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For $51m, Sox get go-ahead on Matsuzaka

NAPLES, Fla. -- What did the Red Sox accomplish in outbidding the Yankees and Mets, among others, for the rights to negotiate with Japanese ace Daisuke Matsuzaka?

"If they can sign him, they've got the best pitcher in the market, and he may be the best pitcher in baseball when all is said and done," said one American League general manager Tuesday night. "He's got five outstanding pitches.

"Coming over from Japan where he threw a lot of innings and had 13 complete games, I would think this would seem like a vacation to him. It's a lot of money, but if you have it, why not use it on a kid like this? The Yankees have to be sick about this."

With the official announcement Tuesday night that the Red Sox had submitted the highest posting bid for Matsuzaka at $51.1 million, and that the bid had been accepted by the pitcher's Japanese team, the Seibu Lions, the Sox have until midnight, Dec. 15, to lock up Matsuzaka. In addition to the AL general manager, other scouts and executives assembled here at the general managers meetings agreed that he is indeed the most talented pitcher in this year's market.

Considering the positive history between Sox GM Theo Epstein and Matsuzaka's agent, Scott Boras, the Sox' chances of reaching a deal look strong. But the Sox, whose winning bid trumped that of the runner-up Mets ($38 million) by a long shot, were proceeding cautiously last night. Epstein said little except that the team has invited Matsuzaka, his family, and Boras to Boston next week.

Matsuzaka was expected to arrive in Los Angeles today to meet with Boras and his staff and spend a few days there.

The Red Sox have five days to send the Seibu Lions the $51.1 million, but according to one major league source, the paperwork was already complete and the money on its way.

If the Sox do not reach a deal by the deadline, Matsuzaka will return to Seibu to pitch next season and the posting fee will be refunded to Boston. Matsuzaka, whose current salary in Japan is $3 million, could then be posted again next year.

There are many schools of thought as to how Boras will approach negotiations. The most prevalent theory is that he will ask for a three-year deal, and the feeling among some GMs is that the asking price might be as high as $16 million per season.

The Sox, meanwhile, will likely try to tie him up for five years, but at somewhere in the $12 million-$13 million range.

"It's tricky," said one GM. "When you invest that kind of fee, you have to go all out to get the deal done. If they are able to spend $50 million for him, they can go the extra mile on his salary."

Former Sox adviser Bill Lajoie, who has watched Matsuzaka on video, said, "Very, very talented pitcher. It's a good move for Boston."

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