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Matsuzaka a fitting choice to end this season

Posted by Peter Abraham, Globe Staff  October 3, 2012 10:37 AM

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NEW YORK — It seems fitting that this historically bad Red Sox will end tonight with Daisuke Matsuzaka as the starting pitcher.

The Red Sox paid a "posting fee" of $51,111,111 to the Seibu Lions in 2005 for the rights just to negotiate with Matsuzaka. Then they gave him a contract for six years and $52 million.

But that was just the start. Matsuzaka also received a compete no-trade clause and the right to never be sent to the minor leagues. The Red Sox also were compelled to hire a staff to attend to Matsuzaka. He had a physical therapist, a masseuse, an interpreter and a media relations coordinator.

The Red Sox also had to provide him with a car and pay for his apartments in spring training and in Boston.

In retrospect, the most comical parts of the deal were the bonuses Matsuzaka would receive if he won the Cy Young or MVP. In six years he received a handful of Cy Young votes, those coming in 2008 when he finished fourth. There haven't been any since.

Matsuzaka was 33-15 with a 3.72 ERA in his first two seasons with the Red Sox, pitching 372.1 innings and making 61 starts. He pitched well in the postseason, too, winning three of his seven starts, including the third game of the 2007 World Series.

In the four seasons since, Matsuzaka made only 54 starts and pitched 293.2 innings. He was 17-21 with a 5.42 ERA. He made going on the disabled list a habit and has little connection to the team. His tenure with the Sox will be remembered for the 2007 World Series title, but also for all the wasted days afterward.

In all, the Red Sox are 68-47 in the games he has started, most of those victories coming because Terry Francona was skilled at knowing when to take Matsuzaka out of the game. He averaged only 5.2 innings over his 115 starts, dawdling on the mound time after time, afraid to throw strikes.

Matsuzaka has a 4.47 career ERA, the fifth highest in team history for pitchers with at least 100 starts.

In essence, the Red Sox dropped $103 million on a fairly decent middle-of-the-rotation starter. The pitcher who compares most favorably to Matsuzaka statistically is John Maine. He made roughly $7 million in his seven seasons in the majors.

Philosophically, signing Matsuzaka is the point where the Red Sox first deviated from the idea of winning through player development and making smart decisions to spending money wildly because they could.

Signing Matsuzaka was more about winning headlines than games. Free agents like J.D. Drew, John Lackey, Mike Cameron, Bobby Jenks, and Carl Crawford were more of the same.

Instead of building teams, the Red Sox flung star players together and hoped for the best. In led them down the path to 2012 and 92 losses.

Matsuzaka doesn't seem like a bad guy. But because the Red Sox treated him like a rock star, there was resentment among teammates. Matsuzaka wasn't really a member of the team, he was a guy who pitched on occasion. He went from being a superstar in 2006 to an expensive spare part in 2012.

Unknowingly, Matsuzaka became a symbol of what has gone wrong with the Red Sox and few in the organization will be sad to see him go into free agency.

It only makes sense that the Red Sox have him on the mound tonight to end their worst season in decades.

Matsuzaka did get one break. At least the game is not at Fenway Park.

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