ARLINGTON -- The Rangers, with their committed ownership group signaling full-speed ahead, are on the clock with Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish and have 30 days to sign him to a Major League contract.The Rangers earned the right to negotiate with Darvish by submitting a winning bid of approximately $51.7 million that was accepted by the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters. The Rangers deadline is 4 p.m. CT on Jan. 18. If they can't sign Darvish by then, he returns to the Fighters and the Rangers do not lose the $51.7 million posting fee. The Rangers go into the process fully committed to signing Darvish, a 25-year-old right-handed pitcher who is considered one of the best pitchers to ever attempt to make the transition from Japan to the Major Leagues. "Obviously this is a very exciting night for our organization, for our fans and for our community," general manager Jon Daniels said in a conference call an hour after Major League Baseball officially announced the Rangers had submitted the winning bid. "This is just the first step in the process, but an important one," Daniels said. "It's one that we hope will lead to signing Yu Darvish to a contract, but we understand the negotiations are just beginning. Our ownership group went the extra mile to support us on this." Darvish could command a contract somewhere between the six-year, $52.6 million contract that the Red Sox signed Daisuke Matsuzaka to in 2006, and the five-year, $77.5 million contract that C.J. Wilson agreed to with the Angels earlier this month. It's almost certain that the Rangers' total investment in Darvish will go well over $100 million. That seems much further than the Rangers were willing to go to re-sign Wilson, their 31-year-old left-hander who was their Pitcher of the Year in the past two seasons. "At this point, it's still a negotiation," Daniels said. "To compare Darvish to other players is premature. It goes back to the fact that we are looking for any opportunity to improve our ballclub in the short-term and the long-term. We looked at this as an opportunity that would be a good fit for us." Darvish was 18-6 with a 1.44 ERA and 276 strikeouts in 28 games for the Nippon Ham Fighters in 2011. He pitched 232 innings and it was his fifth straight season with an ERA under 2.00. He has won three strikeout and two ERA titles in Japan. He has also twice been named the Most Valuable Player of the Pacific League. "His abilities and accomplishments are pretty well-documented," Daniels said. The Rangers have scouted Darvish extensively over the past three years. Daniels even traveled to Japan last summer to see him pitch, although he said that he relied more on the recommendation of scouts who watched him pitch the majority of his games in 2011. "We've got a lot of great scouts in our organization, a lot of guys whose evaluations I trust more than my own," Daniels said. "We knew this was someone we might get involved with. "It's all about the big picture, regardless of who you are talking about, how he fits into what we're doing right now, how does he fit later and how does this impact what we might do later. We are very fortunate to have an ownership group that is very supportive of what we're trying to do." The Rangers, who have already signed closer Joe Nathan, will likely hold off doing anything else major this offseason until they know if they can sign Darvish. That probably includes trade discussions with other teams and almost certainly underscores their already-stated intention of not getting involved with free-agent first baseman Prince Fielder. "It definitely has an impact on other things," Daniels said. "We entered the process knowing that." The Rangers have also begun negotiations with some of their own players on long-term contract extensions, including outfielder Josh Hamilton, second baseman Ian Kinsler and pitcher Derek Holland. Hamilton can be a free agent after the 2012 season, but the Rangers appear close on a five-year contract with Holland. Discussions with multiple players will continue, although Daniels said he's not sure how those negotiations will be affected by any potential contract with Darvish. "We haven't signed the player, so we don't know what the investment will be," Daniels said. "We've had several conversations with guys and some are farther along than others. We will continue to have those discussions." Darvish would join a team with a set rotation of Holland, Colby Lewis, Matt Harrison, Alexi Ogando and Neftali Feliz with Scott Feldman in reserve. The Rangers also have several top pitching prospects getting close in left-hander Martin Perez and right-hander Neil Ramirez. If the Rangers are able to reach an agreement with Darvish, it will likely force them to move one of their other starters either during the winter or Spring Training. Lewis could be the likely candidate to trade since he is at least four years older than the other four starters and can be a free agent after the 2012 season. "We haven't signed anybody yet," Daniels said. "As we sit right now, our rotation is unchanged. If we sign Darvish, we will have a very good problem. We have a lot of accomplished pitchers in our rotation. We'll sit down and sort through them." Darvish is represented by agents Don Nomura and Arn Tellem. "We were pleased to learn that the Texas Rangers were the high bidders for Yu Darvish," Tellem said. "The Rangers are an extraordinary franchise in an exceptional city with equally exceptional fans. Yu is honored to be prized so highly and recognized as a once-in-a-generation pitcher. We look forward to getting negotiations under way."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.