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Baseball Notes

Is it worth it to roll the dice on a Matsuzaka deal?

By Nick Cafardo
October 10, 2010

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Nearly a dozen scouts and team executives that we polled informally indicated that the Red Sox would have a substantial market for Daisuke Matsuzaka if they intend to deal him this offseason. Whether teams actually step up and try to acquire him is an entirely different issue.

“With the state of pitching today, if a team can go out and get a still relatively young middle-of-the-rotation starter, they’ll do it,’’ said one veteran scout with an American League team, who had no doubt that teams would vie for Matsuzaka.

“Everyone knows what he is,’’ said an executive. “He can be frustrating to watch, walks a lot of guys, throws too many pitches, but at the end of the day his stuff is so good that he’s capable of doing what he did his first two years in the league and that’s win a lot of games. Personally, I’d be surprised if the Red Sox did anything, but if they do, they’ll have teams interested.’’

And then comes the old “what do you get for him’’ issue. And would the Sox have to assume some of the $20 million remaining on his contract?

Most of the people we asked said that most teams would ask for a subsidy to take Matsuzaka, but the bigger problem might be the player compensation. Would the Sox try to replenish their bullpen? Would they opt for prospects? A hitter? More starting pitching?

Matsuzaka, who received a six-year, $52 million contract from the Sox (who also posted a $51 million fee just to negotiate with him) lived up to billing for a couple of years, but because of injuries and conditioning issues, he regressed.

The Sox have been through a lot with Matsuzaka; they have pleaded with him to get on their shoulder program and change where he works out in the offseason.

But the bottom line is that none of it has made Matsuzaka better. In fact, some close to the Matsuzaka camp believe he should have been allowed to just do his own thing, as he did in Japan.

Then came neck and back issues, and this and that. Every so often, he has a game in which he gets ahead of hitters and pitches well. But most of the time he’s average to below. He’s one big box of chocolates: You never know what you’re going to get.

Because of the language and cultural barriers, one thing that’s unclear is how happy he is in Boston.

One hears different things. The Sox seem to think he’s fine. Others around Matsuzaka think he wouldn’t balk at a change.

This has not been an easy transition for Matsuzaka. He started out resistant to the changes in his work routine the Sox wanted. He and agent Scott Boras had to come to an understanding with the Red Sox on what he needs to do to prepare better.

Some journalists who are close to Matsuzaka claim that he’d rather be on his own program, even though the Sox have allowed him to incorporate some of his own routines.

Matsuzaka has told Japanese journalists that he feels his stuff was as good this season as it’s ever been and that he finished the season very confident in his fastball movement and command.

The Sox will enter next season with their five starting pitchers and Tim Wakefield intact. They also have young lefty Felix Doubront, whom they project as a starter, and Casey Kelly could be pitching at Triple A. They think Kelly has the potential to be a top starter, though talent evaluators from other teams project him as a middle- to end-of-the-rotation starter. Junichi Tazawa also will find his way back to health after undergoing Tommy John surgery last winter.

Of course, nobody likes to give up starting pitchers, no matter how expendable they appear to be. The Sox found out why after trading Bronson Arroyo for Wily Mo Pena. Certainly a lesson learned there.

This doesn’t mean the Sox can’t part with Matsuzaka and then sign another starter. There’s even talk that they may dip into Japan once again and bid on the latest phenom there, 24-year-old Yu Darvish. Darvish’s father, Farzad Darvishsefad, who is Iranian, went to school in the Berkshires, so there’s a New England connection.

There is no shortage of teams that would be interested in Matsuzaka. The Mets were the runners-up in the posting bid for him. The Mariners have a Japanese owner. The Dodgers have a history with Japanese pitchers. The Rangers could take on the contract. The Brewers need pitching. The Tigers could use another starter.

DEBATING THE CANDIDATES

It’s decision time for general managers

You’re a general manager looking for a new manager, which means, on some level, you messed up something, whether it was picking the wrong guy or not giving him the right players. This time around, you need to get it right. Cases in point:

■Brewers. GM Doug Melvin just fired Ken Macha, who never had a pitching staff. Where does he go from here? He said outside the organization, which eliminates Dale Sveum and Willie Randolph. Melvin likes to hire second- or third-time managers, which makes Bob Melvin, Clint Hurdle, Don Baylor, and Don Wakamatsu possibilities.

■Cubs. The sentiment to retain interim manager Mike Quade grows. Jim Hendry and ownership liked what Quade got out of his players. The popular Ryne Sandberg appears to be on the back burner. The Cubs may take a run at Joe Girardi after the playoffs.

■Marlins. Major league sources indicate that Bobby Valentine is still in play, but money is an issue. The Marlins seem to want experience. Anyone from Jim Fregosi to Tony Pena is in play.

■Braves. It’s so quiet that Fredi Gonzalez may be a certainty. He turned down a chance to interview with the Cubs, which speaks volumes.

■Blue Jays. This is GM Alex Anthopoulos’s first hire, so he is being very thorough. He’s looking at a lot of bench/third base coach types, including his own Brian Butterfield. Ron Roenicke (Angels), Rob Thomson (Yankees), and David Martinez (Rays) will be on the list, as will former manager types such as Baylor.

■Pirates. Tough job, but somebody has to take it. With GM Neal Huntington’s Cleveland background, coaches with ties there have a leg up. They would include Eric Wedge, John Farrell, and Torey Lovullo. Don’t rule out Macha, a Pittsburgh native.

■Mariners. GM Jack Zduriencik has brought in Wedge and Kansas City coach John Gibbons for interviews. Wedge seems to be the leader, but don’t be surprised to see Red Sox coach DeMarlo Hale get another look.

■Mets. One would think they’d wait for the new GM to make the call, but there’s so much sentiment for Brooklyn (Single A) coach Wally Backman.

THREE STAR CAPTAINS

Varitek, Konerko, and Jeter head to market

It’s rare that you would have three captains entering free agency at the same time in the American League, but Derek Jeter (Yankees), Paul Konerko (White Sox), and Jason Varitek (Red Sox) are at that crossroads.

It’s almost certain that Jeter will get a multiyear deal that rewards him for past accomplishments and allows him to retire as a Yankee. The 36-year-old shortstop had his worst season in 2010, and his skills appear to be trending downward after a stellar 2009.

On the open market, most agree, Jeter would get a two-year deal at $16 million, but the Yankees will likely open the checkbook and give him four years or more at something close to the $20 million he’s averaging now.

Konerko put up MVP numbers at age 34 and would love to remain with the White Sox. He has said length of contract won’t be a huge factor, since he’s unsure how long he wants to play. But White Sox general manager Ken Williams said he wasn’t sure Konerko fit into his 2011 budget and also spoke about needing to get another lefthanded hitter or two in the lineup.

Konerko has spent 12 years with the White Sox after playing for the Dodgers and Reds.

“I think where they stand right now is probably just figuring out where they want to go as a team,’’ he said. “I’m kind of secondary.

“Obviously it’s a business, so they have to figure out payroll stuff, and when they do that, then hopefully I’m in their conversation.’’

Konerko is seen by some as a nice fit for the Red Sox should Adrian Beltre leave for the Angels or another West Coast team. He can still play first base at an above-average level and would be a force at Fenway Park. The Red Sox would have to decide whether to devote big dollars to an older player, but Konerko shows no signs of decline.

Varitek wants to play and prefers to stay in Boston, but if the Sox are thinking bigger with their catching situation, he would move elsewhere to be a backup. Perhaps to a place like Florida, where he could have a real impact on the Marlins’ young staff.

Etc.

Apropos of nothing
1. The Twins need one of those Dustin Pedroia types; 2. When you watch Jorge Posada catch Andy Pettitte, you realize he’s a lot better than advertised in handling pitchers; 3. I think you have to commit to Ryan Kalish as a starter next year, don’t you?; 4. Kerry Wood would have made a huge difference in the Red Sox bullpen; 5. Why do I think Brian Fuentes will be with the Sox next season?

Updates on nine
1. Jed Lowrie, INF, Red Sox — Teams needing a second baseman are very interested in Lowrie. The feeling is his arm strength is perfectly suited for second base, but an American League scout said he would take him as a shortstop. “He could be like Cal Ripken and just learn to position hitters so well he reduces the throw with good positioning,’’ said the scout.

2. Carlos Zambrano, RHP, Cubs — He was lights-out over his last 10 starts (8-0, 1.41, since Aug. 9) but the Cubs wouldn’t mind moving his massive contract, which has three years remaining (with a vesting option for 2013) at about $55 million. Could a team also trying to move a big contract bite on Zambrano if the Cubs assume some of his contract? He was 11-6, 3.33, overall, which isn’t bad. His temperamental side is wearing thin.

3. Carl Pavano, RHP, Twins — He really wants to stay in Minnesota, but he’d have to give the Twins a hometown discount. He could easily command a three-year, $30 million deal based on his 17 wins, but the Twins may not want to go that high. One problem the Twins face is that their starting pitching isn’t strong, so Pavano’s veteran presence has to be of value. This should be an interesting negotiation for the Twins, who for all intents and purposes have redefined themselves as a big-market team.

4. Arte Moreno, owner, Angels — He isn’t happy with the way the season went and is already clearing out several people. Gone are longtime scout Dale Sutherland and trainer Ned Bergert. Last year, a couple of broadcasters, PR people, and clubhouse people were let go. Moreno has seen attendance dip, so he might make a splash with Adrian Beltre, Carl Crawford, or both.

5. Brad Mills, manager, Astros — When your GM says, “I’ve hired my last manager,’’ that’s a pretty strong endorsement, but that’s what Ed Wade said after exercising Mills’s options for 2011 and 2012. Mills did a nice job, surviving a horrible start and then getting the Astros to play well after Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt were traded.

6. Dustin Ackley, 2B, Mariners — His play in the Arizona Fall League and spring training will go a long way in determining whether he is the Mariners’ permanent second baseman. A lot is expected from Ackley, whom many compare to Chase Utley. The Mariners need serious offense, and the hope is the four young guys in the lineup — Justin Smoak (acquired from Texas in the Cliff Lee deal), Michael Saunders, Adam Moore, and Franklin Gutierrez — will step it up a notch in 2011. GM Jack Zduriencik may openly shop for a run-producer. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Victor Martinez is a target.

7. Freddy Garcia, RHP, White Sox — The White Sox have Mark Buehrle, John Danks, Gavin Floyd, and Edwin Jackson under their control, with rookie lefty Chris Sale a candidate to be the fifth starter while Jake Peavy recovers from shoulder surgery. Garcia has a big fan in manager Ozzie Guillen, but the White Sox might roll the dice and move on, leaving Garcia as an attractive choice for the end of someone’s rotation.

8. John Buck, C, Blue Jays — The 31-year-old free agent will likely make himself some money when he heads into the open market. Buck hit .281 with 20 homers, 66 RBIs, and made the All-Star team. His pop could land him a starting gig in a few places, including Boston if the Sox don’t re-sign Martinez.

9. Allard Baird, assistant GM, Red Sox — He will interview with the Mets for their GM job, getting plenty of competition from Josh Byrnes, Jerry DiPoto, Sandy Alderson etc. But if you’re the Mets, Baird might be the perfect choice. Not only has he held such a job under the most difficult of circumstances — Royals ownership never gave him the resources to draft the best players and also forced him to get rid of the higher-priced ones — but since his firing in Kansas City, he has been able to focus on his role as one of Theo Epstein’s top advisers. Baird had a big hand (along with Jared Porter) in finding players such as Nick Green, Darnell McDonald, Scott Atchison, and Daniel Nava for the Sox.

Short hops
From the Bill Chuck files: “Joe Maddon ended the season with a 431-430 career managerial record (404-406 with the Rays), while Dusty Baker ended his season 243-243 as the Reds manager. Bruce Bochy is 323-325 as the Giants manager.’’ Also, “Pitchers struck out 2,021 times this season, designated hitters struck out 1,998.’’ . . . Kalish, who had 24 RBIs and 10 stolen bases in just 53 games, is the winner of the Harry Agganis Award as Red Sox Rookie of the Year, as voted by the Boston chapter of the Baseball Writers Association. Kalish will be honored at the writers’ dinner Jan. 20 at the Westin Copley Place Hotel in Boston. Tickets are $150 apiece and can be purchased with a check payable to The Sports Museum, 100 Legends Way, Boston 02114. Credit card purchases can be made by calling Rusty Sullivan at 617-624-1237 . . . Tomorrow, wish former Red Sox pitching coach Bill Fischer a happy 80th birthday, along with a happy 66th to Mike Fiore and a happy 51st to Pat Dodson.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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