Thursday, December 14, 2006

Matsuzaka Signing a Watershed Moment for Major League Baseball

After weeks of speculation and posturing that comes with any Scott Boras negotiation, the Red Sox finally signed (apparent) all-world Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka to a 6 year, $52 million deal today.

With the $51 million posting fee that Boston paid Matsuzaka's Japanese team, the Seibu Lions, just for exclusive negotiating rights, the Red Sox are betting over $100 million that Matsuzaka not only works out, but pitches like the ace pitcher that he's getting paid to be.

His success or failure is crucial because it may very well affect the way teams throughout Major League Baseball approach Japanese players. If he's a Cy Young contender, the pitching equivalent of Ichiro Suzuki, the Red Sox's risk in a fairly unknown quantity will be rewarded, and it may embolden other teams to look to the East in scouting players. The posting business (detailed wonderfully in this New York Times article by Richard Sandomir) will become a high-stakes competition. Meaning that for Japanese clubs like Seibu, Matsuzaka's success could result in a huge financial windfall. Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell says it well:

As for the Lions, they're swimming in sake now. Seibu, with a dinky $17 million payroll, gets a $51.1 million windfall because it "owns" the rights to Matsuzaka. For doing nothing, Seibu will get a check for three times its annual team payroll. That would be like a league from outer space offering the Red Sox $350 million -- three times their payroll -- so a team from Mars could try to sign Jonathan Papelbon.

The question now becomes: are the Japanese clubs willing to "sell their souls" and serve as the springboard for their stars, a pseudo farm system for Major League Baseball? If the answer is yes, then free agency in baseball has entered a new era where high revenue teams like the Red Sox and Yankees can now fight it out on two sides of the world. And with Major League teams showing an increased willingness to throw gobs of money at anyone with a pulse (Gil Meche anyone?), it seems likely that the cash will be too much for teams like Seibu and company to resist.

Here's a quick video of Matsuzaka's mysterious "gyroball."

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