Thursday, December 14, 2006

A California Roll

Daisuke Matsuzaka signed a 6 year contract with the Boston Red Sox last night. The deal calls for the Red Sox to pay him $52 million over the life of the contract. There are awards incentives which could push the total package to $60 million. Those incentives weren't released but it's probably a combination of All-Star appearances, Cy Young votes, MVP votes and post season MVP's.

The cost of the total package for Matsuzaka is slightly over $103 million, which breaks out to just over $17 million a year. However only the contract dollars count against the salary cap meaning that it works to a very economical $8.7 million a year for the Red Sox. Basically the Red Sox secured one of the best pitchers in the world for millions less, on an annual basis, than the Cubs are paying Ted Lilly and the Royals are paying Gil Meche. Matsuzaka was critical to the Red Sox off season plans and the owners flew out to California to meet with the pitcher in order to get a deal done. The negotiations appeared to be at a dead end on Monday and the Sox knew that they had to do something drastic in order to get them moving again. Scott Boras had initially wanted upwards of $15 million a season, but the Red Sox did not come close to meeting that demand. Boras had refused to return their phone calls after the Red Sox initial offer and was trying to bluff his way into a bigger payday for his player. The Red Sox owners flew out to California to make sure that Matsuzaka knew what their offer was. The Sox did increase theiir initial offer slightly but basically held firm and in the end Matsuzaka's desire to play in the major leagues forced Boras to accept the deal.

The Red Sox now have three young starting pitchers who they believe will form the core of their rotation for at least the next 5 years. Paplebon, Beckett and Matsuzaka could form the backbone of a great pitching staff along the lines of Seaver, Koosman and Matlack for the Mets in the seventies. Curt Schilling and Tim Wakefield will round out the Red Sox starting five. Four of the five starters could easily win 15 games a piece and Wakefield can be as tough as any starting pitcher in baseball on any given day. Compared to the Red Sox, the Yankees rotation looks positively ancient, with only Wang being under 30. The Yankees will probably try and counter by signing Roger Clemens, but that will be very expensive, it won't help them get any younger and certainly won't address any long term pitching issues.

Of course, this is all pure speculation at this point. Matsuzaka has never pitched in the major leagues. He certainly has never faced the kind of scrutiny from the media and fans that he will face in Boston. Will he perform as well as Hideo Nomo did when he first got to Majors, or will he turn out to be more like Hideki Irabu? No one knows for sure. Josh Beckett won 16 games for the Sox last year, but had an ERA of over 5 and led the league in home runs allowed. Paplebon was great as the Red Sox closer last season, but had to be shut down late in the year because of arm problems and has never worked as a starter in the majors. Wakefield and Schilling are both over 40 and somewhat injury prone at this point. There are definitely a lot of "ifs" about the projected starting staff for the Sox, but "if" they all go the right way, the Red Sox have set themselves up to become the dominant player in the AL east for next season and perhaps the foreseeable future.



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