|One point in the Red Sox' favor is the pressure coming from Japan for Daisuke Matsuzaka to sign a contract now. (TED S. WARREN/ASSOCIATED PRESS)|
Team had to know how game is played
The hours are dwindling to a precious few, and Daisuke Matsuzaka remains unsigned. If midnight Thursday comes and he remains so, we can then indulge in one of modern America's favorite rituals: The Blame Game.
There's nothing new about The Blame Game. It goes back at least as far as the late '40s, when the parlor game du jour was "Who Lost China?" Nowadays, it seems to be a required procedure in the world of sport.
The Matsuzaka situation is particularly savory, because it includes a villain sent directly from Central Casting. Who among us hasn't been conditioned to loathe Scott Boras?
Mr. Boras is baseball's favorite punching bag. The very mention of his name spoils the day for some baseball executives. It happens to be the gospel truth that certain teams will not sign or trade for a Scott Boras client.
Your Boston Red Sox are not one of those teams. As my esteemed colleague Gordon Edes pointed out in these pages yesterday, they have two rather prominent Boras clients on their roster in Jason Varitek and J.D. Drew, and they have had others in the past. The Red Sox are not a Boras-phobic organization.
But as Edes also reminded us, Messrs. Varitek and Drew are illustrative of the Boras approach to negotiation. He advised each of them to ignore the offers made to them by the teams that had originally secured their draft rights. Varitek spurned an offer from the Twins and returned to school. The Mariners drafted him a year later and it took them 10 months to sign him, and then only when he came within three weeks of signing with a team in the independent Northern League.
Drew, a star at Florida State, was advised to turn down a fairly spectacular offer of $2.5 million to sign with the Phillies. He would eventually sign with the Cardinals, and to this day he is about as popular in the City of Brotherly Love as an IRS auditor.
In the minds of some, Boras doesn't negotiate. He waits. It is assumed that his favorite movie is "Dr. No."
OK, you get the picture. Scott Boras is involved. That being the case, we all knew from the start it was going to be, shall we say, tedious. As Tina Turner says in her raucous version of "Proud Mary," "We nevah, evah do nothin' nice and easy. We do it nice and rough."
So what do we have here? From afar, it would seem that the Red Sox see a classic case of "SBS," i.e. "Scott Being Scott." Their position is that they have heard nothing at all from Boras since they made an offer at the outset of the negotiations. And when they say "nothing," they mean "nothing." They are taking his non-response as a "No," but they would appreciate receiving what you call your basic "counterproposal."
The working assumption is that Red Sox made an offer in the vicinity of $6 million-$7 million a year for 4-6 years. If that's the case -- and we know none of this for sure -- then we are within our rights to ask just whom do they think they're kidding? Better yet, just whom do they think they're dealing with? That's not even Mike Mussina or Andy Pettitte money, and if D-Mat isn't better than either of them, why are we even having this discussion?
Boras is telling the world that the Red Sox are trying to have the $51.1 million that they committed in order to have the negotiations in the first place somehow folded into the D-Mat contract. Excuse me? Wasn't it clearly understood from the beginning that the $51.1 million was a "posting fee" that would go directly to the Seibu Lions and that the actual contract was a completely independent matter? If we all had this firmly fixed in our heads, why didn't John Henry, Tom Werner, Larry Lucchino, Theo Epstein, and anyone else on the masthead also comprehend it? Did they think Boras would, oh, I don't know, forget the premise or something?
Boras said from the outset he wanted his client paid as a top-level American pitcher. The Red Sox knew who was representing Matsuzaka before they decided to enter into this interesting exercise in the first place. The Red Sox had to know that Boras would be seeking a contract in the million mid-teens, minimum. That was a given. The only hard "negotiation" was going to be over the number of years. The Red Sox would want to be in control of Matsuzaka's services for at least four years, and rightfully so.
It seems simple to me.
Most agents are deal-makers. Once the haggling's done, they want to make a deal. Scott Boras is different. As the Varitek and Drew examples demonstrate, he is sometimes content not to make a deal.
However . . .
There is another dynamic at play here. We are talking about a Japanese pitcher, not some kid from Tulsa. And, as many of us have been made aware by our correspondences with interested American expatriates living in Japan, being Japanese does make a difference.
One such correspondent is Mark Caprio, originally from Pittsfield, and now living in Japan. Writes Mr. Caprio:
"The word here in Japan is that Matsuzaka would find it rather difficult coming back to Japan should the Red Sox fail to sign him. He said his farewells to his fans, and they sent him off with their blessings. After the Red Sox bid of $51.1 million, he would look even more foolish should he fail to come to terms, particularly when it appears the Red Sox are offering him more money than proven Japanese major leaguers -- Matsui and Ichiro. Can't guarantee he won't come back, but in the minds of many here, there is more pressure for him to sign."
One more thing: A normal staple of a Scott Boras negotiation is playing a team off against another team, which sometimes turns out not to have existed at all. In this case, he can only negotiate with one team. His leverage is withholding his client's services. That's it. So if Matsuzaka really wants to come to America, he can end this by saying, "Boras-san, make a deal." Given the well-documented Boras M.O., you wonder who steered him to Boras in the first place?
I think he'll be signed. But if he isn't, don't blame Scott Boras. You can't spend $51.1 million and then tell us you underestimated whom you were dealing with. They knew, all right.
Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.