the projections can get hazy. Scales called Darvishs fastball arrow straight, but overall liked his velocity, athleticism and repertoire, the ability to keep hitters off-balance with sliders and forkballs.
Hoffpauir said Darvishs stuff is so good that he really only had to worry about the hitters batting third through sixth no one else in the lineup would be expected to do damage and hit for power.
Once he gets to the States, I think he will become a better pitcher, Hoffpauir said, because he will lock in for nine batters, as opposed to locking in for four, maybe five (against) a lineup in Japan.
Hoffpauir respected how Darvish seemed to have his own code, almost never leaving before the other starting pitcher. Japanese pitchers typically work on six days rest, but Hoffpauir said Darvish wouldnt wait that long between starts when the team needed it down the stretch last season.
The blind bidding is over for the right to negotiate with baseballs international man of mystery. If the highest bid is accepted, the winner would then get a 30-day exclusive window to agree on a contract. It will take years to figure out if Darvish is worth the money.
Hes going to have some growing pains, Hoffpauir said. Hes going to have some bumps and bruises when it comes to making adjustments. (But) hes smart enough and I think hell work hard enough that hell get that done.