King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Will Boston sign Japanese ace Matsuzaka? Red Sox Nation frets, but: Yes.


Salon Staff
December 13, 2006 10:00PM (UTC)

Hand-wringing and speculation about the Boston Red Sox-Daisuke Matsuzaka negotiations have reached a -- forgive me -- fever pitch as the Red Sox's artificial Wednesday deadline has arrived and the real Thursday midnight deadline approaches.

The Sox have until the end of Thursday to sign the ace right-hander or he reverts to his Japanese team, the Seibu Lions. The Sox say a deal has to get done by Wednesday because the team considers it a non-negotiable requirement that Matsuzaka fly from Los Angeles to Boston for a physical before a contract is signed.

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The Boston Herald reported in the wee hours Wednesday that Boston's latest offer was six years at $8 million a year, while agent Scott Boras' latest on Matsuzaka's behalf was six years at $11 million per.

If that's true, they're arguing over peanuts. The Red Sox are not going to miss out on signing Matsuzaka to save $3 million a year, the price of a middle reliever or utility infielder in this market.

The Red Sox planned to "introduce" newly signed outfielder J.D. Drew at Fenway Park Wednesday. I once played a gig at a San Francisco dive called the Sound of Music where the only people in the building were the three of us onstage plus the bartender. The Drew introduction will be kind of like that.

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The good news for Drew is that the bartender said she liked us.

I won't be the first to point out the coincidence that Drew famously spurned the Philadelphia Phillies after they'd drafted him out of college, and that Boras was and is Drew's agent too. But I'm hoping to be the first not to call it an irony.

What happens if no deal happens is that Matsuzaka pitches for the Lions in '07 and can go through the same process next year or wait two years and become an unrestricted free agent. The Lions would not get the $51.1 million posting fee the Red Sox bid, nor the $12 million or so they'd save over the next two years by not having to pay Matsuzaka's salary.

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The Bostons would be out nothing upfront. They'd get to keep their $51.1 mil but would miss out on their hoped-for player, who is 26 and has been called the best pitcher on the planet by some who have seen him. They'd also not only miss out on Matsuzaka as their entree into the lucrative -- ask the Seattle Mariners and New York Yankees -- Japan market, but would probably establish themselves as bad actors in the mind of that market.

So everybody has a lot to lose here if a deal doesn't get done, and you can ignore that Red Sox deadline, by the way. The deadline's Thursday midnight. And a deal will get done.

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Here's the money quote in this whole thing, from the big horse in this whole thing, Boras, the most powerful agent in baseball.

"One thing is clear," he said Monday night. "D-Mat will someday be a major league player."

That's not really the money quote. I just wanted to point out that Boras called him "D-Mat." We have to nip this in the bud, people. This business of a player's nickname being the first letter of his first name and the first three letters of his last name has got to stop. The only thing worse is that thing where players call each other by their number: "Hey, sixer." Or, "Come on, now, double-two."

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Here we have an ace pitcher from Yokohama, Japan, one who reputedly throws a gyroball, and we're going to call him "D-Mat"? How about "The Gyromonster"? Or even "Gyromat" would be acceptable. How about "The Yokohama Hamma"? He's not known for a blazing fastball, but I'd vote for "The Bullet Train," which nods to both baseball history (Walter Johnson) and Japan (Japan). But really, anything.

OK, all right. I'm digressing. I'm just tap-dancing until they get the contract signed.

Everybody has too much to lose and too little to gain if the deal flops.

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The Lions are more or less spectators at this point. The posting system is an agreement between Nippon Professional Baseball and Major League Baseball that allows Japanese teams to sell exclusive negotiating rights to their players to the American team that wins a sealed-bid auction. The winning team has 30 days to get a deal done or the player reverts to his Japanese team and no money changes hands.

The Japanese team knows nothing about the winning bid except its amount, and can accept it or reject it, but at that point its hands are tied, legally. Kickbacks from the Japanese team to the player aren't legal.

The second-highest bid for Matsuzaka was reportedly from the New York Mets, for around $39 million. It would make sense for the Lions to take $40 million from the Sox and give the other $11 million to Matsuzaka to help get a deal done with Boston. The Lions would still be $52 million ahead of where they'd be if Matsuzaka doesn't go the United States. It's just not allowed.

So here's the argument we're left with:

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The Red Sox want the $51.1 million bid to be taken into account in the negotiations. The team believes that money buys it the right to pay Matsuzaka less than he'd get on the open market. Matsuzaka's lower salary is the price he should pay for getting out of his Japanese contract two years early.

Boras says: Nonsense. If this were the open market, the Sox would have to pay something like that $51 million in luxury taxes if they signed Matsuzaka for his true value, and the costs of the Red Sox doing business is none of the Hamma's business.

The Red Sox would like everyone to remember that Japanese baseball ain't the U.S. major leagues, and the Gyromonster has yet to throw a pitch in a real game against Travis Hafner and that crowd. Boras says, Yup, and it'll cost you 11 a year to see him throw one.

Who's right? Oh, it's only money and it's not our money. Boras is playing this out to the last minute, which is his style. There's speculation, though no evidence, that he wants to use the Gyromonster as a test case, Curt Flood or Andy Messersmith style, to try to overturn the posting system.

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Matsuzaka reportedly wants badly to pitch in the U.S. major leagues. He doesn't want to have to go back to Japan and pitch for a relative pittance, facing embarrassment and risking injury. The Red Sox want badly for Matsuzaka to pitch for them. They don't want to come up empty in the singular move of their off-season, an off-season that follows a complete second-half collapse that resulted in them finishing third in what they consider a two-team division.

Both sides are negotiating vigorously, which means it'll go down to the wire, which means Red Sox Nation and those of us who just like to watch Red Sox Nation are on pins, needles or worse. But the deal will happen, and then all this angst will seem a little silly.

Previous column: Rex and the Bears

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