MLB.com Columnist

Lyle Spencer

Darvish the latest salvo in battle for AL West

Darvish the latest salvo in battle for AL West

ANAHEIM -- Here stands Yu Darvish, suddenly the most interesting man in the baseball world: tall enough to look Nolan Ryan squarely in the eyes, talented enough to discuss similar pitching repertoires and techniques.

That interpretive conversation will be on hold until Ryan, Darvish and the guys in the pinstriped suits determine if Yu becomes a Lone Star Stater at 25, joining an outfit that has appeared in the past two World Series and has the goods to make it a habit.

Darvish to the Rangers is no Blake Griffin slam dunk, in either camp.

Ryan and Co. have a month to sell Darvish on their celestial paradise. Ideally, they would prefer to get it done, one way or the other, as soon as possible. If Darvish, with sound financial reasons to do so, elects to remain in Japan for two more years, Texas might want to move on to other targets.

Dropping one Prince Fielder into the middle of that beastly Rangers lineup would diminish at least some of the love the Angels are getting with Albert Pujols, their new superstar brand.

Wherever this drama takes us next, the Rangers and Angels plainly have arrived as the Yankees and Red Sox of the New West, taking their American League West rivalry to unimagined heights.

The seismographs are still humming in Southern California and in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, picking up aftershocks from activities surrounding this hitter from the Dominican Republic and that pitcher from Japan.

The National Pastime has never felt more international.

If Texas adds Darvish to its young and gifted rotation, no confrontation in 2012 will offer more fascination than the mysterious Rangers right-hander matched against the Angels' legendary slugger.

Having posted the largest known refundable deposit in sports history -- a $51.7 million winning bid -- for the opportunity to negotiate with Darvish, Ryan and his people have shown how serious they are about this.

If and when the deal is signed and sealed, Darvish figures to cost the Rangers over the next five or six years several million less on an annual basis than the $25.4 million the Angels have committed to Pujols for 10 years.

Which of the two mind-bending maneuvers is the more stunning? The decision here goes to the Rangers.

Pujols' free-agent bonanza, negotiated and nailed down by Angels owner Arte Moreno in personal fashion, is surpassed only by the Yankees' $275 million, 10-year union with Alex Rodriguez.

Yet Darvish's potential windfall is more surprising -- given the uncertain nature of his game and the variables, in general, with respect to pitchers.

First basemen can virtually last forever, especially with the designated-hitter role to lean on, as is now the case with Pujols. Pitchers live one pop or tear away from uncertainty.

The Rangers are convinced Darvish is the whole truth and nothing but, an extraordinary talent with the mechanics to endure well. Their pitching expertise, from president Ryan to consultant Greg Maddux and pitching coach Mike Maddux, is unmatched.

But until Darvish throws this American baseball past Major League hitters on a consistent basis, there will be natural skepticism. Other well-advertised pitching phenoms from his land have struggled with the transition.

If Darvish is what Texas believes he is -- the pitching equivalent of the incomparable Ichiro -- its investment will be applauded.

With Pujols, the best player of his generation, the only question is how long he can continue to punish pitching staffs and play Gold Glove defense.

He said he feels he can play until he's 45. If he's that optimistic and upbeat about all things, he'll be hugely popular in his new clubhouse.

There are so many twists to this Rangers-Angels tale, it's hard to decide which turn to take.

Most intriguing from the Darvish angle is that the Rangers obviously feel he's a better long-term bet than C.J. Wilson, their ace in 2011, who now belongs to their rivals.

Showing you can go home again, especially if someone proposes to the tune of $77.5 million for five years, Wilson jumped ship on the same "Thunderous Thursday" in Dallas at the Winter Meetings that began with Pujols' determination that the Angels were truly irresistible.

Wilson, clearly thrilled to be back in the cool embrace of the Pacific breezes, mentioned at a Hollywood-styled press conference that Pujols' decision made his easier.

Earlier, in a less dramatic move, new Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto hooked LaTroy Hawkins, a valued reliever and clubhouse presence, for one year at $3 million.

Pujols, Wilson and Hawkins are on the other side of 30. The Angels are in World Series-or-bust mode. When Moreno's impending local television deal with FOX for an estimated $2 billion to $2.5 billion across 17 years surfaced, his spending spree became more understandable.

Even so, it had an edge of desperation to it. With a cast largely in its prime or moving past it, the Angels know their window might not be wide open.

The Rangers, conversely, are basically a young crew with a few elder statesmen, such as Michael Young and Adrian Beltre. The farm system is deep, infused with international talent.

The Darvish decision is important, but it's not as if the Rangers become second-class AL West citizens if they don't sign him. They'd still be the favorite, it says here.

From Darvish's point of view, if he returns to Japan for two more seasons, he can become an independent free agent in 2014. That $51.7 million posting fee ticketed for the Nippon Ham Fighters could be rerouted his way in an open market.

An unrestricted free agent at 27, Darvish could choose his destination. Who knows, perhaps he'd want to join Pujols and Wilson in Southern California.

Now wouldn't that add a little more juice to this Clash of the Titans, Western style.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.