The New York Yankees have scouted Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish and have not dismissed the idea of pursuing the 25-year-old if he goes through the posting process required for entry into Major League Baseball.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told ESPNNewYork.com on Thursday that the team scouted Darvish during the 2011 season, in which he went 18-6 with a 1.44 ERA for the Nippon Ham Fighters.
"We scout Japanese baseball the same way we scout the American League and the National League," Cashman said. "We had a wave of scouts there all season."
Cashman refused to say whether the Yankees would be interested in bidding on Darvish, which likely would cost upward of $100 million with the posting fee.
Clearly, the Yankees are likely to be gun-shy, given their own checkered history in signing Japanese pitchers Hideki Irabu and Kei Igawa, as well as the difficulty in gauging how a Japanese pitcher's effectiveness will translate to Major League Baseball, due to differences in the baseball, the size of the strike zone and the height of the pitcher's mound between the Japanese and U.S. versions of the sport.
But with Yankees ace CC Sabathia likely to exercise the opt-out clause in his contract sometime in the next week, Darvish could provide an alternative for next year's rotation, along with free agents C.J. Wilson, Mark Buehrle and Edwin Jackson.
According to the Kyodo News, Darvish requested to be placed into the posting process, and quoted the Fighters' owner, Hiroji Okoso, as saying, "If he wants to play at a higher level, then that's his wish."
Darvish later tweeted that reports of his asking to be posted are false, and that no decision has been made. In his seven-year career, Darvish, who is listed as 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, is 93-38 with an ERA of 2.12. In 2011, he struck out 276 batters in 232 innings and walked just 35.
"We know the talent is real," said a baseball executive who also has scouted Darvish. "And I'm sure 30 teams have scouted him and all 30 of them love Darvish. But how many will be serious bidders?"
Under the Japanese posting system, if a player's request is granted, all interested major league teams submit sealed bids to the team that owns the player's rights. If the bid is accepted, the MLB team has an exclusive 30-day window to negotiate with the player.
The highest posting fee ever paid was the $51 million bid by the Boston Red Sox for the right to negotiate with Daisuke Matsuzaka, who eventually signed a six-year, $52 million contract, pushing Boston's investment in the pitcher to $103 million.
In return, Matsuzaka has gone 46-27 with a 4.18 ERA in five seasons, and missed most of 2011 after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
Cashman, who on Thursday was set for a second day of organizational meetings with Yankees scouting and player personnel executives, refused to address specific players, citing baseball's anti-tampering rules.
"We're addressing every area of need on the team," he said. "We're evaluating our own personnel as well as whoever might become available this offseason."
Wallace Matthews covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com.