Something a trifle unusual even by the capricious standards of baseball's hot-stove season took place over this past weekend, and it involved a player with whom few Rangers fans were even faintly acquainted just 48 hours ago. Early Saturday afternoon, FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal reported that the Rangers "may be" the high bidders for Japanese right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma -- a fleeting supposition that Rosenthal himself quickly retracted, as he soon thereafter implied in a full-length column that the Athletics may instead have won the bidding war for the right to negotiate a contract with Iwakuma.
And now, as of early Monday morning, we know that (a) Iwakuma's parent team, the Rakuten Golden Eagles, will accept the highest submitted bid since it apparently exceeded their reserve (minimum) price for acceptance, and (b) Iwakuma's agent is making cryptic allusions to the Athletics on Twitter, suggesting that they placed the prevailing bid over the Rangers and Mariners. If this ultimately proves to be the case, we will have witnessed the entire life cycle of an off-season rumor in a single weekend, and that rumor will have failed to bear any fruit for the Rangers, but if nothing else I will have derived a lesson about false certainty and drawing conclusions about relatively unknown quantities.
Here's the thing: We know that the Rangers -- with special assistance from Pacific Rim operations director Jim Colborn -- have been seriously involved on any number of Japanese pitchers in the last few years, including Iwakuma, and know that they would not have submitted a bid if they were not serious about winning. We know Iwakuma's NPB-side statistics (which are predictably stout, but there is not yet a clear consensus on the optimal translation method), and we know some stuff about his pitch mix based on a three-game Pitch f/x sample from last year's World Baseball Classic and a (less accurate) collection of NPB pitch data. We also know that he has dealt with some scattered elbow/shoulder problems, but nothing that has been a significant issue in the last 2-3 years or so.
And that's about it. It's incredible, really. Over the life of a presumed four-year deal ($15-plus million posting fee inclusive), there's a good chance Iwakuma will nail down between $10-12 million on an average annual basis ... but in exchange for what, exactly? I've read virtually every decent assessment of Iwakuma out there, and they all sound well and good, but none of them impart enough information for me to independently formulate my own opinion as to whether signing Iwakuma for a total sum approaching $50 million is a judicious use of funds. And to that end, I take some amount of issue with those who believe they can label his potential under the guise of certainty, or those who in any way despair/take comfort in the fact that the Rangers likely won't sign him. Those analysts who acknowledge these enormous limitations -- including Patrick Newman -- are ahead of 95 percent of the rest of us. The best you can really do with somebody like Iwakuma is make educated, but heavily qualified guesses.
Aside from that digression, the most interesting aspect of the Rangers' involvement on Iwakuma is that it signals their desire to go out and acquire pitching right now, irrespective of their pursuit of Cliff Lee. The one thing that would ratchet up the complexity of the Rangers' off-season a bit would be Lee defecting to New York, because if that comes to pass, they're caught in a situation where the acquisition of additional pitching is a virtual must if they harbor serious title aspirations in 2011. You likely need one-mid rotation arm at a bare minimum, and preferably an upper-tier arm ... and I guess if there's any problem with finally being a good team, it's that the sense of urgency to sustain that quality and acquire needed pieces is as great as it can ever possibly be.