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12/20/11 12:30 AM EST

Darvish a worthwhile gamble for Texas

Japanese righty would add star power to Rangers' rotation

There's your counter-punch, Angels. He's six years younger than C.J. Wilson, throws a bit harder and has put up eye-popping numbers in Japan.

Hey, this is getting fun. If this keeps up, the American League West is going to take us on a wild ride next summer. And isn't that the way it should be?

Maybe you heard that the Los Angeles Angels have almost clinched the offseason pennant with the dramatic signings of Albert Pujols and Wilson.

After missing the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time in a decade, the Angels sent a stunning message to their fans that they intend to write a different ending in 2012.

In luring Wilson away from the Rangers, they changed the divisional balance of power by 223 innings and 206 strikeouts.

When the deal was done, Wilson went on the radio in Dallas and told Rangers fans that their club really hadn't even tempted him to stay.

Did that mean Nolan Ryan and Jon Daniels had something else up their sleeves? Or did it mean they simply weren't willing to match the five-year, $75 million deal the Angels offered?

Perhaps, they'd reached their payroll limit. Or maybe they believed they still had enough pitching to win the AL West again.

They certainly had depth, with Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, Scott Feldman, Alexi Ogando and Neftali Feliz competing for five spots.

Indeed, that rotation may end up being terrific -- even without another addition. But on paper, it didn't come close to having the star power of Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, Ervin Santana and Wilson.

Until Monday night, that is. The Rangers won the rights to negotiate with 25-year-old Japanese right-hander Yu Darvish with a $51.7 million bid. Now, they've got 30 days to negotiate a contract.

He's a huge gamble because the roadside is littered with Japanese pitching stars who didn't have the same success in the United States.

Regardless, virtually every scout who has watched him -- either on video or in person -- has raved about his stuff, control, poise, you name it.

He could be good enough for the Rangers to survive the loss of Wilson without slowing down. In 232 innings last season, Darvish struck out 276 and walked 33. His fastball has clocked consistently in the 92-95-mph range, and his changeup and breaking pitch are very, very solid.

He has rock-star status in Japan, so he's accustomed to the pressure that comes with pitching big games.

At 6-foot-5, 215 pounds and with a big, easy motion, he seems to throw 95 mph with little effort. Again, though, he's a gamble.

When all is said and done, the Rangers almost certainly will have more than $100 million invested in Darvish -- and that's money they could have used to sign, say, Hiroki Kuroda, Roy Oswalt or Ryan Madson.

On the other hand, it seems silly to second-guess anything Daniels does. In six seasons, he has transformed a terrible farm system into one of baseball's best, and constructed a team that will be trying to win a third straight AL pennant next season.

He has made so many right calls the last few years, and has surrounded himself with so many good people, that the endorsement of Darvish speaks volumes.

And there's Ryan, who knows a thing or two about pitching.

There could be some tough negotiations between the Rangers and Darvish in the days ahead. But a divisional race that was already interesting, got cranked up a bit more on Monday night.

If the Rangers end up getting Darvish for, say, $60 million over the next five years, that would be a mere $7 million a year more than they would have paid C.J. Wilson -- even after the $51.7 million posting fee is factored in.

After the Angels grabbed Pujols, there was wall-to-wall speculation the Rangers might counter by making a run at Prince Fielder.

If they're interested, they've declined to say. The Mariners, Cubs and Blue Jays appear to be the leaders in the Fielder sweepstakes. But the Rangers weren't widely considered favorites in the Darvish auction, either.

It just doesn't seem possible they'd sign both Darvish AND Fielder. Just in case, stay tuned.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.