One Expensive Conversation
The Boston Red Sox have won the right to negotiate with Japanese superstar pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka. The cost of this exclusive window of negotiation: $51 million.
The Sox will pay this fee to the Seibu Lions, Matsuzaka's current club, if they agree to a contract within the prescribed 30 day time frame. Not a single penny of that $51 million goes towards his salary, so it's likely that if a deal gets done, it will cost the Sox more than $100 million dollars, since I can't see them agreeing to anything less than a 5 year, $50 million deal. On the surface, this seems like a crazy deal to make for a player who has never pitched in the majors, but let's take a closer look at the pros and cons.
As Peter Gammons wrote in his blog today, this puts the Sox on the map in the Far East, which they see as a booming market for talent in the coming decade.
Because of this, if Matsuzaka pans out, it not only makes them more attractive to other players, but the $51 million investment will probably be recovered (and then some) through increased broadcasting revenues, licensing, and merchandise sales in the area.
The guy is 26 years old, a proven all-star in Japan, and was lights out in the World Baseball Classic (he was named tournament MVP). He should be entering his prime years in the pros.
You know who else excelled in the WBC: Hee Seop Choi. Success in international play doesn't translate to success in MLB.
You never know how anyone will react to the high pressure atmosphere in Boston. Language/cultural barriers could make it more difficult to adjust. When you factor in the financial investment it will take to bring him over, Matsuzaka will be under a whole lot of pressure.
As a corollary to the previous point, and relating to the second point in the pro column, if things go badly for Matsuzaka in Boston, and the fans give him the rough treatment, it could discourage other players from the Far East from signing in Boston.
With three points in each the pro and con column, I guess I'm on the fence as far as this one goes. On the whole though, I feel optimistic about the opportunity and possibility of signing this guy. At 26, he has more upside than any starting pitcher on the free agent market (with the possible exception of Barry Zito). Even though he's never pitched in North America, I'd much rather invest $10-12 million a year in this guy in the hopes that he pans out than I would in a pitcher who's proven his mediocrity over time (the Matt Clement signing comes to mind).
Building a championship club requires you to take risks. The Red Sox wouldn't have won the 2004 World Series without taking two major risks:
1. Trading Nomar at the deadline for two light-hitting, defensively-sound infielders (Cabrera and Mientkiewicz).
2. Going further back, trading two of their top prospects to Montreal following the 1997 season for Pedro Martinez, who while he was entering his prime, was also headed for free agency the following year.
Is a 26-year old front of the rotation pitcher worth a $100 million gamble? I say so. I hope they can get a deal done; I'm already fantasizing of a Schilling-Beckett-Lester-Papelbon-Matsuzaka rotation. Bring it on.