Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Tap the Far East?

The hottest name in the free agent market right now is Daisuke Matsuzaka. Matsuzaka is a 26 year old phenom out of Japan. He won 17 games in 26 starts for the Seibu Lions, posting an ERA under 2.20. He throws between 90 and 94, and various scouts have described him as having four major league pitches (4 seam, slider [his best pitch], splitter, and changeup) with a deceptive delivery. Although rumored to throw the mythical "gyroball", that has recently been proven wrong.

Matsuzaka is not a free agent in the traditional sense. His team is taking bids using the "posting" system. Each interested team sends the Lions a sealed big of a dollar value. After three days, the bids are opened and the highest team wins the right to talk contracts with Matsuzaka's agent, Scott Boras. They are then free to sign Matsuzaka to a contract. Estimates of a size of bid for Matsuzaka have been between 15 and 30 million dollars, with the number probably more toward the latter. Scott Boras would likely request a 3 year deal worth somewhere around 40 million after the posting fee itself.

Somewhere close to 70 million dollars to three years of a pitcher? I don't care if his name is Roger Cleveland Alexander Maddux Clemens, I don't spend that on a guy who has yet to pitch an MLB ball. Matzusaka plays in Japan, where baseball is played in a much different style. There are a lot more Ichiro-type hitters there, and the general level of competition is much lower than here. In addition to that, pitchers in Japan pitch on an extra day of rest.

But 70 million over 3 years? If I am going to spend that much money, why not use it on a safer product like Barry Zito? There is no way that Zito is worth 70 million, but he is probably going to give you 210 innings of 3.80-4.20 ERA ball. In this day and age, that is valueable.

Matsuzaka may very well end up as an ace in the United States. 26 years old is very young for a free agent pitcher. On the other hand, he could end up being another Chan Ho Park, Hideki Irabu, Kaz Ishii, or Hideo Nomo. Some of those guys had good years, but the move to a 5 man rotation hurt all of their arms. 70 million is a lot of money, and the Yankees cannot keep constantly absorbing bad contracts.

I'll be excited if he pitches in a Yankee uniform, but it would still be a bad decision. We'll know relatively soon, because clubs have little more than one more day to place sealed bids.