<
>

Red Sox's winning bid for Matsuzaka: $51.1 million

11/16/2006 - MLB Boston Red Sox New York Yankees + more

NAPLES, Fla. -- 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.

"The one reflection it does have is the demand in the marketplace for someone who is that good, that young and that visible," said agent Scott Boras, who represents the 26-year-old Matsuzaka.

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.

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.

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.

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.

"The Red Sox are a team that has a long history, great fans and
a great atmosphere," Matsuzaka said at the Tokyo airport before
boarding a plane for the United States.

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.

"Because he throws 95 miles an hour and he has four pitches, he is the player who comes here with a résumé that transfers," Boras said.

"Daisuke is someone who dominated in Japan and in the WBC, and I think it reflected the fact that a major league team knew that someone of his abilities could have a great impact on their goals," he said.

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 Matsuzaka 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, but sources told ESPN's Peter Gammons that Tampa Bay Devil Rays have posted a winning bid of $4.5 million for the rights to negotiate with Iwamura. Iwamura, 27, batted .312 with 32 homers for Yakult in 2006.

Before the Matsuzaka announcement, agents roamed the hotel
lobby, discussing their free-agent clients.

"Pitching, as usual, is at a premium," Boras said.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.