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braves_sign_yu_darvish_-_6_yrs120_million-2 | April | 2009 Articles

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Braves Sign Yu Darvish -- 6 yrs/$120 million

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Though he had previously stated that he would not pitch in the major leagues, 22-year old Japanese phenom Yu Darvish has signed with the Atlanta Braves. Fresh off of winning the World Baseball Classic, he declared that Japanese baseball was not enough of a challenge for him, and he wanted to break Hideo Nomo's record of two no-hitters and 123 wins by a Japanese-born pitcher.

"He might be the best pitcher alive," says Bobby Valentine, former manager of the New York Mets and current manager of the Chiba Lotte Marines. "Explosive fastball, incredible command, devastating hammer. He makes Clayton Kershaw look like Livan Hernandez."

Darvish said his decision to come to Atlanta was influenced by the presence of his old friend Kenshin Kawakami. Darvish grew up in the shadow of the accomplishments of the older Kawakami, but they met at a Cheap Trick concert in Shibuya and became fast friends, trading shuuto grips and green tea ice cream recipes. They faced one another in the 2006 Japan Series, in which Kawakami's Chunichi Dragons beat Darvish's Nippon Ham Fighters.

In a press conference after the Series, Kawakami said, "This series was the epitome of all that I have striven for as a sportsman, and Darvish is one of the greatest pitchers that I have had the honor to face. I know that in another contest he may emerge the victor; I am fortunate that the Dragons are today the champions." Darvish said, "Kawakami is the true embodiment of grace on the baseball field. I hope that I will continue to face him for many years to come."

Kawakami signed with the Braves on January 13, 2009, and Wren tendered a secret offer to Darvish shortly thereafter. After arriving in Atlanta, Kawakami was designated as the go-between, and he made several flights back to Japan to try to convince his old friend, and to convince the Fighters to accept a posting fee for Darvish's services. Finally, the deal closed a few days before the 2009 baseball season. The Nippon Ham Fighters will receive a posting fee of $60 million, and Darvish will receive $60 million over 6 years -- a sum comparable to that received by Daisuke Matsuzaka, who had a much longer and more distinguished career in Japan than Darvish.

"Right now," Bobby Valentine says, "his stuff is probably sharper than Daisuke's."

With the move, Kawakami becomes the Braves' fifth starter, while Darvish steps in as the fourth. Tom Glavine is believed to be considering a move to the bullpen. "Any time you can get a guy who helps you win, you get that guy," said Glavine. "I'm excited about our team this year, and I want us to win."

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