Rangers need Yu Darvish to deliver

ARLINGTON, Texas -- It took nearly every minute of the 30-day negotiating window to get Yu Darvish to Texas.

Those involved in the negotiations worked day and night until Wednesday afternoon, securing a deal to bring the celebrated Japanese star to the Rangers and right into the middle of what should be a hotly contested AL West race.

It took years of scouting, a gaggle of frequent flier miles, a face-to-face meeting in Arlington between Darvish and Rangers personnel a few weeks ago, a recruiting video and gallons of coffee. Oh, and a willingness by ownership to send a check for $51.7 million to the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters to go along with the $60 million they'll be sending to Darvish.

The Rangers need to be right about this one.

The posting fee and contract amount are more than Daisuke Matsuzaka cost the Boston Red Sox a few years ago. That's not by accident. The Rangers feel Darvish is not Matsuzaka, who won 15 games his first season (with a 4.40 ERA) and 18 in his second (with a 2.90 ERA), but has struggled to stay healthy and be consistent the past three seasons.

The Rangers see a 6-foot-5, 220-pound pitcher with a full repertoire of pitches and the ability to command the fastball, change speeds and get batters out. They see a guy they feel has the right makeup to succeed. Their scouts have said he's got drive and determination, rebounds from rough innings and wants to prove that a pitching star from Japan can become one of the best pitchers in the big leagues for years to come.

Soon, we'll all get to see if that's true.

The Rangers will be careful not to put too much pressure on Darvish. He's going to have enough to deal with as he makes the transition to the big leagues. He'll have a large shadow in the form of a host of Japanese reporters following his every move -- starting with his flight landing at one of the local airports for his news conference, I imagine -- and must deal with living in a new place away from many friends and family members, a new language, and new teammates and coaches.

Maybe the mound will make the transition easier. He's thrived there in Japan and will be asked to do the same in North America.

But this is not a low-risk signing for the Rangers. They've made a major investment and they have to get a good return. If they do, it would certainly help ensure the balance of power in the AL West doesn't shift from Arlington back to Anaheim.

The Angels made their offseason statement right in the Rangers' backyard, exiting the winter meetings at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas -- a half-hour drive from Rangers Ballpark in Arlington -- with the best hitter in the game and one of the best pitchers on the market.

Rangers officials quickly said they didn't have to react to the blockbuster signings, but they acknowledged that the Angels had closed the gap a considerable amount in the division on that early December morning.

Albert Pujols gives the Angels' offense a much-needed boost, but questions remain about who will step up and protect him in that lineup. But the Angels' pitching staff, at least on paper, is one of the best in the majors.

The Rangers made a choice this offseason and decided they wanted Darvish -- even though he'd cost more and is unproven in the big leagues -- rather than left-hander C.J. Wilson, who was drafted and developed in their system. That speaks volumes about their trust in Darvish's abilities. And they watched as Wilson went to the Angels, joining a staff that includes Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana. Wilson went from No. 1 with the Rangers to likely No. 3 with the Angels.

That's why Darvish is so critical to the future pennant hopes of the Rangers. The two-time defending American League champions still have the best lineup in baseball from top to bottom. But the pitching staff is a young one. Colby Lewis, who rekindled his career thanks to two years in Japan and was signed by the Rangers prior to the 2010 season, is the veteran anchor. He's joined by 25-year-old Derek Holland, who will have a chance to prove that he took a critical step in the second half of 2011 and with his dazzling World Series Game 4 start toward becoming one of the top young left-handed starters in the game.

Matt Harrison, 26, finally showed he could put together a consistent season. It's time to see if 23-year-old Neftali Feliz, the club's closer the past two seasons, can be a starter. He's been told he's in the rotation. Alexi Ogando, 28 years old but with only a 1½ seasons of big league experience, was an All-Star after his brilliant first half but ran out of gas down the stretch. He was a force in the bullpen in the division series and American League Championship Series before struggling in the World Series and could end up back there should the rest of the rotation stay healthy.

But collectively, the group doesn't have the track record or résumé of the Angels' starters. That's why Darvish needs to come in and help stabilize the group. That's not to say he needs to win 17 games and be the club's ace in 2012. But he has to pitch well enough to let his offense go to work and win games.

And he can't be a one-year wonder, either. General manager Jon Daniels said after the club committed five years and $80 million (with a vesting option for another $16 million in the sixth year) to Adrian Beltre last year, that Beltre had to be a part of the club's core in the coming years.

The same is true for Darvish.

The Rangers did their homework and spent long hours and a considerable amount of money to get Darvish into a Rangers uniform. In a few months, they'll get a chance to see if the big investment starts paying the dividends they need.

Richard Durrett covers the Rangers for ESPNDallas.com.