The biggest thing to emerge from Japan since Nintendo and Ichiro is going to land in Boston next spring. His name is Daisuke Matsuzaka, and there’s no telling whether he is the next Cy Young or the next big overpaid underachiever (see: Rodriguez, Alex).
On Tuesday, it was officially announced that the Boston Red Sox had won the rights to negotiate with the right-handed pitcher at the cost of $51.1 million. That is more than five whole teams’ salaries in 2005 just to have exclusive rights into discussing the pitcher’s contract. If Boston wishes to sign him, they must also hammer out a contract within the next month. His agent, Scott Boras, is known for squeezing teams down to the last cent. By the time they ink Matsuzaka, they will probably approach $100 million all together for a mere five-year deal.
”We have long admired Mr. Matsuzaka’s abilities and believe he would be a great fit with the Red Sox organization,” Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein told reporters. “Clearly, we believe Mr. Matsuzaka is a real talent.”
So why is this Japanese pitcher who has yet to throw a single pitch in the major leagues worth so much to the Red Sox? First off, they will join the Seattle Mariners and New York Yankees in establishing a foothold in the Far East market. Also, they desperately need a quality starter to bolster a pitching staff that was 11th in the American League last season in ERA. Most importantly, for the first time in a long time they managed to keep the top free agent out of the hands of the rival New York Yankees.
There is a lot of mystery shrouding Matsuzaka, and not just about how he will make the transition to the major leagues. It has been rumored that he possesses an unheard-of unique pitch called the “gyroball.” However, this pitch is about as real as Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster. In reality, he tosses an outstanding screwball that goes along nicely with three other quality pitches in his arsenal.
Will Matsuzaka’s success in Japan translate to the major leagues? Players like the Mariners’ Ichiro Suzuki and the Yankees’ Hideki Matsui have been able to make the transition and are stars here. In Matsuzaka’s case, he must face tougher lineups than he ever saw in Japan. Also, there is a lot of pressure that comes from playing in Boston. How he will fare is anyone’s guess at this point.
Even if Matsuzaka gives the Red Sox a quality start every five days, they may have nearly broken the bank on just one player. They still have several holes to fill on their team. They must repair a bullpen that was shaky last year and fill vacancies at shortstop and second base. It is conceivable they might attempt to trade the disgruntled Manny Ramirez like they tried last winter, which would help shed some payroll.
The acquisition of a single player rarely guarantees anything in baseball. Last season, Boston fans were already declaring their division title after the acquisition of Josh Beckett, and he turned out to be a bust. Over 162 games, the more balanced teams rise to the top. The Red Sox front office still has much work to do in order to compete with the Yankees, but they may have just picked up an ace in Matsuzaka. On the other hand, if he is a flop, it may be the biggest waste of a hundred million dollars since Waterworld was released. Either way, the fact that Matsuzaka won’t be wearing Yankee pinstripes on opening day will undoubtedly please Red Sox Nation, and that in itself may be enough to justify this move.