Red Sox Pay $51 Million to Talk to Japanese Pitcher

For a payment of over $51 million, the Boston Red Sox baseball team has won the right to negotiate a contract with Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka. The Red Sox now have 30 days to sign the young pitcher. Boston gets its money back from Matsuzaka's Japanese team if the pitcher fails to sign with the American club.


Most often it's the New York Yankees who pay breathtaking amounts of money for headline players. Last night, though, the big money came from their hated rivals: the Boston Red Sox.

The Sox bid a record $51.1 million for the exclusive right to negotiate a contract with Daisuke Matsuzaka, the best pitcher in Japan.

NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN: The $51.1 million shatters the previous high bid for negotiating rights with a Japanese player. That was in 2001, when Seattle paid about $13 million for the rights to talk to Ichiro Suzuki, who the Mariners ultimately signed.

Boston's payment of $51.1 million goes to Matsuzaka's Japanese team, the Seibu Lions, as compensation for losing their star pitcher. If Boston can't sign Matsuzaka in 30 days, the Lions have to return the money. But there's a strong belief the Red Sox will get the deal done, a deal that could cost Boston another $40 million for Matsuzaka's salary. That means around $90 million for a guy who's never pitched a major league game.

In an interview on ESPN, baseball analyst Peter Gammons said Daisuke Matsuzaka is worth it.

Mr. PETER GAMMONS (Baseball Analyst, ESPN): Because he's the best pitcher on the market and he's the youngest pitcher on the market.

GOLDMAN: Matsuzaka has been a force in Japanese baseball since he was 18. Over the past eight years he's won 108 games and lost 60, and struck out 1,355 batters. He's a versatile and creative pitcher with a blazing fastball, a brilliant change-up and he reportedly throws a revolutionary pitch called a gyroball, which spins like a football spiral and may in fact be more myth than reality.

Jeff Sackmann is an analyst for the baseball Web site called the Sackmann has translated Matsuzaka's Japanese stats into estimated U.S. baseball figures and the results, Sackmann says, are very favorable.

Mr. JEFF SACKMANN (Baseball Analyst, Not a Cy Young candidate necessarily, but a very, very good pitcher. And if that's a conservative translation, and he's only 26 - he could conceivably get better -than really the sky's the limit for this guy.

GOLDMAN: There are other incentives for the Red Sox. They are one of the richest teams in baseball and would like to get even richer by gaining access to the potentially lucrative Japanese market. Certainly, the team has visions of Japanese kids buying Red Sox merchandise, of broadcasting Red Sox games in Japan, although the money gained would be shared with the league's other teams.

And then there's the incentive of the New York Yankees, or more specifically the ongoing war with their arch rivals. For Boston, almost as important as having Matsuzaka in a Red Sox uniform is not having him in Yankee pinstripes.

Neither Boston General Manager Theo Epstein nor his Yankee counterpart Brian Cashman talked about the rivalry in light of the Matsuzaka bid. Perhaps they were being coy, or perhaps they were fully aware of what happened last month in the baseball playoffs. The Yankee/Red Sox rivalry meant zip and high-priced free agent stars had little to do with the outcome of the World Series, which was won by a St. Louis team of veterans and journeymen who played the best baseball at the right time.

Tom Goldman, NPR News.

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