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BOB RYAN

Dollars and hopes sky-high already

Start with this: Investing in a pitcher is like putting your hard-earned money into a Broadway show.

With that in mind, the Red Sox now hope that Daisuke Matsuzaka turns out to be "My Fair Lady" and not "Capeman." They are betting that "With a Little Bit O' Luck," by the end of Matsuzaka's contract they will be singing "I've Grown Accustomed To His Face," and not "Show Me."

These aren't high stakes, either. These are altitudinous stakes. We're way beyond the Ichiro stage. A mere six years ago, the Mariners paid $13.1 million for the rights to the nonpareil outfielder then owned by the Orix Blue Wave and an additional $14 million for a three-year contract. Ichiro rewarded that confidence by winning the MVP in his first year, which made him a certified bargain. He remains one of baseball's premier players.

The Red Sox have offered $51.1 million to the Seibu Lions merely for the right to talk contract with Mr. Matsuzaka. Now the real fun starts. They will be bargaining with the legendary Scott Boras, a hard-nosed fellow whose very presence has been known to scare off people in the past. Some are saying his involvement discouraged a team or two from bidding on Matsuzaka. But the Red Sox aren't afraid of Boras. Indeed, he and Theo Epstein have a history of compatibility, dating from Theo's tenure with the Padres.

Do they now have a choice? Not really. They have made this commitment, and they must follow through. They will overpay Daisuke Matsuzaka. The only question is, by how much?

Is he truly worth even half what he'll get? There is never a definitive way of answering that question. If he becomes the next Pedro, we all will say he was worth the money. Anything less than that, and the arguments will give talk radio subject matter well into the 22d century.

Don't look at me. I didn't watch enough of the World Baseball Classic to even know if I saw him, however briefly it might have been. So I'm a prisoner of the reports we've been getting for the past few weeks, as are all of you. And those reports are pretty good.

At the very least, the consensus is that he is a top-of-the-rotation starter. He is said to have outstanding stuff. According to a National League scout quoted by "Baseball Prospectus," the repertoire consists of a mid-90s fastball, a cutter, a two-seam fastball known as a "shuuto," a curveball, a changeup, a splitter, and a slider. Again according to Baseball Prospectus, another NL scout says he has three different sliders, which would give him nine pitches. Mike Mussina will be jealous.

And then, of course, there is the "gyroball."

Yup, the "gyroball." That, too, is part of the Daisuke Matsuzaka lore. A "gyroball" is an exotic pitch that is said to act like a mega-splitter. Approaching the plate like a fastball, it then takes an enormous dive, or so they say. Supposedly invented by a Japanese physicist, it is said to spiral like a Peyton Manning pass, rather than spin like a Bert Blyleven curveball. Is this possible? I don't know, but I await with great eagerness Matsuzaka's first Fenway news conference.

Let's table this "gyroball" stuff for a moment, shall we? Let's revisit the idea of just how good Mr. Matsuzaka is, or has been.

This means we must return to the ever-reliable, ever-conscientious, and ever-numerically-ready folks at Baseball Prospectus. A fellow named Clay Davenport has crunched the numbers, and his conclusion is that over the past four years Matsuzaka's stats compare quite favorably to those of Roger Clemens. "Although BABIP rates [don't ask] fluctuate for most pitchers," says Baseball Prospectus, "there is a level of quality at which it stops looking random and starts speaking to simple dominance, and this comparison indicates that Matsuzaka is one of those guys . . . He's not simply a really good pitcher; he's arguably the best starting pitcher on the market this winter, eclipsing Jason Schmidt and Barry Zito."

So is that alone worth maybe $100,000,000 to the Red Sox?

It really is extraordinarily risky to commit massive sums of money to any pitcher, at any time. In a better world, pitchers would be paid by the game, perhaps even by the out. The human arm was not constructed to throw a baseball, at least not overhand (which helps explain Eddie Feigner). But until we change the rules to substitute Iron Mikes for Mike Timlins, pitchers are the ones who initiate the action in this game, and people are desperate to find good ones. Matsuzaka appears to be a very good one.

There has been much discussion about his workload. People often cite the fact that he once threw 250 pitches in a high school game as proof that the Japanese abuse their pitchers. But in the last four years, he has averaged 185 innings per season. Performing in a six-man rotation last season, he made 25 starts and averaged seven innings a start. I would interpret that as a sign of excellence, rather than one of overuse. I would expect regular seven-inning starts next season, wouldn't you?

We can argue with any number of specific judgments made during the John Henry/Tom Werner/Larry Lucchino era, but in the final analysis these are not stupid people. They have weighed all the factors, and their conclusion was that they would like to have the 26-year-old righthander. The corollary is also rather obvious. If they have him, then it stands to reason the Yankees do not.

There is one big danger here I'd like to think they have considered carefully. Call it the A-Rod Syndrome.

The money paid Mr. Matsuzaka will bring notoriety and, perhaps, unfair expectations. Will an 18-6, 2.97 season with 200 K's be regarded as superb or a bare minimum standard? C'mon. We all know that they wouldn't be booing A-Rod in New York, and we wouldn't be vilifying him up here, half as much were he making half as much. He should ditch the number 13 and just put "$250,000,000" on his back. Daisuke Matsuzaka could very well face the same problem.

Except that it could be even worse. Pressure on an American is one thing. Pressure on a Japanese player who will have his every bowel movement scrutinized by a ravenous Japanese press corps will be unimaginable.

But I'm sure the Red Sox aren't worrying about all that right now. They're in the courtship stage. They're dreaming about Cy Youngs and championship parades featuring their exalted international acquisition.

John Henry is humming, "Wouldn't It Be Loverly?"

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is ryan@globe.com.

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