I want to get something out of the way first. I don't care who owns the Mariners. We all know how those arguments go, and that isn't what I want to talk about.
Now that being said, I think the Mariners should seriously consider bidding on Yu Darvish.
For anyone who hasn't been paying attention, the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters posted Darvish last week and will be accepting bids from MLB teams for the rights to negotiate with him until Wednesday. Darvish has been the best pitcher in Japan over the last couple of years and last season he posted an ERA of 1.44 over 232 innings. He throws a 4-seam fastball in the mid 90s in addition to 5 or 6 other pitches depending on who you ask (presumably he will cut down his repertoire once he comes to the U.S.). He also has great control, walking only 36 batters last season while striking out 276. Most importantly in my opinion, Darvish is younger than most Japanese players who go through the posting process and will be entering his age 25 season this year (his birthday is in August).So I guess what I'm getting at is that Darvish is pretty good (at least in Japan), but why do I think the M's should go after him? The obvious objection here is that starting pitching is not a weakness of the M's right now and a lot of people would rather see them pursue a bat like Prince Fielder if they are going to commit to a big time free agent. I don't disagree that the M's biggest weakness is their offense and that fixing that should be the ultimate goal but I think Darvish may provide the best possible opportunity to fix the offense and may be a uniquely good fit for the M's on top of it.
First, the Mariners are currently sitting on some excellent, young, starting pitching. With Felix and Pineda already in the Majors and guys like Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, and Taijuan Walker in the minors starting pitching is already the clear strength of the Mariners organization. By adding Darvish to that group the M's could put themselves in a very good position to pursue the bats they need by dealing some of that young pitching while still retaining enough to field one of the best rotations in the league. I personally become a lot less hostile to the idea of trading Pineda or Walker if the M's still have Darvish behind Felix.
The second reason I think Darvish could make sense here, as I've already eluded to, is his age. At 25, Darvish is only a few months younger than Felix. In addition to those two, much of the young core the M's have assembled over the last couple years are also entering their mid 20s. Smoak just turned 25, Carp is 25, Seager is 24, Ackley is about to turn 24, and Pineda is about to turn 23. If the Mariners can keep that core of players together (which would probably include giving Felix an enormous contract), add Darvish, and add another bat or two by dealing some of their young pitching prospects (possibly even Pineda) I think they have the potential to be a very good team in the near future as all of those players hit their primes at about the same time.
My biggest objection to signing Prince Fielder is that, even at 27, he may be past his prime by the time the rest of the Mariners' young talent reaches theirs, and the hitters who will be reaching free agency in the next couple years (when I think the M's will be at a better point in their rebuild to go after a big bat) are less than inspiring (although you never know for sure). Because of that, I think the best way for the M's to improve their offense is through trades. By going after Darvish, the M's could add an impact free agent, and set themselves up to improve the offense through the trade market.
Darvish is going to be expensive, possibly commanding a Dice-K like posting fee, plus a 5-6 year contract big enough to convince him to pass up the ~$10 million he would get in Japan next season (last month on FanGraphs, Dave Cameron estimated the total cost of posting fee+contract at around $120 million). Despite the high cost, I still like the M's going after Darvish because I think he is a free agent with the potential to have a major impact who also is a better fit for where the M's are in their rebuild than a guy like Fielder.
There hasn't been much linking the M's to Darvish, and most people seem to think he will wind up in Texas or Boston. Still, if Jack Z and his scouts think Darvish projects as a number 2 or 3 starter in MLB I hope they consider making a serious bid for him.