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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Matsuzaka Bonanza    

So. Daisuke is coming. Regardless of whether you believe the Gyroball to be the greatest development in pitching since the slider, or a total myth, it's pretty apparent that this guy has all the tools to be a #1 or #2 starter for any team in the league, barring an Irabu-size mental collapse. He was utterly unhittable in the World Beisbol Classic this past spring, and since that's all I've seen of him in live game action, that's what's shaping my opinion of him. Since there are more of his peers around for him to utilize as mentors, I see a collapse as less likely today as it might have been a decade ago - just see the Ichiro/Johjima relationship for an example.

Any thoughts on where he'll end up? Seattle or New York, or somewhere in between?
If you're a GM, what's your bid for negotiating rights?
Any opinion on the whole closed bid for rights system?

12 Comments:

  • Nowhere in-between. Much as I'd love to see Schilling retire and free up enough cash to make a legitimate run at him (Matsuzaka, Paps and Beckett at the front of the rotation would be fairly decent) I cannot see the Yanks or M's letting anyone else have a shot. Both teams have too much invested in Japan.

    The only other with a chance is the Mets. With Pedro shelved well into 2007, they'll need some help up front.

    Also, the closed bid thing sucks. But I'd argue that the volume of cash being swindled via the closed bids pales in comparison to the total amount of money America has overpaid the likes of Ariel Prieto and Rolando Arrojo.

    Who's made a splash from Cuba? The Hernandez brothers, and maybe Contreras, but the rest have been utter busts. Even Contreras has taken 3-4 years and about $30 million in salary just to get his shit together.

    With Japan, though, you have Nomo, Sasaki, Ichiro and Gojira to consider. And Johjima too, I suppose. There's the occasional Shinjo, Kaz Matsui or Hideki I-Rob-You, but the balance is far more equitable. And except Shinjo, the guys who failed were/are major-league talent for a few years, which you cannot say about Prieto.

    Point being that despite the lofty bid prices, the players who come over from Japan are generally worth something, so it's a safer gamble.

    By Blogger Jeff, at 11:55 AM  

  • I remember when the Albert Brooks film, "The Scout" came out (which I love by the way), and they hold a closed bid process for the rights to Steve Nebraska. At the time, I thought, "This is the most ridiculous, far fetched BS I've ever seen. There's no way MLB owners would get pwned like this."

    Of course, I didn't know at the time that yes, yes they would. And that it would, as you point out, seem to be worth it (though not quite as much as the Yankees signing Steve Nebraska).

    By Blogger Alex, at 12:00 PM  

  • I agree Seattle or New York but not primarily because of the investment in Japan. I think it's because they're the only two teams for whom paying a large posting fee is significantly more attractive than payroll expenditure. For the Yankees, it doesn't count against luxury tax so it's a smart way to spend money. The Mariners used a special slush fund for Ichiro and even Betancourt, so they'll also pony up.

    Between the two though, I really don't know who will bid more. Both teams drastically need him, but the Yankees would be more comfortable with Zito as a second option than the Mariners I think, who know they can't afford him. So, I think it means more to the Mariners to get him, but that might not be enough.

    Also, apparently no Japanese outlet is actually reporting the story that he's being posted the same way. He probably still will be, but the current story may not actually be worth anything. And for what it's worth, the gyroball thing myth or not, was always misappropriated to Matsuzaka. He's never thrown one or tried to as far as we know.

    BTW, you should put Betancourt on the non-bust Cuban side. He's not a superstar or anything, but he's certainly a non-bust. And I think Morales still profiles pretty well.

    By Blogger Jesse, at 8:13 PM  

  • Also, Tadahito Iguchi has to be considered in the Japanese successes, even if he hasn't been amazing.

    And, if any 1-year sample size is sufficient, Johjima is an even bigger success--not just a maybe. By most measures he was the 5th best catcher in baseball this year, and 3rd in home runs. Considering he plays all those games in Safeco (death to righty power), he might even grade out better on park-adjusted numbers. I don't know how to get those.

    By Blogger Jesse, at 8:26 PM  

  • As for how much to pay Matsuzaka, that's really hard for me to say. I really think he's the only potential ace this offseason who has a fair shot of being worth his contract, so shelling out like crazy not to get left out in the cold is pretty tempting. It's only one year, no further commitment, etc.

    But is it reasonable for a baseball team, a business, to look at it that way? Probably not. So, you have to include the posting fee in the contract and see if you can defend it, while acknowledging that it ends up a sunk cost and gives you the rights to exclusive negotiations with him for 6 full years even if the contract is shorter (as it likely would be).

    He has the leverage to refuse the contract and sit out another year, but I don't think he'll do that given a reasonable offer. However well he's pitched in Japan and the WBC, he can't claim to be an anointed ace here in the U.S. Boras can't really expect that kind of money for him. So I think he'll get a 3-year deal $10-12 million per with whichever team wins the rights.

    So if these $30 million rumors are true, you're looking at up to $66 million for a three year deal--$22 million per year. Of course you still have exclusive negotiating rights, and that's worth something, but he pitches his ass off, the best case scenario, you're still probably obligated to give him a second, fair contract, which is more like $13-14 mil per. So, best case scenario, you're probably paying him over $100 million over 6 years. Worst case scenario is less money but also less production.

    Honestly, I don't really see how you can justify spending that kind of money on him. Unless you're the Yankees and you're thrilled about 1/3 of that money being essentially off-the-books as far as luxury tax is concerned. Or you're the Mariners and you're serious about maintaining your status as Japan's team. How much is that really worth to either team, though? I honestly just don't know how to evaluate that, so I don't know how to predict.

    One thing we can be sure of, though, is that what we're hearing now is a lot of smoke and mirrors. The Mariners and the Yankees are no doubt already trying to confuse each other about how much they'll really pay, hoping to either get a better deal or drive up the other's posting fee to some absurd amount.

    As far as I'm concerned, if the Mariners are willing to view this as a sunk cost, I hope the break the bank on him. If they prorate it like a normal salary into the budget, I can't seem him being worth the risk, which is sad because I also can't see us really competing without him.

    By Blogger Jesse, at 2:52 AM  

  • Also, Irabu and Kaz were busts (although at least Matsui did some interesting things this year), but Shinjo did better than expected. His publicity came from being a crummy-to-mediocre player in Japan who was about as good, maybe a little better, here. It actually sparked all kinds of unfounded fears about Japanese baseball players flooding the market. So he was lousy, but I wouldn't say he was a bust.

    By Blogger chas, at 2:49 PM  

  • OK, so Japanese players have busted out. But the average Cuban player is still more likely to be a Prieto than a Livan. But it's been established pretty well that the average Japanese player is a more valuable pro. The median is probably an Iguchi, or a Shiggy Hasegiggy. (I'm surprised I forgot about ol' Shiggles Hasegiggles.)

    Back to Matsuzaka. So riddle me this: if A.J. Burnett gets $13 million a year, and you sign Matsuzaka for about that, plus the post... I mean, doesn't the post price seem a bit less exorbitant? If you apply, say, $20 million of the post to Matsuzaka no kontorakuto and consider it a "market price adjustment," you're only getting a little bit ripped off. (Did that make any sense? I hope so.)

    By Blogger Jeff, at 3:09 PM  

  • Oh, I guess Jesse basically did that whole apply-the-post-to-the-contract thing. But he came to a different conclusion.

    I do think the Burnett contract makes anything Matsuzaka commands a lot more reasonable by comparison. Not that A.J.'s actually worth that (clearly not), but market price is market price.

    By Blogger Jeff, at 3:14 PM  

  • Oh, SNAP!
    http://www.sportsline.com/mlb/players/playerpage/1145060

    By Blogger Alex, at 4:09 PM  

  • HHHHHHHWHAT?!?

    That is some bull-ass-shit. If he doesn't go to the Yankees, Mets or Mariners, I'm going to set fire to Theo Epstein's undercarriage for not getting him. Throw some gas on that ass...

    By Blogger Jeff, at 4:13 PM  

  • How much of those Cubans flopping is just bad scouting though? I don't know if it's fair to say that the average Cuban is likely to be a bust because people have gotten all hyped up about potentially the wrong guys. I mean, they did just make 2nd in the WBC without any of their major leaguers. So, I wouldn't drool all over the next Cuban ex-pat just because he played so great in Cuba, but the Mariners knew exactly what they were getting out of Betancourt and then got it. I'm not sure that's so impossible.

    I know how much Dave over at USSM pisses you off, Jeff, and rightfully so. But he straight up called that Kaz was going to have major trouble adjusting and then gave his seal of approval to Iguchi and Johjima. I'm not saying that to mention him in a super-positive light, but to point out that even an unprofessional baseball scout can have real insight into these matters. I think that there's a lot more to the picture than nationality when you're talking about which guys to get based (partially) on their success in other leagues.

    Although, for what it's worth Dave also compared playing in Cuba to playing in A ball, whereas Japan is clearly higher-level than that. Doesn't mean the best players of one are better than the best players of the other, but there's a lot more projectability with Japanese players. Cuban players are going to be higher-risk because they're lower down the developmental totem pole. Which is a long way of going about saying you're probably right, but that I'm a little uncomfortable with the way you kind of write Cubans off.

    BTW, I do think Matsuzaka will easily be worth a $20 mil posting fee. If you write off just a small part of that money as worth it to secure him, the contract looks pretty good. I'm hearing numbers like $30-35 million, and that scares me. For the Mariners, that would mean (if they prorate the salary) that they can't upgrade their offense at all or sign any other pitcher to any real money.

    If you accept that trying to established starters on the open market is a necessary element of roster construction, then I agree that your point about Burnett makes Matsuzaka's posting fee seem less onerous. But maybe it's better to eschew the whole thing and build your rotation from the inside and from trades. When was the last big pitcher FA contract that worked out really well? Mussina?

    By Blogger Jesse, at 4:25 PM  

  • Also, RE getting furious at Epstein for not bidding enough:

    The fun part is that the bids aren't permanently sealed. Which means that you won't have to rely on who gets him to know whether or not the Red Sox should have bid more. We'll be able to look it up. Ichiro, for example, cost $13.1 million in posting fees, which was over $3 million more than the next highest bidder (the Dodgers).

    I have this gut feeling that Matsuzaka turns out to either be a real steal or really, really expensive, not somewhere in between. So I have a feeling you'll either be relieved or furious when you find out about the posting numbers. I can't believe I have to wait for a whole month at least, probably. I'm going to go crazy.

    By Blogger Jesse, at 5:43 PM  

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