Remebering Matsuzaka

As the annual General Manager’s meetings begin in Orlando this week (the December Winter Meetings’ weirder looking Olsen twin), Rob Bradford from WEII Radio looks back to the most exciting (only exciting?) meetings of recent memory: the one where the Boston Red Sox won the bidding rights for Daisuke Matsuzaka.

While Matsuzaka has never lived up to the hype as the supposed master of the gyroball, I always assumed that the $51,111,111.11 Dwight Schrute style bid that the Red Sox paid in order to sign Matsuzaka to a six year $52 million contract was a calculated investment made for both on field and off field reasons.

According to Red Sox president Larry Lucchino, that simply wasn’t the case.

We never expected a gigantic off the field economic opportunity. We thought it was more of a long-term presence in Japan. It was the agents, at the time, who were projecting the massive economic benefit flowing to the Red Sox, therefore we should spend even more.

Whoa.  Is Lucchino suggesting that Matsuzaka’s agent, Scott Boras, was driving up his client’s price to levels beyond his actual worth?  I’ve never heard such an accusation about Boras before.  That’s sarcasm, not a Jon Heyman quote, by the way.

Bradford further explains:

The point is, despite Boras’ claims, the Red Sox were never in line to use Matsuzaka as their cash cow when it came to siphoning new revenue from Japan. Part of the reason is because outside of the advertising and sponsorship deals cut to generate revenue inside Fenway Park and within the six New England states (except Yankees-controlled Fairfield County in Conn.), the Red Sox “mark” is controlled by the Major League Baseball.

In simple terms, any Red Sox item sold in Japan is broken up 30 ways, with all the other big league clubs making as much off of the sale as the Sox.

And when it comes to specific sponsorships, Japanese companies (with the exception of Funai) haven’t, for the most part, been able to establish a presence with the Red Sox. The reason is that the Red Sox’ “product areas” are already taken. Example: Asahi Beer — which has long partnered with Matsuzaka — didn’t have a chance to find a niche at Fenway Park because of the Sox’ existing relationship with Anheuser-Busch.

Matsuzaka still has two years left on his original contract that will pay him $10 million each year.  Compared to the contracts that free agent pitchers will sign this offseason, and the one year deal that his countryman Hiroki Kuroda just agreed to with the Dodgers, Matsuzaka isn’t the enormous disappointment that he’s sometimes believed to be.

However, the Red Sox enormous posting fee in combination with the expectations placed on Matsuzaka have created a negative perception of his on-field skills.  It also doesn’t help matters that I’m barely being hyperbolic when I say that he takes forever between pitches.

Matsuzaka has become legendary for his long outings and high pitch counts over few innings, including one game last season against the Royals where he got up to 112 pitches before being pulled in the fifth inning.

Nevertheless, there is some light at the end of the tunnel.  Matsuzaka strung together an efficient June, July and August despite missing some time in June due to injury.  He’s also worked on reducing his walk rate, pushing it down from 5.05 in 2008, to 4.55 in 2009, and to 4.33 in 2010.

Was Dice-K worth the posting fee and contract that the Red Sox paid out?  No way.  But they’re stuck with it for now, and as far as those things go, you could be stuck with a lot worse.  How about three more years of Barry Zito at $57.5 million plus a $7 million buyout?