(John Tlumacki/Globe Staff)
Roughly $103 million and more than four years later, the Daisuke Matsuzaka saga seemingly will end precisely as it began - with a dispute. Matsuzaka is intent on doing this his way. The Red Sox want to do it theirs. And one can only wonder whether this time, finally, all involved parties are turning away from each other for good.
And so there you have it: the perfect end to an imperfect relationship that nearly blew up before it began, Matsuzaka threatening to go back to Japan before he and agent Scott Boras accepted a six-year, $52 million offer that was nothing short of historic.
If the Red Sox are smart - and we all know they are - here is what they will do now: nothing. Under the terms of baseball's collective bargaining agreement, the Red Sox have the right to dictate Matsuzaka's medical care. They can decide whether Matsuzaka will have surgery and who performs it. If Matsuzaka goes to Dr. Lewis Yocum and has tendon transplant (or Tommy John) surgery without the team's blessing, the Red Sox could ultimately claim a violation of the contract between the sides and seek damages from the player.
Think about it. Matsuzaka is being paid a base salary this year of $10 million with another $10 million due in 2012. While it could be as little as a year before Matsuzaka pitches again, most people in baseball agree that Tommy John patients are not back to 100 percent until two years after the procedure. Any chance of Matsuzaka pitching meaningful, effective innings for the Red Sox again come only by putting off surgery as long as possible and hoping that Matsuzaka sufficiently heals through rest and rehabilitation.
Here's the problem: Matsuzaka is a free agent at the end of next year. If he wants to have any value in 2013 - for anyone, but particularly himself - he needs to have the surgery as soon as possible. That would speed up the process and allow Matsuzaka a healthy start in 2013, whether it be in the major leagues or Japan.
If Matsuzaka has surgery without the team's blessing, the Red Sox theoretically could try to reclaim some of the $10 million due Matsuzaka this year, and all or some of the $10 million due him next season, an admittedly enticing option in the wake of a $103 million investment that went bad.
Now the question the Red Sox will ask themselves as surely as those of us on the outside:
Is it worth it?
Before we all bash Matsuzaka for failing to live up to his potential and, more importantly, failing to invest in the Red Sox as they invested in him, let's make this clear: nobody held a gun to the team's head during the winter of 2006-07. The Red Sox scouted Matsuzaka as thoroughly as anyone and blew away the field with a closed-bid posting offer of $51.11 million. (It is important to note that other bids were generally in the $30- $40-million range, meaning that everyone misevaluated the player on some level.) The Red Sox then offered $52 million to someone who had never thrown a meaningful pitch on American soil, guaranteeing that money over six years.
If the Red Sox play hardball with Matsuzaka now and try to recoup some of their initial investment, how much are they really going to save themselves? Ten percent? Fifteen? Meanwhile, the Sox might tarnish their image with players and further damage their relationship with superagent Scott Boras (who battled with the Sox last year concerning Jacoby Ellsbury's health and also represented Mark Teixeira during those negotiations). The bargaining agreement is one thing, but a player's career and body belong to him. Written or not, teams are expected to operate with some measure of humanity. Busting chops at this stage won't do anyone any good.
Remember, the Red Sox are worth somewhere in the general vicinity of $1 billion. The remainder of Matsuzaka's contract is chump change to them. One way or another, with or without surgery, Matsuzaka is now damaged goods. At this stage, for them, it's best to chalk it all up to bad luck and move on.
Lest anyone regard all of this as some defense of Matsuzaka, think again. The pitcher needs to take his share of the blame on this, too. When Matsuzaka came to the Red Sox, he needed to recognize that he was obligated to do things their way. They paid the money. In each of his first two seasons with the club, Matsuzaka hit a wall at roughly 175 innings pitched. When the Red Sox tried to modify his routine and emphasize efficiency, he resisted. In fact, he was downright obstinate and uncooperative. Matsuzaka seemed far more driven pitching for his native Japan than he ever did pitching for the Red Sox, all of which made him look like someone who was willing to come here and cash the checks.
If he had pitched like Pedro Martinez, maybe Matsuzaka would have been justified in acting a little like Pedro, too. But he didn't. And before anyone cites Matsuzaka's 2008 season, stop. Anyone who saw it knows that year was a statistical anomaly, Matsuzaka pitching fewer innings than any starter in history to win as many as 18 games in a season. (They've been playing major league baseball a long time, folks.)
For sure, Matsuzaka was any easy target during his time here. In the public relations war that has existed between him and the Red Sox, Matsuzaka has been slaughtered because he has no real relationship with the American media. Even in this last case, all information from Matsuzaka came through Japan. Matsuzaka can lament that reality all he likes, but the truth is that he never really made the attempt to turn himself over to the Red Sox. From the moment Matsuzaka signed with the team, in fact, members of the Japanese media openly wondered whether Matsuzaka alienated himself with his own translators and trainers. He insulated himself and treated the Red Sox like outsiders when he was the one coming into an already established situation.
Big mistake there. Matsuzaka created an antagonistic relationship from the start. Early on in his tenure, in fact, the Red Sox had to badger Matsuzaka into making a scheduled start after a picture of his wife (who was sitting in the stands at Fenway Park) was published on the internet by an accredited media outlet. Matsuzaka viewed this an invasion of privacy and held the Red Sox responsible.
Sorry, Daisuke. You came here, remember? Nobody held a gun to your head, either. You don't get to just show up and rewrite the rules.
As to whether surgery is now necessary, none of us obviously has any access to Matsuzaka's precise medical information, but let's get real. Some players can rehab from torn elbow ligaments and pitch reasonably effectively again, but the majority of them don't. Tom Gordon had a similar issue in 1999 and came back to pitch late that season, but he was ineffective and needed surgery anyway. If Matsuzaka were signed beyond 2012, it would behoove the Red Sox, too, to have the procedure sooner rather than later.
The simplest, cleanest solution for all involved?
Cut the cord.
And let's all move on.
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