The gloves came off yesterday in the Red Sox ' efforts to sign Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, who is facing a Thursday midnight deadline in striking a deal with the Sox, or his rights revert back to his Japanese team, the Seibu Lions.
Frustrated by the absence of back-and-forth negotiations with Matsuzaka's agent, Scott Boras, principal owner John W. Henry provided his private plane to ferry general manager Theo Epstein and CEO Larry Lucchino to southern California for face-to-face negotiations with the agent.
"We're on Scott Boras's doorstep because he hasn't negotiated with us so far," Henry said, frustration registering in his voice during a post-midnight conference call with reporters. "We're taking the fight directly to him to try to have a negotiation here."
Epstein said that he and Lucchino intend to present a new offer to Boras today, even though the club never received a counter offer to its original proposal. The offer, Epstein said, is of "considerable magnitude," describing it as the biggest offer given to a player who has never played in the big leagues and larger than any offer given to a Japanese player.
"It's highly unusual," Epstein said of submitting a second offer without receiving a response to the first, "but it's showing that Matsuzaka is extremely important to the Boston Red Sox. It's normally not a good ploy, but we want to demonstrate to Matsuzaka, and the fans of Japanese baseball, just how important he is to us."
But Henry, in a comment made after the conference call, gave further indication of his frustration with the Sox inability to communicate directly with the 26-year-old Matsuzaka. Until last night, the team has not commented on negotiations since Lucchino, in a press conference in Japan, announced that the team had made a "comprehensive" offer to the player.
"You make your best offer," Henry said, "and just hope the player receives it."
Asked if that meant he had some doubts about whether Matsuzaka has been kept fully abreast of negotiations, Henry said: "I think I'll stick with that quote."
Epstein said that he hopes to be taking Matsuzaka and Boras back to Boston tomorrow on Henry's plane for a physical that is a prerequisite to a deal being struck. Asked if the sides could make a deal without a physical being given, Epstein said it is club policy not to do so.
But there is considerable doubt that a deal will be done. Hours before the Sox held a press conference with a group of reporters, primarily Japanese, then went on the conference call, Boras held a press conference in his Newport Beach, Calif., offices.
"If the parties' positions remain the same," he said, "Daisuke will return to Japan."
Boras insisted it was his hope that the sides could bridge their differences.
"The Boston Red Sox organization will be meeting personally with Daisuke tonight and tomorrow," Boras said, "to try and reach an amicable resolution."
But a negotiating session set up with Boras after Epstein and Lucchino arrived was called off yesterday, according to a source with first-hand knowledge of the negotiations, when Boras informed the officials that he had decided not to allow Matsuzaka to sit in on the meeting.
Lucchino said that a meeting has been scheduled for today with Boras and Matsuzaka. Asked if Matsuzaka's presence was guaranteed, Lucchino said: "That was the plan, for him to be there."
Lucchino and Epstein stressed how important signing Matsuzaka was to the Red Sox. "We don't want this thing to fail for lack of effort," Lucchino said.
Epstein, after citing Matsuzaka's desire to play for the Sox and the team's desire to have him, on several occasions made vague allusions to his hopes that "unnecessary impediments" would not get in the way of making a deal.
The Sox position takes into account the $51.1 million posting bid they paid to the Seibu Lions, the Japanese team that holds Matsuzaka's rights for the next two years, and the fact that Matsuzaka is not a free agent and thus should not be paid like one in the six years he remains under Sox control.
Boras takes a fundamentally different position, that Matsuzaka is one of the elite pitchers in the world, the posting system penalizes the player, and Matsuzaka should be compensated for his services with no regard to what the Sox paid to gain exclusive rights to those services. In a market that has exploded this winter, especially for starting pitchers, Boras argues that Matsuzaka should be compensated in like fashion.
Negotiations primarily have been a one-sided conversation; Boras received an initial offer and has sat on it, waiting to see how the Sox would up the ante without any prompting, except for the fear that come Thursday's deadline, Matsuzaka will be headed back to Japan and not to Boston.
Boras said that Matsuzaka, who arrived in California Saturday, had spent the past two days undergoing essentially a crash course in major league contracts, especially those given starting pitchers, so he could make "an informed decision about his future."
"One thing is clear," Boras said. "Daisuke Matsuzaka will one day be a major league player. But it is difficult, within the system as it is designed, to transfer one of the best pitchers in the world from the Japanese system to the American system.' There are complexities -- it is not a simple negotiation between the club and the player."
Could that be posturing? Of course. In the end, the decision belongs to Matsuzaka, who said his goodbyes to the Seibu fans and has expressed great enthusiasm for pitching for the Red Sox. But if Boras has convinced him there is a more lucrative avenue to pursue --whether by mounting a legal challenge to the posting system, waiting another year to get posted again, or waiting two years to become an unrestricted free agent -- then it is likely that Matsuzaka goes back to Japan.
The Red Sox, the source said, have not made it a condition of resuming negotiations that Matsuzaka be present. But they may have been motivated to hold last night's press conference by the hope that Matsuzaka would hear their position, unfiltered by the agent.