The $103 Million Migraine

Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports wrote last night about the Daisuke Matsuzaka situation in Boston, or more geographically accurate at this time, in Japan. After being diagnosed and sent to the Disabled List with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament, Matsuzaka has traveled back to his country of origin presumably to decide what to do with his future, and reportedly to seek help for his ailing arm from traditional Japanese medical procedures.

When Boston dropped a $51.1 million bid for the rights to negotiate with Matsuzaka, then in late 2006 handed him a six-year, $52 million contract, they expected an ace. They got an ACE: Another Chubby Easterner, Hideki Irabu 2.0, a disappointment, a waste of money.

A bust.

Hey Jeff, don’t hold back. Tell us how you really feel.

While Matsuzaka has never lived up to the hype that surrounded him when he first signed at the height of the arms race between the Yankees and Red Sox, 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 comments this offseason from 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.

Wait a minute. 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 accusations pointed at Boras before.  That’s sarcasm, not a Jon Heyman quote, by the way. Here’s a quote from Boras shortly after the Red Sox won the negotiating rights for Matsuzaka:

The first thing is that it’s evidence of the world’s best pitcher. It reflects that a major league team knew that someone of his caliber would have a great impact on the goals on the field, a great impact on internationalizing and increasing revenues in advertising and marketing in the area in the Pacific theater.

Passan’s verdict (“a bust”) on the Matsuzaka deal is even more accurate than he realizes. As he suggests, Dice-K has been disappointing to the Red Sox both on the field and off the field.

Daisuke sits on the disabled list for the fifth time in two seasons. Among his shoulder, elbow and forearm, he’s faced problems with every part of his arm. The only thing left is his hand, and as many times as he’s raised a figurative middle finger at the organization, it’s a shock he hasn’t hurt that, too.

But the disappointment goes even further. Even if Red Sox executives knew that Matsuzaka wouldn’t bring them the increased revenues from international advertising and marketing that Boras was promoting, Japanese companies have been unable or unwilling to establish a presence in Boston.

Rob Bradford of WEEI radio further explains:

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.

It also must be remembered that any additional Red Sox merchandise purchased in Japan is still broken up thirty ways, as per MLB policy, just as it would be for any other team that didn’t spend more than $10o million on a pitcher from Japan.

However, Passan goes a bit too far in comparing Matsuzaka to a “$103 million migraine.” After 2011, Matsuzaka only has one year left on his original contract that will pay him $10 million. If the pitcher doesn’t require Tommy John surgery, he’ll likely return to the Red Sox and offer a solid back of the rotation option. The enormous posting fee in combination with the large contract for a pitcher who had never thrown a pitch in MLB, created enormous expectations that directly led to 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.

Still, he improved greatly as the year went on in 2010, and he showed flashes of brilliance in 2011 before he got injured, putting up back to back shutout outings.

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