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Despite the dollars, Red Sox' pursuit of Matsuzaka makes sense

NAPLES, Fla. -- A plethora of no comments and no answers have been the norm the past few days when Red Sox personnel have been asked about Daisuke Matsuzaka, a possible sign that where there's smoke, there's fire, and they may have indeed made a record bid for the negotiating rights to the coveted Seibu Lions righthander.

There were reports of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim also making a bid, and that the Texas Rangers made a $22 million bid.

Teams made their sealed bids to Major League Baseball, which then passed along the high bid to Seibu. The Japanese team only knows the amount, not the identity of the bidder, and has until Tuesday to accept it. If the bid is accepted, only then will the bidder's identity be revealed. The winning team would then have 30 days to work out a deal with the pitcher's agent, Scott Boras, or else Matsuzaka would return to Japan for the '07 season.

The Sox' high-priced effort makes sense on two fronts.

First, it would give the Sox the most talented pitcher in the free agent market -- and he's only 26. Second, it would put them a leg up on the Yankees, a reverse of the Jose Contreras saga years ago.

Reports on ESPN.com say the Sox made the high bid, worth between $38 million and $45 million.

The Sox and Boras have had a few dealings over the years. They were not able to strike an accord on Johnny Damon last winter, but have worked well in the past with Craig Hansen and Jason Varitek, and most recently with Alex Cora.

Boras also represents other clients the Sox might be interested in, most notably J.D. Drew, who opted out of his five-year, $55 million deal with the Dodgers, with a guaranteed $33 million and three years remaining. With Trot Nixon likely to sign elsewhere, Drew could be a priority for the Sox.

Efforts to reach Boras were unsuccessful.

There's some confusion on whether the Sox could trade Matsuzaka's rights, but there is precedent. In 1997, the Padres purchased the contract of Hideki Irabu from the Chiba Lotte Marines, but the pitcher refused to sign and said he would only play for the Yankees. The Yankees sent Rafael Medina, Ruben Rivera, and $3 million in cash to San Diego for Homer Bush and Irabu. The righthander, who was not a favorite of owner George Steinbrenner, signed a four-year, $12.8 million deal and wound up playing on two World Series winners during his three seasons in New York (1997-99).

Matsuzaka has expressed his love of the Yankees on many occasions and appears to prefer playing in pinstripes, but it's unlikely the Sox and Yankees would ever negotiate a deal.

Nonetheless, the Sox have been preparing for the marketing bonanza, which would be Matsuzaka, for weeks. The Sox would likely attract a huge contingent of Japanese media, seeing that they already blanket Hideki Matsui in New York and Ichiro Suzuki in Seattle.

The Sox would probably be able to sell Matsuzaka's Red Sox image in Japan in a big-time way to help make up for the exorbitant posting fee.

The Sox would have to work overtime to help Matsuzaka assimilate into the new culture. Korean submariner Byung Hyun Kim never felt comfortable in Boston, nor did Korean first baseman Hee-Seop Choi, who played in Pawtucket before being given his release.

The Sox once employed righthander Hideo Nomo, who began the influx of pitchers from Japan when he signed with the Dodgers in 1995. Nomo signed as a free agent in 2001. The righthander threw a no-hitter April 4 in Baltimore and a one-hitter May 25 against Toronto, but he had a poor second half. Nomo went 13-10 with a 4.50 ERA and led the American League in strikeouts (220) and walks (96) but left via free agency after one season.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com.

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