Sox' Massive Matsuzaka Bid Was Bold, Not Stupid




CHICAGO--In the aftermath of the Red Sox winning the negotiating rights to Daisuke Matsuzaka, the primary focus was on a single number: $51.1 million. For all the furor over the money involved, everyone lost sight of another important number: 10.

As in, Matsuzaka is one of the top 10 pitchers in the world.

He's 26. Good luck finding a scout who doesn't think he's at least a No. 2 starter and a probable No. 1.

Matsuzaka throws two- and four-seam fastballs, both with velocity that sits in the low 90s and tops out at 97 mph. He also has a curveball, slider, changeup and splitter. All six of those pitches grade as plus pitches at times, and some as plus-plus. As a bonus, he has command and control, as well as a feel for setting up hitters.

He has gone 108-60, 2.95 in eight Japanese big league seasons, with 1,355 strikeouts in 1,403 innings. His K-BB ratio over the last three years is 553-125.

He doesn't shrink from the spotlight, either. He first attracted notice in Japan's national high school tournament in 1998, throwing 250 pitches to win a 17-inning quarterfinal, saving the semifinal and tossing a no-hitter to win the championship game. In two Olympics, he has posted a 2.30 ERA and 45 strikeouts in 43 innings.

Matsuzaka pitched a five-hitter against a team of all-stars from the U.S. majors in 2004. He led Japan to the championship of the inaugural World Baseball Classic last spring, winning MVP honors and all three of his starts.

This isn't Hideki Irabu. Given his age, stuff, polish, track record and makeup, there aren't 10 pitchers poised to make a greater impact than Matsuzaka over the next few years.

I'll concede Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Jake Peavy, Johan Santana and Carlos Zambrano. Matsuzaka can make a case against anyone else.

Will It Truly Be $51.1 Million?

Now let's get back to that bigger number.

The Mets reportedly offered around $40 million and the Yankees topped $30 million. The Red Sox correctly surmised that the blind bidding would far exceed early estimates.

Getting Matsuzaka signed is in the best interests of not only Boston, but also Matsuzaka and his former club, the Seibu Lions. If a deal doesn't happen, Matsuzaka would have to go through the posting process again next year because the Lions control him through 2008. The Lions wouldn't get the posting fee, which exceeded their wildest dreams.

So if Boston's idea of Matsuzaka's contract value differs significantly from that of his agent Scott Boras, Seibu could give back a sizable chunk of cash to make everyone happy. After all, the Orix Blue Wave reportedly refunded most of Ichiro Suzuki's $13.125 million fee.

Furthermore, grabbing Matsuzaka opens up marketing opportunities in Japan. Revenue sharing will cut into the Red Sox' take, but sports economist Andrew Zimbalist told the Boston Globe that the team could bring home $3 million a season.

Through a kickback and new business deals, Boston could wind up recouping more than half the $51.1 million.

Better Deal Than Any Free Agent

At press time, it remained to be seen what kind of contract Matsuzaka will receive. Boras has talked about a three-year deal after which the signing team would relinquish arbitration rights.

For the sake of argument, let's say Matsuzaka signs for five years and $60 million. Assume there's no kickback and the Sox can make $2 million a year through deals in Japan, and the total cost would be five years and roughly $100 million.

That's not an unreasonable deal. If he were a pure free agent who didn't have to be posted, he'd command similar money. The total package would count against baseball's luxury tax, while Boston gets a break on the transfer fee.

Barry Zito reportedly is looking for six years and $96 million on the U.S. free-agent market, and he may get more than that. Teams that lose out on Zito and Jason Schmidt are going to throw tens of millions of dollars at Ted Lilly, Gil Meche, Vicente Padilla and Jeff Suppan. Matsuzaka likely will be a better value.

The Red Sox were bold in putting together their 2004 World Series championship team, but they've been strangely passive since. Last August, they whined about the difficulties of keeping up financially with the Yankees, conveniently ignoring that they have more cash and spend more than the other 28 clubs.

The last time Boston was this aggressive going after a pitcher was in November 1997, when it traded for Pedro Martinez and gave him a six-year, $75 million contact. Martinez responded with one of the best six-year stretches of any pitcher ever.

It's too much to say that Matsuzaka will be the next Martinez. But he's the best young frontline starting pitcher to become available since, and the Red Sox acted accordingly.

You can contact Jim Callis by sending e-mail to jimcallis@baseballamerica.com.