Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Red Sox Bid $51.1 Million for Matsuzaka
The Associated Press By RONALD BLUM
NAPLES, Fla. (AP) — The market price for pitching talent is soaring so high that it's come to this: The Boston Red Sox are ready to pay more than $50 million just for the right to negotiate with Daisuke Matsuzaka, who's never thrown his "gyroball" — or any pitch, for that matter — in the major leagues.
The $51.1 million winning bid is only the start. Now the Red Sox have 30 days to finalize a contract with the Japanese ace.
Making a record-setting bid that easily blew away offers from the New York Yankees, Mets and others, the Red Sox won the auction Tuesday for the World Baseball Classic MVP.
"We have long admired Mr. Matsuzaka's abilities and believe he would be a great fit with the Red Sox organization," Boston general manager Theo Epstein said. "Clearly, we believe Mr. Matsuzaka is a real talent."
And they're prepared to pay big money for him — the previous high bid for a posted player from Japan was $13,125,000 by the Seattle Mariners for Ichiro Suzuki after the 2000 season.
Speculation about what it will take for Boston to sign Matsuzaka has ranged from $7 million to $10 million annually over three to four years.
The Seibu Lions of Japan's Pacific League announced they had accepted the high bid for their prized pitcher, and the major league commissioner's office simultaneously confirmed at the general managers' meetings that the Red Sox had made the offer.
If the Red Sox and Matsuzaka can agree to a deal by midnight on Dec. 14, the right-hander would join a talented rotation that already includes Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett and converted closer Jonathan Papelbon.
"We're excited to have won this part of the process and we're hopeful we can reach an agreement," Epstein said.
The 26-year-old Matsuzaka is represented by Scott Boras, who last year negotiated the deal that moved center fielder Johnny Damon from the Red Sox to the Yankees.
After missing the playoffs last season, Boston outbid its longtime rival this time.
Epstein said the team would invite Boras, Matsuzaka and his family to Boston to begin negotiations. Boras said the sides planned to set up a meeting soon, but wasn't sure whether it would be in Boston, Japan or California.
Matsuzaka was 17-5 with a 2.13 ERA and 200 strikeouts for the Lions this year. He throws in the high-90s mph, has good off-speed pitches and is known for his deceptive "gyroball," which has been likened to a screwball.
In assessing the amount of Boston's bid, Boras compared Matsuzaka's allure to what outfielder Hideki Matsui has brought to the Yankees.
"It's the value of a No. 1 starter. It's much like Matsui and the Yankees," Boras said. "It shows the value of a player like this. He brings advertising dollars. He brings a network presence in Japan."
Unlike Matsui, Matsuzaka was not yet eligible for free agency.
For selling their star pitcher, the Lions would get the $51.1 million from Boston — but only if the Red Sox sign Matsuzaka.
The Mets finished second with a bid between $39 million and $40 million, according to a baseball official who spoke on condition of anonymity because none of the losing bids were revealed. The Yankees bid between $32 million and $33 million, another baseball official said.
Matsuzaka was scheduled to fly to the United States on Wednesday and give a brief news conference at the airport.
Even before the announcement, general managers had assumed Boston would be the highest bidder in the blind process.
"We'll congratulate the winner and move on," New York Yankees GM Brian Cashman said Tuesday afternoon.
The Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers also were thought to be among the bidders.
"I'm very comfortable with the bid that we made," Mets general manager Omar Minaya said, sidestepping whether he would have topped Boston's offer now that he knew what it was.
Bidding closes Friday for Akinori Iwamura, a third baseman with the Central League's Yakult Swallows.
Before the Matsuzaka announcement, agents roamed the hotel lobby, discussing their free-agent clients.
"Pitching, as usual, is at a premium," Boras said.
Minaya and Epstein met on Tuesday, but the potential availability of slugger Manny Ramirez wasn't discussed. Boston has explored trade possibilities for the All-Star outfielder in recent years.
Second baseman Mark DeRosa became the first major league free agent to switch teams, leaving Texas for a $13 million, three-year contract with the Chicago Cubs.
The Mets re-signed two players, agreeing to a $12 million, two-year contract with 41-year-old pitcher Orlando Hernandez and a $3.8 million, one-year deal with second baseman Jose Valentin.
Minaya said some teams are unsure of where the marketplace is going, "so if they could do something quick, they're going to try to do it."
Mike Mussina's agent, Arn Tellem, kept up talks with the Yankees on a new contract for the pitcher that likely will be worth $23 million to $25 million over two years.
"We're in the red zone," Tellem said.
With Barry Zito and Jason Schmidt heading a weak free-agent class, pitchers will get top prices.
"There are 30 clubs and probably three-quarters are looking for pitching," new Chicago Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "There's a lot of interesting pitchers out there. At the end of the year, the teams that have pitching, and healthy pitching, are usually the ones that are around."
GMs, as usual, will hold their annual discussion Wednesday of whether to have instant replay available to umpires, a concept commissioner Bud Selig opposes. In the past, the idea hasn't garnered enough support.
"I guess we'll get a sense of that tomorrow," said Joe Garagiola Jr., a senior vice president in the commissioner's office.
There will also be talk Wednesday of whether to eliminate tie games, having them instead become suspended games. On Thursday, the GMs will discuss whether to have uniform standards for storing baseballs, a talk prompted by the use of a humidor by the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field.
As for the postseason schedule, nothing seems to have come of the idea floated by Selig to give wild-card teams fewer home games in the playoffs.
"That is not officially on the agenda, so I suspect that will be some good lobby talk," Garagiola said.
GMs did vote on one rule change, proposing that outright assignments to the minor leagues not count against the number of optional assignments a team has on a player. That must be approved by owners and the union.