As of a few days ago, Nippon-Ham Fighters ace Yu Darvish was undecided about asking his team to post him as a means of moving to MLB for the 2012 season. The 25-year-old righty posted a 1.44 ERA, 10.7 K/9, 1.4 BB/9, and 0.19 HR/9 in 232 innings this year, and there will be a bidding frenzy if the Fighters post him.
In the posting system, MLB teams have until a certain date to submit bids for the exclusive rights to negotiate with the player. MLB GMs have the difficult task of choosing a bid that will be the highest but won't be significantly higher than the second-best bid. After the posting fee, the team must then sign the player to a contract. The player's only leverage is to return to Japan, in which case the posting fee is returned to the MLB team and the process is over for the year.
Five years ago, the Red Sox won the right to negotiate with Daisuke Matsuzaka for $51,111,111. They then negotiated a six-year, $52MM contract with Scott Boras, bringing the total commitment to $103,111,111. As we've seen with Boras' draft pick negotiations, he uses what little leverage he has to maximum advantage. There was a point in the Dice-K talks where an agreement with the Red Sox did not seem likely. Last year, the Athletics won the right to negotiate with Hisashi Iwakuma for $19.1MM, but the Rakuten Golden Eagles had to return the posting fee when the A's were unable to reach an agreement with agent Don Nomura. Darvish is represented by Nomura and Arn Tellem of Wasserman Media Group.
The Fighters have a lot to gain financially by posting Darvish now. Sure, they could wait until after the '12 or '13 seasons, but Darvish is healthy and at the top of his game right now. Agents I spoke to were divided on whether Matsuzaka's posting fee is relevant information in trying to predict what Darvish would require. Misinformation abounds from the Dice-K posting period, but most reports suggested $20-30MM bids until the Red Sox came in over $51MM. Only the Seibu Lions know for sure what the second-highest bid was, but in hindsight Boston might have been able to win the rights at $35MM.
Last week, I polled five agents and one team executive about Darvish's potential posting fee and contract. Guesses on the posting fee ranged from $30-55MM, with the team executive making the highest prediction. The average of the six guesses was $45MM. As for the contract, most people predicted a five or six-year deal in the $72-75MM range. One agent wondered if the winning team will "try to force some options down his throat," especially if it's the Blue Jays.
The bottom line: everyone I talked to expects a minimum of a $100MM commitment to acquire Darvish if he's posted this year. It's possible we'll see as many as six $100MM commitments this offseason, not including extensions.