Unless you count the inevitable failed comeback attempt next season (I'll set the over/under at 3.5 starts and take the under), it's over.
Turns out Daisuke Matsuzaka didn't throw 100 MPH. We can put the gyroball on the list of things we are still waiting to see in Boston sports, along with Rick Pitino's final press conference and Drew Bledsoe's chance to compete for "his job" as starting QB of the Patriots.
The Matsuzaka signing can't be looked at as anything close to a success, but to call it a complete wipeout wouldn't exactly be fair, either. There were some good moments -- think 18-3 in 2008, two playoff wins in 2007, the occasional starts where he really looked like the guy we were told we were getting in December 2006 (the near no-hitter vs. the Phillies last year as a perfect example) -- but those will be simply swallowed by the blizzard of blown leads (and raise your hand if you'll miss Don Orsillo telling us that "Dice-K is at 62 pitches through two innings") and injuries and failure to get on board with the organization.
Ultimately? A miss. But that doesn't mean we can't take a closer look at the winners and losers from Dice-K's Red Sox tenure ...
WINNER: Scott Boras
Maybe not his greatest heist -- this is a guy, after all, that got the Texas Rangers to pay Alex Rodriguez $252 million by essentially bidding against the Texas Rangers -- but I'm pretty sure Matsuzaka is happy with the $52 million contract right about now. You look back at the whole "Will We Or Won't We Get This Guy?" drama from five years ago, and it's almost amazing to see how smoothly Boras played his character. Sure, he pissed the Sox off at times -- "We're on Scott Boras' doorstep because he hasn't negotiated with us thus far," John Henry said when ownership made the trip to the West Coast to try and finalize the deal -- but that's part of the job, of course. The bottom line is Boras got the Sox to cough up $52 million for a pitcher (plus another $51 mil for posting) with nothing close to a track record in the major leagues.
LOSER: Scott Boras
He thought landing Dice-K would be the start of a bridge to Japanese players that in fact never materialized. And whatever it's worth, the Matsuzaka/Boras relationship is now strained at best. I suspect, however, that Boras still probably views the whole ordeal as a winner (and I'm not buying that he hurt his relationship with the Sox in the process -- if a player is really good and the Sox think he'll help them win they'll go after him if he's a Boras client or not. You think if Jacoby Ellsbury keeps playing like this the Sox'll let him walk because of Boras? Come on.)
WINNER: Seibu Lions
Think about it: They got eight terrific years out of Matsuzaka (108-60 record, 2.95 ERA, Rookie of the Year in 1999, The Pacific League version of the Cy Young in 2001) and then sold him for $51.1 million. OK, they might've missed out on those first two productive years, but does anyone think these injuries would have been prevented if he had stayed in Japan and kept churning out 160-pitch starts? Nope, they got the best of Dice-K and then got paid $51 million to let him go somewhere else and suffer arm fatigue and hip injuries and a Tommy John surgery. There is no comparison to that in any other field. If the old studio system still existed in movies and MGM paid Sony $51 million for the rights to Tara Reid in 2001 we might be getting close.
"Publicly, the Red Sox are trying to walk a precarious line between cashing in on the excitement of his arrival and tempering expectations. Privately, they believe he can have as big an impact as two-time Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana has had in Minnesota. On those magic nights when Matsuzaka has all of his pitches working, the Sox envision 15-strikeout games."
-- Tom Verducci
Verducci (who wrote the cover story of the 2007 SI Baseball Preview on Dice K titled Fever Pitch: Why Daisuke Matsuzaka is Worthy and What America Will Learn From Him) is just one of about three million journalists who fell all over themselves to try to explain to us how Matsuzaka -- with his eight different pitches and Balboa in Russia workout routine and his endless pride -- was going to change how we looked at pitching. At the time we all just kind of nodded and kept drinking the Kool-Aid being served by the Sox to the media to us.
WINNER: That Guy Who Only Defines Success As Winning a World Series, No Matter The Cost
Well, Dice-K contributed to a World Series winner. No question about it. He won 15 games in the regular season and two more in the postseason, including Game 7 of the ALCS. So that happened, sure. But I have to think that the Sox -- who won 96 games, the AL East by two games and were a full eight games ahead of the wild-card runner up Mariners -- would have figured out a way to get to the postseason without Matsuzaka and his 4.40 ERA (28th in the AL that season). And Matsuzaka average at best in that postseason, pitching into the sixth inning once in four starts. His career postseason ERA is 4.79, which isn't exactly going to get you a seat at the John Smoltz/Curt Schilling/Bob Gibson table. He helped, no question. But put a Paul Byrd type in the same spot for a fifth the price and is the end result any different?
WINNER: The Cautionary Tale
One more excerpt from the Verducci (who I think is one of the best baseball writers alive) 2007 SI story:
He didn't ice after he threw 103 pitches in the bullpen the second time he stepped on a mound in spring training in 2007, more than twice the number of even the heartiest of his fellow Red Sox pitchers. He didn't ice after one of his twice-weekly 20-minute long-toss sessions, when he throws from the rightfield foul pole to the leftfield wall -- a distance of about 300 feet -- while taking only one step to load his arm. (Most pitchers throw half that distance.) In past years with the Seibu Lions, he wouldn't ice even after his frequent 300-pitch bullpen sessions, a program that would have been grounds for dismissal for any major league pitching coach who allowed it.
Reflect on the 250 pitches he threw in a 17-inning complete game in high school -- the apex of a stretch in which he threw 54 innings in 11 days -- and the 189 pitches he threw on Opening Day in 2003, the 160 pitches in his second start of the '05 season, the 145 pitches in his penultimate start for the Lions, the 588 innings he threw for Seibu before he turned 21 (Oakland ace Rich Harden, 25, still hasn't logged that many big league innings) and the eight games last year in which he threw at least 130 pitches -- more such games than all major league pitchers combined.
Uh, isn't the above paragraph the exact reason why you don't spend $103 million on a pitcher? I don't pretend to have a clue -- and I'll admit I don't much care -- about how much the Dice-K signing meant to the Sox in terms of T-shirt sales and TV rights and business in Japan. But if you were able to look at Matsuzaka as just a pitcher in 2007 (and I don't know if the Sox could or did) there were plenty of red flags. I can't believe a bunch of really smart guys sat in a room and thought that Matsuzaka was different because of something called doryoku. Could be I'm giving too much credit here, but someone -- be it Theo or someone else -- had to stand up at one point during the process and say, "Hey, we all know the odds are staggeringly in favor of this guy getting hurt a lot in the next six years, right?"
LOSER: Class of 2007
That would be $206 million spent on Matsuzaka, Julio Lugo and J.D. Drew. Two thoughts: A) Yup, signing J.D. Drew to a $70 million contract is the gold standard in this group and B) Lugo's .219/.278/.267 line with the Dodgers in 2006 might've been reason for pause before giving him $36 million. But hey, without Lugo the Sox would have never been able to trade for Chris Duncan.
WINNER: World Baseball Classic
Any doubt who the 2013 MVP of the WBC is going to be? Dice-K is the Christy Mathewson of the WBC, I'm expecting a 1.26 ERA, four wins and a flurry of 98 MPH fastballs as he leads Japan to the gold medal in Israel. If you think about it less from a Red Sox perspective and more from a global baseball angle, it's really been a remarkably successful five years for Matsuzaka. And isn't that what it's all about?