21-year-old right-hander Stephen Strasburg, the prospect of the decade, a once-in-a-generation talent, signed a 4-year/$15.1 million dollar contract in August of 2009. The deal, the largest ever given to a draft pick, included a $7.5 million dollar signing bonus. Less than six months later in January of 2010, then-21-year-old amateur free agent Aroldis Chapman signed a 6-year/$30.25 million dollar deal with the Cincinnati Reds which included a $16.25 million dollar signing bonus. The Washington Nationals gave Strasburg a record deal, and were reportedly willing to go as high as 5-years and $25 million to sign the Cuban lefty Chapman, falling short by a year of what the Reds had offered. "'We had the second-highest offer on the table,'" Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo told Washington Post reporter Thomas Boswell at the time. "[Rizzo] paused and added, 'We thought it was first,'" Mr. Boswell wrote.
Washington Post writer Chico Harlan added to his colleague's report, noting in the article that, "At least five members of Washington's front office -- Jay Robertson (special assistant to the GM), Johnny DiPuglia (director of international scouting), Kasey McKeon (director of player procurement), Bill Singer (director of pro scouting) and Ron Schueler (special advisor to the GM) -- had scouted Chapman," and the GM saw him pitch twice in private workouts.
Asked what it was about Chapman that warranted the interest and that sort of contract offer, the Nats' general manager told the Washington Post's Mr. Boswell, "We see a huge upsided pitcher. 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." Eight months later the Nationals would bid for and sign the next big thing out of Cuba, then 28-year-old right-hander Yunesky Maya.
Washington gave Maya a 4-year/$8 million dollar contract. Speaking at a press conference introducing the pitcher, Rizzo described Maya as the Washington Nationals' "first major international." In the Nationals' official press release, the team noted that Maya was joining, "... the Nationals after a stellar career in the Cuban National Series, which is Cuba's Major League Baseball equivalent," where he had, "...earned Cuba's equivalent of the Cy Young during his final season in his homeland, going 13-4 with seven complete games and a 2.22 ERA."
The Nationals had a "very thorough evaluatory process" Mr. Rizzo continued, "[Maya] was seen I think by five separate scouts on separate occasions, during international competition over the years, most recently during the World Baseball Classic and we had multiple reports on him and we scouted him very in-depth in the Dominican Republic once we got over there."
"In accordance [with] what we preached two years ago when I took over as the general manager," Rizzo told reporters, "Our international efforts, run by Johnny DiPuglia, our Director of International Operations, along with his staff and a deep scouting effort has brought us our first major international signing that we think is going to impact our major league ballclub immediately." The previous August after the Nationals had signed Strasburg, the then-interim-GM had told writers about his plans to expand the Nationals' scouting department.
Asked specifically if the team would expand its operations in the Pacific Rim (defined by the questioner as Japan, Korea and Australia), Rizzo had responded, "Definitely. The Pacific Rim will be a place of focus for us. The Pacific Rim is for, strictly to supplement your major league club. We have, Bill Singer is our coordinator, of the Pacific Rim, ex-major league pitcher, and he goes there several times, at least one per season, some seasons he's gone twice, he's currently getting set to go the World Games that are in Europe this year, and he keeps his finger on the pulse pretty good in the Pacific Rim."
When Yu Darvish was considering asking to be posted last winter, reports surfaced that the Nats were interested in the then-23-year-old right-hander who was dominating Japanese baseball as part of the Nippon-Ham Fighters' rotation. Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore reported in an Nationals Journal Post entitled, "The Nationals could pursue Yu Darvish", at the time that, "Nationals scouts have seen Darvish pitch in person at least nine times, including several games in Japan, and they have been impressed enough to recommend to the front office that he is worth trying to sign."
With the right-hander reportedly considering making the jump to MLB again this winter, and Washington again in the market for a starter, the Nats' GM confirmed that the Nationals were still interested in a recent interview. Rizzo was asked if they had scouted the right-hander recently. "We scout every player that we have interest in. Yu Darvish, specifically, is a player that has a great talent level," Rizzo told reporters, "We've scouted him over the years, I've scouted him personally over the years, our pro scouts have scouted him this year specifically. We've scouted the whole Japanese Professional League as well as every other international league that plays organized baseball."
"As we've always said," Rizzo continued, "We're open to acquire talent in any way, shape or form that we can, and if it's international talent, we're certainly willing to acquire international players." Asked when he last saw Darvish pitch personally, the Nats' GM said, "I haven't seen him pitch for the last two seasons, but we've seen him pitch this year, several times." Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell, who's been tracking the Nationals' interest in Darvish for some time now, wrote in a recent chat that, "...the Nats have been circling Yu Darvish for about five years."
"If you are looking for Nats targets, look at Darvish," the WaPost writer wrote. Darvish reportedly still hasn't decided whether or not he'll ask to be posted. The Nippon Series ends today. A decision by the right-hander will probably follow shortly thereafter. NPB Tracker's Patrick Newman quoted Darvish's father from an article out of Japan this weekend in which he said that it was 50/50 right now if his son stays in Japan or leaves for MLB. Darvish could wait until he's a free agent and maybe get more money, but it would be hard to top the season he just had or the run he's been on the last few years. If he's posted, wIll the Nationals make an offer?
It's not every day you get to add a great talent without surrendering anything but cash. The Nationals' know top-end starters are hard to find. The Nats' scouts thought he was worth pursuing in the past, and the D.C. front office has shown a willingness to spend. Now that he wouldn't even have to be a no.1 with talent like Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann already in Washington's rotation, Darvish might make more sense than ever for the nation's capital's Nats.