Darvish ready for major league challenge

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TOKYO, Oct. 18 (23:32) Kyodo

The Yu Darvish sweepstakes are set to begin.

Nippon Ham Fighters ace Darvish, long said to be Japanese
baseball's next biggest export to the majors, is ready to make a move
stateside through the posting system this offseason, Kyodo News
learned through several sources on Tuesday.

The 25-year-old Darvish, the highest paid player in Japanese
baseball at an estimated 500 million yen per season, is expected to
officially ask the Fighters to put him up for bidding after the

Nippon Ham finished second in the Pacific League during the
regular season and will meet the Seibu Lions in the first stage of
the Climax Series starting Oct. 29 -- when Darvish will take the hill
at Sapporo Dome.

The Fighters are likely to grant Darvish his request.

''If he wants to play at a higher level, then that's his wish,''
Nippon Ham owner Hiroji Okoso said.

''It's really up to him,'' a source at the team said. ''That was
the conclusion they reached after a series of talks.''

The earliest that Darvish, who has spent all seven seasons of
his career with the Fighters, can qualify for overseas free agency is

This season, the 1.96-meter right-hander is 18-6 in 28 starts
with a miniscule 1.44 ERA -- the fifth straight year in which he has
had a sub-2.00 ERA.

A winner of the 2009 World Baseball Classic, Darvish also has
276 strikeouts in 232 innings, both tops in the PL. He has been
linked with several major league teams in the past, among them the
New York Yankees.

Last offseason, the Rakuten Eagles put up Hisashi Iwakuma for
bidding, which was won by the Oakland Athletics. Iwakuma and Oakland,
however, failed to strike a deal, sending the right-hander back to
Rakuten for this season.

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