By Jim Caple
Page 2

Now that the World Series is over, we concentrate on that most traditional of winter pleasures: watching owners set their money on fire and flush it down the toilet.

Barry Bonds is a free agent, as are Barry Zito and Jason Schmidt. But the most enticing free agent has never pitched in the major leagues and isn't even really a free agent. He's Daisuke Matsuzaka, who has been a star in Japan since he threw 250 pitches in a 17-inning victory during the national high school tournament, which is considered the world record for a pitcher not managed by Dusty Baker. And he followed up the 250-pitch performance with a no-hitter in the final, though he might have been aided somewhat by the opposing hitters being confused by a pitcher with a right arm 7 inches longer than the left.

I first heard about Matsuzaka three years ago when a Japanese friend sent me a pewter figurine of the pitcher, insisting that he would be the next big Japanese major leaguer. He was right about that. Matsuzaka is 93-45 with a 2.81 ERA in his career and is coming off a 17-5 season with a 2.12 ERA and 200 strikeouts -- and that doesn't count his 3-0 record in the World Baseball Classic. And he just turned 26, two years younger than Zito.

At least half a dozen teams are expected to place a bid when Matsuzaka's team, the Seibu Lions, post him this month. Matsuzaka isn't eligible for free agency yet, but under the posting system, the Lions will auction off his contract rights. Any major league teams interested must submit a sealed bid by the deadline (still to be determined) and the winner receives exclusive negotiating rights to the pitcher.

This is the same system that brought Ichiro to the United States when the Mariners won the rights to him with a bid of a little more than $13 million. No one really knows how high the posting rights to Matsuzaka will go, but speculation is $30 million.

And remember -- that's just for the right to negotiate with his agent, who in this case happens to be Scott Boras. Paying money for the right to negotiate with Boras is the most galling business expense outside of TicketMaster's convenience fees. It's like paying for the right to be audited by the IRS.

Boras will have little leverage -- he can only negotiate with one team and that team gets the posting fee back if no deal is reached and Matsuzaka can't be a true free agent until after the 2008 season -- but that's never stopped him before. Say what you will about Boras but he could talk Warren Buffet into buying a losing lottery ticket. I've heard people say the total package for Matsuzaka could reach $75 million to $90 million for a five-year deal, or enough to take a family of four to Fenway. Factor in the posting fee, it could cost a team $18 million a season for Matsuzaka.

Is he worth it? Well, given that it's not your money, the answer would be yes. But if you're a major league club with a finite budget (and even the Yankees must occasionally pause in their spending long enough to count their wealth), that much money for any pitcher is a huge gamble. And for a pitcher who has never thrown a pitch in the majors? That's not just a gamble, that's placing your 401K on black at the roulette wheel (which, given my 401K performance over the past six years, might be a wiser investment).

Remember, while Hideo Nomo was instantly successful in the majors, other Japanese starters have struggled. Hideki Irabu, the Yankees' infamous "fat pussy toad" is the biggest example, but Kaz Ishii and Tomo Ohka had their problems as well. Even Nomo was a career .500 after his third season.

Rather than invest all that money in an unknown commodity, a safer, more efficient use of the money would be to spend it on two free agents who could possibly provide twice as many innings and wins.

Which is why someone will probably be foolish enough to spend more than $75 million on Matsuzaka alone. My guess is Tom Hicks.

BOX SCORE LINE OF THE WEEK

The Tigers wore the classic old English D on the front of their jerseys and atop their caps, but based on the way they fielded in the World Series, the back of their uniforms must have read "Chico's Bail Bonds." The Tigers made eight errors, including three by third baseman Brandon Inge and one by a pitcher each of the five games. Those fielding lines by the pitching staff:

Game 1: E-Verlander (1)
Game 2: E-Jones (1)
Game 3: E-Zumaya (1)
Game 4: E-Rodney (1)
Game 5: E-Verlander (2)

"I think we just set a record for pitcher errors in consecutive games or something, and you always try to find [an] alternative silver lining in everything," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said before Game 5. "So obviously next spring when we talk about PFP, none of the pitchers will be bitching about it, when they see what happened in the World Series."

INFIELD CHATTER

"I like to watch the World Series. Here's what I do. I sit down and drink a few beers in my underwear and scream at the TV. That's until they throw me out of Applebee's."
-- David Letterman

Jim Caple is a senior writer at ESPN.com.




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