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Sox place winning bid for Japanese pitcher
By Michael Silverman
Boston Herald Sports Reporter
Tuesday, November 14, 2006 – Updated: 08:23 PM EST
Now, the Sox have 30 days to forge a long-term contract with super-agent Scott Boras on a rich multi-year deal that will make the right-hander a critical component of the starting rotation.
In a simultaneous press conference held at the Naples Grande Resort at the GM meetings and in the suburban Tokyo, Japan, headquarters of the Seibu Lions, it was announced the Red Sox were the winners in the system that allows the 30 major league teams to bid on the right to negotiate with a posted Japanese player.
By most accounts, the Sox’ winning bid of $51.11 million was well above bids submitted by other Matsuzaka pursuers, including the Mets ($35-plus million), Yankees ($30-plus million) and the Rangers ($27 million, according to the Dallas Morning News). The Red Sox’ bid is due five days after the team wraps up a contract with Matsuzaka. If they fail to do so in that 30-day window, the money will not have to be paid. Matsuzaka would then have to return to the Lions, pitch next season and then go through the posting again in order to be eligible to play in 2008.
For the three parties involved – the Red Sox, Matsuzaka/Boras and the Lions – there are compelling reasons working in favor of a deal being struck.
For the Sox, Matsuzaka is the best starter on the open market, and, at 26, his best seasons could be ahead of him. He has dominated the Japanese Pacific League for most of his eight-year career, posting a 108-60 career record with a 2.95 ERA with 1,355 strikeouts in 204 games. He has five plus-pitches – two- and four-seam fastballs, changeup, curve and slider – and with the exception of a non-structural elbow problem in 2002 and slight strains in his elbow and shoulder at the end of this past season, he has proven durable.
By signing Matsuzaka, the Sox would not only keep him out of the clutches of the Yankees but add him to a rotation that has Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett, Jonathan Papelbon and Tim Wakefield. With Schilling no doubt primed to make his last year a memorable one, Beckett more likely than not to become more consistent and effective, Papelbon looking to duplicate his 2006 success as a starter and Wakefield healthy again, the Red Sox rotation could be far better than most in the league.
For the pitcher and his agent, there is a clear-stated desire to come to the major leagues. Since Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui made their formidable marks in the majors, Matsuzaka represents the next biggest import by far in terms of talent alone. Boras is said to be looking for only a three-year deal – he has already begun calling his client ‘D-Mat’ – to allow him to become a free agent after the 2009 season. The agent likely will drive a hard bargain, but the perceived risk that Matsuzaka would have to return to Japan could lessen Boras’ already considerable leverage.
For the Lions, they have already shown their motivation by accepting the bid rather than risk losing Matsuzaka on the open market as a free agent after the 2008 season.
Matsuzaka is expected to arrive in Los Angeles this morning and stay there through the weekend. Boras, in town for the GM meetings, is expected to return to his base in Newport Beach, Calif., later this week and meet with Matsuzaka.
“We’ve had a pretty good relationship,” said Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein of Boras before the announcement. “We’ve gotten some deals done (Jason Varitek) and some we haven’t (Johnny Damon). He’s very smart. You always do a lot of listening (when meeting with Boras).”