Yes, I'll get to the obligatory Darvish crap in a minute. We all know why you are here. A headline signaling the obvious is unnecessary. First, I want to talk about me because I'm a narcissist (but I'm also an existential nihilist, so go figure that out).
Recently, I ran into an old friend from the media at a funeral who asked me why I quit writing about the Rangers and I told him that one day I just came to the realization that I had nothing to say -- really hadn't ever had anything to say -- on the subject that was worth the effort. It was a very liberating revelation.
Christmas week is normally pretty quiet in the world of civil litigation, and this week has given me ample time to scour the web and surf both radio and television channels, becoming fully immersed in Yumania. The reaction has ranged from asinine, to ridiculous to -- best case scenario -- missing the point. I wish I better understood the character flaw that prevents me from tuning out from crap that drives me crazy, but the more I read, watched and listened, the more I wanted. As I have been frequently frustrated and infuriated by the discussion of this topic, I have been comforted by the fact that I didn't have to write about it myself.
And then Joey asked me to pinch hit for him today, so here goes.
An overwhelming percentage of the local narrative on this week's big news has been about money. It's 4:30 in the morning and as I look out the window, I can see that my friend and neighbor Ben Rogers is still running through the streets pumping his fists in the air screaming "the Rangers owners have big boy money! They have BIG BOY MONEY!!!" Meanwhile, there is the camp that is already panning the Rangers historic expenditure as a waste of money for all sorts of ridiculous reasons. People have even suggested that the Rangers bid on Darvish was some sort of a "departure" from their organizational model. I disagree completely.
Maybe every major sports market is perpetually bogged down in a mind-numbing narrative about money, but for some reason this seems like a somewhat peculiar trait of the Dallas / Fort Worth market which makes no sense to me, given what Jon Daniels and the Texas Rangers have done over the past five years.
To some degree, I get it. This was a lot of money and for several years, an outlay by of this magnitude by the Rangers was unthinkable.
But the story here is not really about the money. That is a secondary issue. This story is really about the very thing that turned this organization around: professional scouting.
The Daniels-era Texas Rangers are very, very, very good at talent evaluation. They are "scary smart" says Baseball Prospectus author Kevin Goldstein. The Rangers enjoy enormous success in this area because they have very smart, talented people, but they also excel in this department because they outwork everyone.
When the Rangers traded John Danks and Nick Masset to the White Sox for Brandon McCarthy, one of the reasons that I panned that deal immediately was that the Rangers had proven to be absolutely horrible at talent evaluation over the preceding four or five years and the pro scouting wing of the department was especially woeful. In that sort of a deal, I could comfortably guess that the White Sox had evaluated the players involved in the deal more accurately than the Rangers had.
How times have changed. Now, when the Rangers make a pro acquisition I immediately assume that they evaluated the players involved better than everyone else did. They have earned that benefit of the doubt at this point.
Even moreso than excellence in the amateur scouting department (the excellence of which sort of remains to be seen, notwithstanding the consistently high rankings of the farm system), the emergence of the Rangers over the past five years has been the direct result of excellence by the pro scouting department which has netted the two-time AL Pennant winners Nelson Cruz, Josh Hamilton, Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, Alexi Ogando, David Murphy, Matt Harrison and -- significantly -- fished Colby Lewis 2.0 out of Japan.
The Rangers pro scouting group knew that the prevailing narrative about "contract year" Adrian Beltre was inaccurate and that he was, in fact, very likely to continue to put together years like his 2010 season in Boston. (Michael Young himself was a product of keen pro scouting, but that was when Jon Daniels was a first-year junior executive with Allied Domecq, so we'll make Mikey Ballgame a parenthetical addition to this list).
I'm not sure I think of a better example of the excellence of the Rangers' pro scouting department than seeing Mike Napoli hiding in plain sight. Can you?
It is nice for a club to have owners who can throw down $52 million for the right to talk to a player, but it's much, much nicer for a club to have made a total commitment to developing and nurturing a scouting department that is deadly at identifying players whose best days are ahead of them and the Daniels-era Rangers have proven that they have that.
The imminent Darvish acquisitioin is more of the same. It's easy to focus on the money, but I suggest that what you ought to focus on is the process that led the Rangers to make that kind of an investment.
The Rangers have been the leader among MLB clubs in developing an Asian scouting department with Jim Colborn -- who pitched and coached in Japan -- leading the way and full-time Japan scout Joe Furakawa and executives A.J. Preller and Josh Boyd involved, putting not one, not two but many sets of eyes on players in Asia. These are the people who brought you Colby Lewis 2.0 ... and aren't you glad they did?
No organization was better prepared to properly evaluate Yu Darvish than the Texas Rangers. No other club had a scout at every one of his starts. I doubt that any other club put as many different sets of trained eyes on him as often as the Rangers did. And what they came up with was an evaluation that -- according to the DMN's Evan Grant -- Darvish was the single best player available this offseason.
As most people with any sense whatsoever have correctly pointed out already, comparing Darvish to his predecessors among Japanese expats in MLB or projecting his future performance on the basis of their MLB performance is completely asinine.
In my mind, the more valuable context in which to view and evaluate this (impending) acquisition is in the context of this organization's recent track record of professional scouting and talent evaluation. I understand that this is circular reasoning to some degree -- if the Rangers think it is a good idea, then it is a good idea because the Rangers think it is a good idea -- but back when they were consistently wrong about talent evaluation (McCarthy > Danks & Masset; Eaton & Otsuka > Adrian Gonzalez & Chris Young; handing out ace contracts to non-aces CHoP and Millwood; Einar Diaz as catcher of the future; etc.) it was always a pretty safe bet that their most significant professional scouting decisions would turn out very poorly.
Our old near-and-dear friend Jason Parks made the point not long ago that it is silly for Rangers fans to get too worked up about trading away talented prospects and their impending six years of cheap labor for temprorary MLB help on the grounds that this organization, as currently constructed and operated, will continue to feed the system with outstanding talent. Prospects, he essentially argued, are not a finite resource as long as the Rangers organization continues to make the commitment to amateur scouting that brought the likes of Joe Wieland, Robbie Erlin, Pedro Strop, Martin Perez, etc. into the system in the first place. As a long-time prospectophile, I had always instinctively winced at suggestions of giving up prospects for veteran help. That piece, more than anything I have read in the past five years, tilted me back to a more level-headed place with respect to that topic.
This is, in a sense, a version of Parks's argument. This organization -- and this pro scouting department in particular-- isn't batting 1.000 in talent evaluation and procurement. None ever have and none ever will, but their strike rate of late has been quite staggering and when it comes to something as potentially franchise-altering as a likely total outlay of $130 million for a 25 year old pitcher (just seven weeks older than Derek Holland) you can feel a pretty high degree of confidence that they got it right.
Bob Simpson and Ray Davis do. And while he may be gnashing his teeth a bit over this, Nolan Ryan -- who put his foot down on spending $150 million on Cliffy last winter -- obviously has enough confidence in the Rangers scouting process to give this the green light.