After losing C.J. Wilson in free agency to the Angels, Texas may replace him with Japan’s best young pitcher since Hideo Nomo. The Rangers won the bidding to negotiate a contract with Nippon Ham Fighters star Yu Darvish, bidding a record $51.7 million. The bidding from Texas broke the record posting fee Boston paid to win exclusive negotiation with Daisuke Matsuzaka.
Texas had been the favorites all year to win the right to negotiate a contract with Darvish, 25, who went 18-6 with a 1.44 ERA for Nippon last season. In 232 innings, he struck out 276 batters and registered a 0.82 WHIP and could anchor the Rangers rotation next season. Toronto had been considered a frontrunner as well, but came up short.
The Rangers acquired reliever Koji Uehara in a trade from Baltimore in July to bolster its bullpen, but it’s also likely they acquired Uehara and fellow Japanese reliever Yoshinori Tateyama to foster a sense of community with Darvish, who scouts and baseball people alike knew would come to the major leagues for several years already.
It certainly fills a gigantic hole in the Rangers rotation if they are able to negotiate a contract with Darvish. However, Darvish could command an extraordinarily large salary especially given his sustained success in Japan. He could command a $70 million contract over five years in addition to the posting fee. If Texas cannot within 30 days, the money and Darvish’s rights return to Nippon.
Louisville Impressively Manhandles Memphis
The team with the most impressive win of the weekend has to be the Louisville Cardinals. Rick Pitino’s club fought off a hard charging Memphis team 95-87 Saturday at the Yum! Center behind the slick and fluid play of PG Peyton Siva and a deep and imposing front line well suited to endure the rigors of an 18 game Big East schedule. Gorgui Deng put up 14 and 14 with six blocks, Rakeem Buckles put up 12 and six in just 13 minutes and Russ Smith was sensational.
Josh Pastner’s Memphis club is still very talented and the C-USA favorites but they couldn’t keep up on Saturday. Will Barton may only be 6’6 and weigh 175 pounds, but he attacks the glass and the rim like someone a lot taller and more athletic. He scored 28 points, grabbed 16 rebounds and went to the line 19 times. He’s going to be a dangerous player in March.
Orange Depth Squeezes NC State
Mark Gottfried has to be pleased with the way his NC State Wolfpack played at home on Saturday against top ranked Syracuse, but the Orange’s depth and athleticism proved too much in the 18-point verdict brought down in Raleigh. Dion Waiters had the game of his career and Jim Boeheim’s team showed how quickly it could reel off a dominant run, ending the first half on a 26-4 surge, including a stretch of over seven minutes when Syracuse outscored NC State 23-0. Credit the Wolfpack for cutting a 14-point halftime lead to two less than four minutes into the second half, but the ‘Cuse staved off the home side’s challenge and won its lone true road game before the start of conference play.
Thoughts & Theories
-The Summit League is hardly known as a conference full of world beaters, but the weekend brought a pair of huge surprises. It started off with Oral Roberts’ shocking 64-42 win over eighth ranked Xavier and ended with South Dakota State’s 94-72 upset over Washington, looking dominant at times against Lorenzo Romar’s Huskies.
-Texas A&M is a strong team and will be among the top teams in the Big 12, but Florida is currently on another level. Fresh off a well deserved contract extension, Gators head coach Billy Donovan led an extremely impressive 84-64 win against the Aggies, with Kenny Boynton leading the way with 22 points, 18 of those on three-pointers. Erving Walker and Ray Allen clone Bradley Beal added 16 each in the win.
-The strength of the better mid-major conferences is usually a cyclical process, and it appears that it’s the Missouri Valley’s year to have a banner year after the Mountain West (led by Jimmer Freddette and BYU and Kawhi Leonard and San Diego State) and Atlantic 10 ruled 2011. After winning Arch Madness and winning the Valley tournament title last year, the Sycamores of Indiana State showed it could still play with its major conference foes, pulling an upset of a clearly overrated Vanderbilt side. Combine Indiana State with strong teams like Creighton, Wichita State and Northern Iowa and you have a potential for three or four teams to reach the NCAA Tournament from the MVC.
-Speaking of the Mountain West, UNLV is its top team this year and it followed a win over UNC with an impressive road win, handing Illinois its first loss in convincing fashion.
-Speaking of Big 10 teams, Indiana proved its win over Kentucky was no fluke, getting a double-digit neutral site win over Notre Dame behind 21 from Cody Zeller.
A New But Familiar Team On Top
Chicago jumped out to a 3-0 lead over Calgary on Sunday night on their way to a 4-2 win, its fifth straight, to jump to the top of the league standings. Marian Hossa scored his 15th of the season and Patrick Kane scored his ninth in coach Joel Quenneville’s 600th career win.
Johnathan Toews added an assist for the Blackhawks, and said “we’re building our confidence every game. The last couple of games, we’ve distanced ourselves a little bit.” A 4-1 home win over Anaheim on Friday followed a huge shootout win over Minnesota, who carried the mantle of the conference’s top team until the 2010 Stanley Cup champions just wrested that claim away from the Wild on Sunday.
Patrick Sharp added an assist for the Hawks, running his consecutive points streak to nine games. Chicago is 7-1-1 in those games, with both losses ironically coming to Phoenix.
However, the win over the Flames did not come without sacrifice. Defenseman Brent Seabrook left the game with 4:35 remaining in the first period after he was sent head-first into the boards by Calgary F Rene Bourque. Seabrook did not return and was diagnosed with ”an undisclosed upper body injury.” It is feared that the 26-year-old suffered a concussion.
“He seemed not bad after the game,” Quenneville said. “It was precautionary.”
Despite the potentially serious injury to Seabrook, Chicago is playing some excellent hockey and find themselves atop the league standings 33 games into the season.
Team of the Week- New Jersey Devils-
It’s always difficult to play four games in six days. But to win them all, including games against contenders Florida and Dallas to go with victories over veteran laden teams like Tampa Bay and Montreal? It makes the feat all the more impressive for New Jersey, whose streak vaulted them into sixth place in a crowded Eastern Conference. Zach Parise has eight points over the four-game span, including a four point performance in Friday’s 6-3 win over the Stars. Ilya Kovalchuk has seven points over the four games, including three straight two-point games, and Patrik Elias has six points in his last four. It’s certainly a surprising offensive awakening for the Devils which they hope to continue into Tuesday’s rivalry match against the Rangers.
Forward of the Week- Zach Parise, New Jersey Devils
The Devils scored at least four goals only five times in its first 28 games. In its last four games, New Jersey has scored at least four goals in three of them. Parise is a major reason why. He registered eight points over the four games with a +6 and 18 shots on goals, staying impressively active on the offensive end.
Goalie of the Week- Tim Thomas, Boston Bruins
Thomas saved what perhaps was his best performance of the season for Saturday’s big game against the potent Philadelphia offense. Thomas stopped all 31 Flyers shots in a convincing 6-0 rout. On Thursday in Ottawa, Thomas faced an enormous barrage of Senators shots, stopping 47 of the 49 he faced in a 5-2 victory. Thomas’ week beat out an impressive week of games from Nashville’s Pekka Rinne, who gets honorable mention.
Top Five Power Poll
1) Chicago Blackhawks (5)- The team’s five-game winning streak, including a win over previous number one Minnesota, gives Chicago the respect they deserve.
2) Boston Bruins (3)- Their crushing win over Philadelphia and a four game winning streak moves the B’s up one spot in the power poll.
3) Philadelphia Flyers (2)- Losing Chris Pronger for the season and still having Claude Giroux on the shelf could mean the team’s stay in the top five could soon come to and end.
4) Minnesota Wild (1)- Three straight losses, including one to the lowly Islanders, brings Minnesota back to reality and forces a rookie coach to adjust as the season progresses.
5) St. Louis Blues (N/R)- Brian Elliot is playing like a Vezina-caliber goaltender and the Blues have won seven of 10.
Games To Watch
Monday- A big Northwest Division battle could also serve as a playoff preview as Minnesota looks to stop its three game losing streak against Vancouver, who has won seven of 10 to get back into the Western Conference playoff picture.
Tuesday- Besides for the aforementioned Rangers-Devils game in Newark, Chicago’s first game as the league’s top team comes against the Penguins. No biggie.
Arizona has reportedly improved its lineup with the signing of outfielder Jason Kubel to a two-year contract with a third year option, according to Ken Rosenthal. Kubel will get $15 million, according to CBS’ Jon Heyman.
Kubel spent the first seven years of his career with Minnesota and is a career .271 hitter. Kubel hit .273/.332/.434 with 12 homers and 58 RBI’s in 401 plate appearances and 99 games in pitcher friendly Target Field in 2011. A move to hitter’s haven Chase Field could help those power numbers, as could a healthy and potent Diamondbacks lineup including Justin Upton, Miguel Montero, Chris Young, Stephen Drew, Aaron Hill and Paul Goldschmidt. Kubel will probably start in LF with Gerardo Parra being the fourth outfielder, according to Rosenthal.
Arizona has already spent much of its offseason improving its pitching, orchestrating a trade for Oakland starter Trevor Cahill to form an imposing rotation trio with Ian Kennedy and Dan Hudson, and signing Takashi Saito from Milwaukee to be the setup man for closer JJ Putz.
After signing Josh Willingham from the A’s to replace the departed Michael Cuddyer, who signed with Colorado, Minnesota will likely look internally to replace Kubel. With Willingham in right field and the speedy Denard Span in center field, still on the team despite numerous trade overtures from Washington, young speedster Ben Revere will start in left field with Kubel gone. Revere played 117 games last season and stole 34 bases despite a measly .310 on base percentage. A healthy Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau should more than replace Kubel’s power production Minnesota will lose.