The Dice-man Cometh

Well rumors, like Daisuke Matsuzaka at the time of this writing, are flying that it’s a done deal.

Six years/$52 million. Give or take.

Where to start?

First off I’d like to give props to Matsuzaka for signing.

Why?

Well, we know Scott Boras’ modus operandi; chances are good that Boras had any number of schemes in mind to max out Matsuzaka’s earning potential. I’m guessing he explained to the pitcher that he could make more money if he returned to Japan and waited for free agency. I’m fairly certain Boras is itching to find a way to take down the posting system much the same way as he’s tried to dismantle—or at least do end arounds—the amateur draft.

And he’s always looking for players willing to take huge risks to achieve these ends.

Boras probably saw Matsuzaka as a J.D Drew, Bobby Seay type opportunity. A chance to find lucrative loopholes in the system.

To his credit, Matsuzaka never lost sight of his main goal: to prove himself against baseball’s best. I’m certain that Boras would’ve tried to sell him on the idea of doing everything in his power to maximize his income—including a return to Japan—but he wasn’t interested in any suggestion that would have delayed his debut in the major leagues. Matsuzaka, like most superstar athletes, is aware of his earning potential (the posting fee coupled with Gil Meche’s contract served as a wonderful education on that point), but he decided to forego attempting to break the bank or the system if it meant not making his mark in the bigs.

There’s no need to feel bad or take up a collection for him. He’s guaranteed $52 million and will likely receive extremely lucrative endorsement opportunities on this side of the ocean.

Plus he’ll be 32-33 when he hits free agency—plenty young enough to land the monster contract that makes Boras apply desensitizing cream before a negotiating session.

It seems Matsuzaka pulled a Greg Maddux. When Maddux was a free agent as a Brave back in the late 1990s, I heard from multiple sources that he instructed Boras to do whatever he had to do to get the best contract he could—but at the end of the day he was signing with the Braves. It sounds like that’s what Matsuzaka did; he told Boras to do what he does best, but he was going to sign with the Red Sox for 2007.

Of course this offseason I’ve seen the Red Sox sign J.D. Drew, Julio Lugo, and Daisuke Matsuzaka while the Blue Jays have gone out and gotten Royce Clayton.

Make no mistake: there will be whining in this space before much longer—but not today (well, maybe a little).

Getting back to Dice-K:

I think in his heart of hearts Boras knows he couldn’t get his $20 million a year that he wanted for Matsuzaka. He kept rattling on about what free agents were getting this year, but that really wasn’t applicable.

After all, free agent wages are determined by a number of bidders being involved and setting the market. Matsuzaka had one bidder.

While Boras might have felt that the posting fee was money rightly belonging to his client there are a few things that have to be borne in mind:

  • The Red Sox paid, in part, for exclusive negotiating rights. Which means they were paying for the privilege of not having to bid against the Yankees and Mets. It makes little sense to pay $51.1 million just so you can pay Matsuzaka the same amount of money that you would as if you were in a bidding war against New York’s finest.
  • The Seibu Lions still had rights to Matsuzaka that had a tangible dollar value to the club. Matsuzaka generates ticket sales, advertising revenue, T.V. money and the like. The Red Sox’s posting fee is, in effect, compensation to the Lions for the revenue they would be foregoing by letting Matsuzaka out of his obligations. Boras, who is mindful of Matsuzaka’s value, isn’t so stupid as to think that his client had zero value to the Lions for which they needed to be compensated.

Additionally, the simple fact of the matter is that Matsuzaka has no track record in major league baseball. To claim that he had equitable value to pitchers who had excelled at the big league level for six full seasons is, frankly, absurd. One is a known commodity, and one is not. There’s a long list of pitchers who were highly regarded when drafted or had dominated in the minors, but nobody suggested they deserved a six-year/$120 million contract before they made their major league debut.

Heck every amateur pitcher who has been drafted early and represented by Boras has been the second coming of [insert name of inner-circle Hall-of-Fame pitcher here] guaranteed to solve world hunger, cure cancer, walk on water, while perpetually posting a sub 2.50 ERA in 200+ innings pitched and tossing four World Series perfect games every year (and improve on this performance when he reaches free agency for the first time). He’s yet to suggest such a player deserves six years at $20 million-per to tide him over until he can cash out as a free agent.

Such examples include four-time Cy young winner Todd Van Poppel, 300-game winner Brien Taylor, three-time World Series MVP and 16-time All Star Game starter Rick Ankiel, Bobby Seay, the only pitcher in major league history to toss back-to-back-to-back perfect games, Ben McDonald who would break Nolan Ryan’s career record of seven no-hitters in his rookie season before finishing his career with 22, and Matt White, the only pitcher with both 250 wins and 250 saves who broke Ed Walsh’s career ERA record of 1.82.

Of course I really didn’t pay much attention to their major league careers after they signed their first contract—I just assumed Boras’ projections were reasonably accurate and not mere hyperbole designed to wring out a few extra bucks from the club that drafted them.

What should be fun is seeing if he has the courage of his convictions regarding the posting fee. When negotiating for his other pitchers will he say Boston was willing to pay $52 million for a pitcher that has never faced major league hitting?

After all, he claimed the posting fee was a completely separate issue from the contract he was negotiating.

Or will he claim that the Red Sox were willing to shell out an average of $17 million-plus a year over six years for a pitcher that has never faced major league hitting so that means Barry Zito must be worth…

Oh well, welcome to the big leagues Dice-man. I hope you’re everything that you’ve been advertised as….

….and that you go 5-0, 0.61 ERA against the Yankees and Alex Rodriguez runs to the mound and slaps you in frustration; go 0-5, 11.74 ERA against the Blue Jays and during those games J.D. Drew and Manny Ramirez have to go on the DL with whiplash and David Ortiz hurts his back helping them off the field.

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