Despite his thwarted attempt to try and get Seibu to cut him a break, Larry Lucchino has to be smiling today.
While the Red Sox made a much-publicized bid of $51.1 million to secure the rights to negotiate with a Japanese pitcher that at least one of his countrymen likened to Pedro Martinez in his prime, the Yankees had their bid of approximately half that amount accepted to deal with one most favorably compared to Jarrod Washburn or "a thin David Wells."
Two weeks after losing the Daisuke Matsuzaka sweepstakes, the Yankees discovered that their bargain bid of $26 million was accepted by the Hanshin Tigers for the right to -- tell me if you've heard this before -- a 30-day negotiating window with lefthanded starter Kei Igawa, whom many scouts project to be no more than a third or fourth starter in the big leagues.
No word yet on whether terms might come down to purchasing a case of Igawa's specially designed necklaces.
"I wouldn't mind having him on my team -- he's no dud. But wow. That's a large chunk of change for a guy who is ... not going to knock your eyes out," one international scout tells Newsday, which also quotes an NL scout who watched the Mets' David Wright hit a home run off the lefty in the Japan All-Star series this month.
"I've never see a ball hit that far in that facility,” he said.
So, this bodes well for that questionable Yankees rotation, no?
As shocking a bid as the Red Sox made on Matsuzaka, the Yankees' posting on Igawa may be even more outrageous. And the Red Sox have to be ecstatic over it all.
Not because Igawa might prove to be a launching pad for the Yankees, which admittedly would be a benefit for sure, but because in securing Igawa, New York just made Boston's $51 million investment all the more valuable.
If part of bidding high on Matsuzaka was to spread the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry on a global scale, the Yankees have just done their part to help accomplish that goal. Not only will Japan be closely following the Hideki Matsui-Matsuzaka connection, but now they also get to look forward to a potential Monster (Matsuzaka’s nickname) vs. Iron Nerves (Igawa’s nickname) showdown. If they play at Fenway that evening, the Red Sox might want to consider evacuating the EMC Club, because the press box will simply collapse from the weight of foreign correspondents. One more big-time Japanese posting this winter, and Janet Marie Smith's head may actually spin all the way around.
"Japan could not have hoped for anything more economically advantageous than having the Yankees and the Red Sox go head to head in this new game," Murray Chass writes in today's New York Times. "If they did not understand it already, the Japanese are experiencing first-hand the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, international version."
In the same way the Red Sox were intent on secure the rights to deal with Matsuzaka, the Yankees were in their quest for Igawa, posting $11 million more than the runner-up Mets, $16 million than the San Diego Padres. But while many wonder how good Matsuzaka can be in the major leagues, it's more a question of how dominant he can be. The questions surrounding Igawa are about effectiveness.
Following the Matsuzaka bid two weeks ago, the New York Daily News' Bill Madden wrote on Igawa, "…while the Yankees are expected to make a bid, they regard him as a back-of-the-rotation starter. In other words, they wouldn't mind having him in the spring training mix, but aren't going to go overboard for him."
Perhaps overboard is subjective in this case, but don't rule out the possibility that the Yankees saw further marketing opportunities with Igawa that they might not have had solely with Matsui. Once the Red Sox won the bidding on Matsuzaka, it made New York's attraction to Igawa all the more worthy.
Whether he's any good is another question entirely.
It doesn't hurt that his profile reminds of a lefthanded Mariano Rivera, but nobody is keeping his or her expectations that high. An NL Central scout provides the following observation on Igawa for Prospect Insider:
"He uses a four-seamer in the 88-91 mph range, with that 92+ capability on occasion, and an above-average change that I had in the 78-81 mph area. His breaking ball is a solid slider he'll throw mostly to lefthanders, though he did use it to backdoor some right-handed bats.
It looked like he was playing with a different heater in some starts, perhaps a two-seamer or a sinker of some sorts, but his command of that pitch was very ordinary. His overall control is above average and he'll probably need to be aware of the base on balls in America.
He gets most of his strikeouts on the change and the fastball up in the zone, and I suspect he's going to continue that trend wherever he ends up. His ground ball tendencies aren't heavy enough to think he can be considered even a mild version of a ground ball pitcher, and the best hitters in the world will get more lift on his pitches."
That particular scout opines that a good comparison might be Chicago's Mark Buehrle, which the Yankees will certainly take. So will the Sox, for in an odd way, the better Igawa turns out to be, the better it is for the Red Sox, at least on an overseas financial barometer. It's not often that these two rivals scratch each other's backs, but in posting almost $80 million over the past two weeks, that's what they've pretty much done.
Then again, if Boston doesn't end up signing Matsuzaka, you think the Sox can sell the Japanese on Ted Lilly?