How Will The Washington Nationals Find The Starter They're After?

CINCINNATI, OH - JULY 24: Aroldis Chapman #54 of the Cincinnati Reds throws a pitch during the game against the Atlanta Braves at Great American Ball Park at Great American Ball Park on July 24, 2011 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

January 2010. 21-year-old Cuban-born left-hander Aroldis Chapman is available league-wide, having defected from Cuba and become an international free agent. All it will cost the team that signs Chapman is money. No draft pick compensation, just cash. After Chapman signs in Cincinnati, taking a 6-year/$30.25 million dollars deal from the Reds, reports emerge from the D.C. baseball press which say that Washington had been in the hunt and had the second-highest offer on the table. The Nats are said to have offered 5-years and $25 million dollars to Chapman in the hope that he'd be able to join Stephen Strasburg atop the rotation in the nation's capital for the next 5-6 years.

Then-bench coach John McLaren, one of several Nationals' officials who'd scouted the triple-digit fastball throwing left-hander, was impressed with what he saw, and in an interview on MLB Network Radio he'd said that Chapman could likely start off at the Double-A level,  "...just refining his delivery a little bit like Randy (Johnson), but, you know, at this age he's further along than Randy, so, he's a great talent." D.C. GM MIke Rizzo had attended personal workouts with Chapman, "'We had a private workout with him. [General manager] Mike [Rizzo] liked him as much as any young lefthander he's ever seen,'" then-team President Stan Kasten told the Washington Post's Dave Sheinin in an article at the time entitled, "Nats were 'in it to the end' with Chapman [Updated]":

Mike Rizzo: "There's some risk involved, of course, but this was a chance to get a front-of-the-rotation pitcher with an unlimited ceiling. And as you know, No. 1 starters are very difficult to find. Either you develop them ourselves or you pay dearly for them in free agency."

"The #Nationals offered Aroldis Chapman a five-year, $25 million contract. The team was not willing to go a sixth year," MLB.com's Bill Ladson wrote on the Twitter. The Nationals decided what the risk was worth set a limit on what they'd offer and the Reds had outspent them. It was the front office that made the decision with the full support of ownership. "The Lerners allowed us to make a very, very, very attractive offer to him," Rizzo told the Washington Post's Mr. Sheinin. "'We went up to a price point I was comfortable with,'" Rizzo explained, "at the end of the day we fell a bit short."

In anticipation of the next big thing in international pitching becoming available via the posting system that allows Japanese teams to take offers for the right to negotiate with Nippon Professional Baseball players before they become free agents, front offices around the league are discussing what they're comfortable spending on 25-year-old right-hander Yu Darvish should he be posted once the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters' season ends.

Toronto Blue Jays' GM Alex Anthopolous spoke to MLB.com writer Gregor Chisolm about the decision-making process after he made a trip to Japan to see Darvish pitch in late August. "'You just have to come up with a value, like we do with everything," Anthopoulos said of the posting process. 'You take the emotion out of it, you come up with what you're willing to spend on a player.'" 

Anthopolous' Jays, the Yankees, Nats and Orioles were named as teams interested in Darvish in a New York Post article by Anthony McCarron this past week entitled, "Yu Darvish, the pitching sensation from Japan, may be a Yankees option this offseason", and the Texas Rangers are often mentioned as another team that's scouted the right-hander. WFAN in New York's Sweeny Murti spoke to a scout who has seen Darvish pitch, for an article this weekend entitled, "Sweeny: Random Thoughts During The World Series", in which the scout told him, "... that while Darvish is likely to cost #1 starter money (posting fee plus contract), he is probably more of a #2, but that he is definitely worth the interest level."

The Blue Jays and Nationals are also mentioned in a New York Post article by George A. King III and Mike Puma as potential suitors for Darvish. "Toronto and Washington also are believed to be clubs with a high interest in the 25-year-old right-hander," the NY Post writers write, and the speculation from a source they speak to is that, "... the posting fee could be $25 million to $30 million," with a 3-year/$36M dollar deal on top of that offered as a starting point for discussions. SI.com's Jon Heyman wrote yesterday that, "One GM estimated that star Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish would cost a team about $100 million between posting price and salary."

All of this, of course, depends upon Darvish actually becoming available. Following reports earlier in the week that said the right-hander would ask to be posted at the end of the season, the 25-year-old pitcher took to Twitter and his own blog to refute the rumors that a decision had been made. "I haven’t decided anything for myself so nothing can be confirmed," Darvish wrote in the post as translated by NPBTracker's Patrick Newman, before questioning the anonymous sources cited in recent articles. Once Darvish makes his decison, the Nationals, Jays, Rangers, Yankees, Orioles and others will have to decide just how much they're willing to spend on another international pitcher whose talents may or may not translate to the major league game.

Unlike say, C.J. Wilson, however, who SI.com's Jon Heyman's sources speculate could be had for 5-years/$75M, Darvish won't cost the team who signs him compensatory draft picks, an important factor for teams like the Nationals whose 1st Round pick in 2012 (16th overall) isn't protected should they sign a Type-A free agent away from another team. Washington was willing to spend $25M over five years on Aroldis Chapman, who was seen by at least one official with the Nationals as a pitcher who could immediately start at Double-A and eventually work his way to the top of the Nats' rotation after four years pitching in Cuba. Yu Darvish has seven years worth of stats showing what he can do at the highest level of Japanese professional baseball. How high should the Nationals go in their attempts to buy the sort of starter they've so far been unable to find via free agency or trade?

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