October 31, 2006


How high will bids go for Japanese superstar? (Larry Stone, 10/31/06, Seattle Times)

[Lou] Melendez is Major League Baseball's vice president of international operations, based out of its New York offices. It is to him that teams will soon fax or e-mail their blind bids for the right to negotiate with Matsuzaka, setting into motion the most watched negotiating scenario of this winter.

"It's really a very simple process," Melendez said Monday.

Simple, perhaps, but fraught with mystery and intrigue.

Virtually every major-league team covets a pitcher of [Daisuke] Matsuzaka's potential — he was the most valuable player of the World Baseball Classic and went 17-5 with a 2.13 earned-run average for the Seibu Lions in 2006, all at the age of 26 — so this bidding will be expensive.

Very expensive, especially for a pitcher who has logged high pitch counts and was nagged by minor injuries this year. [...]

With Scott Boras signed as Matsuzaka's agent, and already positioning his client as deserving to be paid like an established No. 1 starter, the Mariners apparently are not willing to get heavily into bidding that could reach $20 million or $30 million just for the right to negotiate a contract with Matsuzaka.

As a possible reference point for the contract itself, think Houston's Roy Oswalt, who signed a five-year, $73 million contract extension in August that kept him out of free agency.

Very Few Safe Bets Among Free Agent Starting Pitchers (TIM MARCHMAN, October 31, 2006, NY Sun)

Really, there are two qualities worth paying for in a free agent pitcher: Reliability and upside. Reliability is worth paying a lot for. The team that signs Tom Glavine knows more or less exactly what it's going to get: 200 innings and an ERA between 3.50 and 4.00. Upside is worth paying for, but only if you're not paying a lot for it. If your team doctor and pitching coach are absolutely convinced that a new training method they've devised can keep Mark Mulder healthy and effective as a starter, it's worth signing him, but not at a price that means you'll have to rely on him as a rotation anchor. This last part is the problem with most signings: It's one thing to take a calculated risk that Pavano has matured into a valuable no. 2 starter, quite another to pay him like one. All of this depends of course on circumstances; the Mets had the money and were in the position to take a gamble that Martinez would stay healthy. The Twins would have been psychotic to take the same risk.

Looking at things this way, it shouldn't be too hard to tell which are the better pitchers on the market this year. The top name is probably Barry Zito. There really is a lot not to like about Zito. He walks a lot of hitters, for one; he's also quite reliant on his defense, consistently putting up ERAs much better than those suggested by his underlying statistics. He's been worked quite hard in his career, he doesn't have a great fastball, he's going to get paid like an ace, and he has floppy hair.

That's all quite true, but none of it much matters. His relatively high walk rate and apparent reliance on his defense are a bit troublesome, but a pitcher with a big, sweeping breaking ball like Zito's can get away with a pitching strategy based on pitching around hitters and inducing bad contact. Far more important, though, Zito is incredibly consistent. Every year he goes out and pitches 220 innings of quality about equal to those Glavine pitched this year. It's easy to gloss over that innings total and focus on his ERA that isn't quite elite, but 200 innings a year is the benchmark for durability today, and Zito exceeds it by 10% every year. In any given year there will be between 10 and 20 more valuable pitchers, but very few who are a good bet to pitch at that level for the next three or four years, and none who is on the market right now. Zito might be more like Glavine than Greg Maddux, but that's hardly a reason to damn him.

The next-best bet is Daisuke Matsuzaka, ace of the Seibu Lions and Scott Boras client.

Red Sox look to Japan for new pitcher: But they're not the only team interested in Seibu Lions ace Daisuke Matsuzaka. The Yankees and several other clubs are prepared to make bids. (SEAN McADAM, 10/31/06, Providence Journal)
"He's got very good stuff, no question" offers a major-league talent evaluator who has only seen the pitcher via video. "His fastball is in the low 90s, he's got a good split, and a good changeup. He's definitely legit."

Though not physically imposing, Matsuzaka has command of as many as five pitches, including a slider hybrid that is known as the "gyroball."

Bobby Valentine, the former Rangers and Mets manager who has managed in Japan the last four seasons, told The New York Times earlier this month that Matsuzaka "is the real deal. He has the ability to be one of the top starters in MLB."

For the Red Sox, Matsuzaka could provide a potential top-of-the-rotation arm to a staff in desperate need of upgrade. For the second straight season, the Red Sox finished 11th in the American League in pitching and the rotation has dipped dramatically since winning the 2004 World Series.

In 2007, two of the team's starters, Curt Schilling and Tim Wakefield, will be 40. Thanks to concerns about his shoulder, Jonathan Papelbon will be making the transition from the bullpen back to the rotation, where he has made just three career starts. Josh Beckett, though he won 16 games in his first season with the Sox, remains a work in progress.

But the Red Sox pursuit of Matsuzaka will not be solitary. The Yankees, New York Mets, Baltimore Orioles, Chicago Cubs, Seattle Mariners and Los Angeles Dodgers are all expected to bid, and one club executive predicted that both the Texas Rangers and Detroit Tigers -- both of whom have done a lot of business with Boras in recent seasons -- will also take part.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 31, 2006 7:35 AM

OJ may find this blasphemous, but why not have a real "World" series and have America's best play the rest.

I'm not 100% up on all the inside baseball. Could Japan & others compete?

Posted by: Bruno at October 31, 2006 8:15 AM

Bruno, we had one already. It's called the World Baseball Classic, now to be played every three years. Japan showed how dominant they are in baseball during that series.

Posted by: Brad S at October 31, 2006 8:31 AM

Shows how much I know. (about baseball)

Was that last bit sarcasm?

Posted by: Bruno at October 31, 2006 9:20 AM