The $51.1 Million Man!!!November 15th Update: $51.1 BID!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Step one complete. The winner of the 2006 Daisuke Matsuzaka Sweepstakes is………
……the Boston Red Sox, at a price of $51 million. In a huge shocker, the Red Sox have splashed a huge wad of cash on Japan’s finest pitcher, and effectively blocked their rivals from acquiring him. The addition of Matsuzaka does a number of other things as well. It gives Boston an inroad to the lucrative Asian market. It fills a rotation spot with a player of scintillating potential. I’ve written on a number of occasions that any team who spends more than $20 million per season on a pitcher is going overboard. I ruffled the feathers of Red Sox fans in saying so, but I seek to be consistent. I would have said this regarding any team that produced such an unprecedented expenditure, including the Yankees. I’ll clarify my opinion a bit more.
Who is the most free-spending, big wallet in baseball? The Yankees. Is it good for the sport? Opinions vary, depending on their source. I say, no. The Yankees $200 million budget makes a mockery of the competitive nature of the league. The net $50 million a year loss that the team is taking is made up in other places, but is also a testament to the Steinbrenner commitment to overspending to win. As a Yankee fan, I enjoy the benefits of this situation, but as a baseball fan I don’t see how it is good for the sport in any way. There are plenty of examples of how this works to the detriment of baseball, originating in the Bronx. I also see other examples, however, and feel that I should point them out, regardless of the source. The Alex Rodriguez signing in Texas was a blotch on the financial ledger of free agency. The Yankees signing of Jason Giambi was another such pockmark. The Red Sox signing of Matsuzaka may also rank as one of those obscene moments in professional sports that leaves people with a bitter taste in their mouths.
Before this becomes a Red Sox/Yankees thing, and before more people accuse me of being an idiot, incapable of lateral thinking, let me say this. I recognize that the new marketing opportunities that this bid produced for the Red Sox offset some of the cost. I recognize that a commodity like an ace pitcher is always something for which teams overpay. I also recognize that merchandising, tourism, and television revenue will increase in this one bold move. I applaud the Red Sox. This was a stroke of supreme competitive brilliance. It is also very hard to believe that the new revenue streams, and the number of additional wins that it produces for the club, are worth a potential 4-year outlay of $120 million. That’s $30 million a year for the player. Is there $8 or 10 million per year that will arrive in Boston as a result of Matsuzaka joining the club? I don’t think that’s realistic. There’s no problem if you understand that you will lose a lot of money on this deal in order to win. Yankee fans have come to terms with this, and take more than their fair share of heat from mid-market fans as a result. That’s part of the game.
Okay. Enough with the skepticism. It’s more important to talk about what it does for the club on the field. We can worry about dollars and cents all we want, but what fans want is a title. How does Matsuzaka help the Red Sox win a title? That’s easier to answer.
The Red Sox have added some much needed firepower to the rotation. By all accounts, Matsuzaka will be at least a #3 pitcher. Very few nay-sayers are still floating around with Irabu on their tongues. They’ll come around. Believe me. At this price, it is a bit disappointing for the club if Daisuke is a #3 starter, but should that be the case the Red Sox are perhaps one of the few teams that can absorb that kind of over-spending and remain a contender without blinking. I don’t see this as the case, however. I think the Sox have just added a legitimate #1 starter that will get better in his 2nd and 3rd years, to the tune of Cy Young contention. That’s what they are paying for, and I’m very confident that’s what they will get, whatever the prevailing opinions are from around the web.
With Schilling’s age, weight, and durability in question the Sox needed a stud. With Beckett’s difficult transition to the American League, the Sox needed a guy with steel will and a tough mound presence. With Jon Lester’s illness and Papelbon’s inexperience as a Major League starter, Boston needed a guy with experience and stamina. They got all of those things, and then some. There are still questions to be answered in the Red Sox rotation to be sure, but I believe that Matsuzaka is not one of them. Plug him in and watch him dominate.
The AL Central has become one of the most competitive divisions in all of professional sports with the White Sox, Twins, and Tigers all beating each other up day in and day out. The AL wild card is likely to come from that division quite frequently if the current rosters are maintained and strengthened. Each has a good rotation, strong bullpens, and some pop in the lineup. The AL East will likely boil down to the greatest rivalry in sports, Yankees and Red Sox. It also means that, like this season, the 2nd place club may be at home playing golf while the other is fighting it out for the World Series. With those stakes at hand, the Red Sox have made the most significant move in advancing to the division crown. While Brian Cashman builds for the future, the Red Sox are pressing the agenda and aggressively seeking leverage to force Derek Jeter to spend more time in October selling women’s perfume. I applaud this gamesmanship. Boston is run by some very intelligent people, and there’s reason to rejoice in Beantown.
I’ll be following this piece with a closer look at Matsuzaka on the field, in a Boston uniform. What numbers can we expect? How many wins is he worth? What is the reaction in Japan. Will he in fact saty a Red Sock, or will he be traded? Stay tuned.