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Daisuke Matsu-SOCK-a!

Daisuke Matsuzaka is one step closer to Major League Baseball

It’s official: the Boston Red Sox have won the bidding for Japanese star righthander Daisuke Matsuzaka with a bid of 51.1 million.  That’s in yen, right?  Nope, the Red Sox bid was $51.1Million, and experts have described it as “monstrous”, “obscene”, “outrageous”, “amazing”, and every word in between.  Now the question goes from who has the rights to Matsuzaka to six other questions which I’ll try to answer in this post. 

The first question: is Daisuke Matsuzaka worth $51.1M plus his contract

Let me start by saying that this is a somewhat tricky question.  Daisuke Matsuzaka’s true value to the Red Sox organization does not rest completely with what he does on the field; his impact on the Red Sox influence in Japan as well as the advertising revenue he will generate are both part of the package that comes with Matsuzaka. 

In fact, Matsuzaka’s value on the field, at least the Red Sox opinion of it with a little Scott Boras influence, will be reflected in the contract that he will sign, provided that he does become a BoSock.  That means the bid of $51.1Million will need to be recouped through advertising revenue and influence in Japan.  The Red Sox almost certainly would not have bid on Matsuzaka if they thought owner John Henry would have any trouble coming up with the money, so that’s not a concern.  Some experts predict that if Matsuzaka coming to America will cause the same kind of stir in Japan that Ichiro and Hideki Matsui did, the Red Sox could get back that money in 2-5 years.  And there’s no reason to believe Matsuzaka’s Red Sox jerseys will sell worse in Japan than Matsui’s Yankees jerseys or Ichiro’s Mariners jerseys.  Matsuzaka is currently a national hero in Japan so there’s little doubt that fans will flock to the stores to buy jerseys the day they become available. 

In 2-5 years, the Red Sox wouldn’t care about the money lost on the bid because they will have recovered it through advertising; the interesting thing is, by then, Matsuzaka may no longer be with the team, depending on the duration of the contract Boston agrees on with Scott Boras.  So, if Matsuzaka leaves, will the Red Sox still benefit from the decision to add him to the team?  I think so, because the Japanese market for baseball players is increasing at an enormously quick rate.  Just this year, there are three potential stars coming from Japan: Akinori Iwamura, Kei Igawa, and of course, Matsuzaka.  I think that number will only increase and Japan will soon become comparable to Latin America in terms of future talent for Major League Baseball.  A stake in the Far East market could be immensely valuable to the Red Sox, if they are to contend with the Yankees, who already have a good repoire with Japan.  Matsuzaka will undoubtedly provide it, and that is a huge part of his value as well. 

In short, I believe this was a smart business decision by the Red Sox, because 2-5 years from now the enormous bid will be forgotten (and Matsuzaka may be pitching for another team), but the positive effects it could bring will still be felt and will continue to play a role in the Red Sox future for many years. 

The second question: what kind of contract will Matsuzaka get?

Scott Boras is the man every MLB General Manager hates

With Scott Boras as his agent, you know the Red Sox will need to offer a big contract to Matsuzaka if they intend to sign him.  The word “big” however, can mean several different things.  Boras will likely push the Red Sox to sign Matsuzaka to a short-term deal (3 years) so that he can become a free agent before turning 30.  This however, could mean Boston will be able to save a little in the salary department.  On the other hand, if the Red Sox will push for a longer deal (5 years, for example), they will have to pay Matsuzaka significantly more, which could put a dent in Theo Epstein’s flexibility on Boston’s plethora of other needs. 

The key for the Red Sox and Boras will be finding a middle-ground.  Boras’ ideal contract would be 3years and 15Million per year.  The Red Sox would prefer a 5year pact for 12Million a year.  There’s no way either side will accept the other’s ideal contract, so something’s got to give.  I think the BoSox and Boras will wind up compromising and Matsuzaka will sign a 4year deal worth roughly 54Million. 

To put that into perspective, it means Matsuzaka will cost the Red Sox 105.1Million over 4 years.  Of course, that’s not an entirely fair way of looking at the situation because the bid doesn’t count against Boston’s payroll or luxury tax, but it’s the straight-up way of looking at the situation.  We come back to the question of is he worth that much?  Well, as I said earlier, we’ve already calculated that the 51.1Million will be easily recouped by Boston.  That means the only question to answer is, is Matsuzaka worth 13.5Million a year for 4 years on the field.  My answer is quite simple: yes.  Why?  Because if Jason Schmidt or Barry Zito are worth that kind of money, a younger and more talented pitcher must be, right?  It only makes sense.

The third question: how will Matsuzaka transition from Japan to US?

I’m not talking about cultural differences and the like, but rather about the differences between Japanese baseball and Major League Baseball in America.  There are some very significant differences that don’t have anything to do with the talent of hitters in each country.  Here are a few examples…

  • In Japan, it is not unusual for pitchers to throw 130-150 pitches per outing.  In America we start worrying about a guy if he’s thrown 100. 
  • In Japan  starters pitch every 6th game.  In America they pitch every 5th. 

Those are two key transitions that will be important for Daisuke Matsuzaka to make, and one might actually help him make the other.  I doubt Terry Francona will leave Matsuzaka out there for 130 pitches.  Transitioning from more pitches to less pitches can’t be too difficult, can it?  Now, about the rest days.  If the amount of rest a pitcher needs is directly related to the number of pitches he throws, Matsuzaka can throw 108 pitches without much trouble.  That relationship isn’t so simple however, and I think it’ll take a month or so for Matsuzaka to get into the flow of American starting rotations.  Good thing there’s Spring Training!

To summarize, I don’t think Matsuzaka will have much trouble getting used to the American style of baseball.  You might see a few glitches in his transition early on, but I think he’ll be fine by May at the latest and potentially by the start of the season. 

The fourth question: what’s the risk?

 

Matsuzaka has thrown quite a few innings leading to injury concerns

This section isn’t about the risk of Matsuzaka turning out to be an Irabu-esque dud, but rather about the injury risk.  As with any starting pitcher, the risk of injury for Matsuzaka is rather large.  It is worsened by the fact that the Red Sox have invested so much money in him.  The biggest concern is the enormous amount of innings and pitches that Daisuke Matsuzaka has thrown over the years.  Scouts will tell you that his delivery is among the smoothest and most mechanically fine-tuned you’ll ever see, but you’ve got to be Superman to avoid an injury at some point.  Could Matsuzaka arrive in Boston and start feeling a twinge in his elbow or tightness in his shoulder almost immediately?  It’s certainly possible, and that’s the risk.  I don’t think it’s as huge a risk as many are portraying it to be, but injury will be a major concern with Matsuzaka in his first few MLB seasons.  That said, the potential reward, in my opinion, outweighs the risk significantly.  If potential reward is greater than potential risk, you have little to be worried about, and that I believe, is the case here. 

The fifth question: what can be expected of Matsuzaka in 2007? 

I’m sure there isn’t one member of Red Sox Nation that doesn’t expect Daisuke Matsuzaka to win the AL Rookie of the Year award in 2007.  That however may be a somewhat unreasonable expectation.  Several things come into play here…

  1. The difference between Japanese and American baseball (see question 3)
  2. American hitters vs. Japanese hitters
  3. The pressures of pitching in Boston

As I said, it might take Matsuzaka a little while to adjust to the American baseball schedule and style, but I don’t think that’ll play much of a role in his 2007 success.  The second factor however, will.  As we saw during the All-Star Series that the American stars played in Japan earlier this month, American sluggers have a lot more power than Japanese power-hitters, which might cause an increase in Matsuzaka’s ERA and other numbers. 

He has the stuff to be a Major League ace — scouts say he has 4 plus pitches including a phenomenal fastball and the “gyroball” — and he also has pinpoint command.  There are however times when Matsuzaka goes into short streaks of erraticness and Japanese manager and former Mets manager Bobby Valentine says that in those cases, the ball goes a long way (over the Monster and onto Lansdowne Street behind Fenway in this case…).  While Japanese hitters may not have taken full advantage of Matsuzaka’s occasional location mistakes, American sluggers almost certainly will.  New pitching coach Jeff Farrell will certainly work to iron out Matsuzaka’s occasional “hanging curveballs” and “flat fastballs”, but it may take a little while for Matsuzaka to figure out just how much control matters to an MLB pitcher. 

And finally, the Boston effect.  Fenway Park has some of the greatest fans in baseball, but pitching for Red Sox Nation brings a huge load of pressure.  Throw a bad outing and you risk getting boo-ed on your way back to the dugout.  Throw a few bad outings and people will be calling for you to get DFA’d.  That doesn’t happen in Japan, and it’ll take Matsuzaka some time to get used to is.  He however, showed terrific poise during the World Baseball Classic, which makes me confident that Matsuzaka will fit into the Boston environment just fine.  The only thing he might need is a translator and a map, but I’m sure Theo and Co. can afford that. 

So, all that in mind, what can Red Sox Nation reasonably expect from Matsuzaka?  I wouldn’t rule out a Rookie of the Year award, but stats-wise, I expect something like 14-8 with a 3.60ERA and a 1.33WHIP from him in his first MLB season, with around 180K’s.  Those numbers are by no means bad; in fact, they’re well above average for a rookie. 

The Red Sox have plenty to be excited about if their starting rotation for next season does turn out to be Schilling-Beckett-Papelbon-Matsuzaka-Wakefield. 

The sixth question: what effect will the Matsuzaka signing have on the Red Sox other spending this offseason?

Assuming that Matsuzaka signs the contract I’m expecting him to sign (4yrs 54Million), the Red Sox payroll will be $119Million at that point.  Holes still to be filled would be 2B and/or SS, backup C, bullpen (2-3 including a closer), and RF.  The Red Sox appear to want JD Drew as their rightfielder, so let’s assume that they go after him and sign him to a 15M/year deal (remember Drew is looking for more than the 11M he was due to make with the Dodgers, oh, and his agent is also Scott Boras).  That brings the payroll up to 134Million. 

The Red Sox always try to stay below the luxury tax threshold, which is set at $148Million this year.  That means they have 14Million left to work with to get either a 2B or a SS, a backup Catcher, and 2-3 relievers.  This will almost certainly force Theo and Co. to use Dustin Pedroia as a starting middle-infielder to save money that way.  That fills one of the M-INF holes, leaving the other.  Doug Mirabelli is a relatively cheap option for backup catcher, and the BoSox could sign him for 2-3Million a year.  That brings the payroll up to $137Million.  The next target is likely to be Justin Speier, the cheapest potential closer on the market.  He’s worth roughly 6Million a year and we’re up to $143M on the payroll, leaving 5M to get another reliever and a 2B/SS.  A middle-reliever or lefty-specialist is unlikely to cost more than 3Million so we’re up to $146M.  Uh-oh, that’s just 2M left for a 2B/SS.  Something’s got to give here; not much, but something. 

As you can see, the Red Sox, even with Matsuzaka’s allegedly obscene salary, can put together a team that stays under the $148M mark if they use their money intelligently.  The ideal plan that I drew-up above comes close to succeeding but fails by a few million.  If the Red Sox are willing to give Wily Mo Pena the starting nod in rightfield, the problems disappear.  If Drew doesn’t come to Boston, there’s plenty of money for Theo and Co. to use on the other holes.  If Drew does become a Red Sock, the front office will need to work extra-hard to fill all the needs and still stay under the threshold.  Is Matsuzaka worth sacrificing the ideal offseason plan for?  I think he is. 

The Red Sox made the right decision going all-out for Daisuke Matsuzaka.  I’m certain the Red Sox made their bid in good faith and will work hard to strike down a deal with Boras and Mastuzaka.  If they do, his pitching will speak for itself, and his effect on the Red Sox organization will be long-lasting and great. 

It’ll soon be time for Daisuke Matsuzaka to say Sayonara to Seibu and Konichiwa to Boston. 

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