Well, what did we learn from Scott Boras’s non-newsy news conference and the attendant coverage?
* Boras has threatened to take Daisuke Matsuzaka home to Japan if the Sox don’t budge in their negotiations, effectively ending any chance at a deal even if Thursday’s deadline hasn’t passed. (DK would presumably need to take a physical for any deal to go through.)
* Boras also referred to Daisuke as “Fort Knox” and said he’s worth in excess of $100 million. Shoot, who does he think he is: Carlos Lee?
* Lou Melendez, MLB’s VP of international relations, nixed any of the other scenarios by which Dice could pitch in the majors this year — by Boras buying out the Lions; by divine intervention, by Nippon Professional Baseball spontaneously combusting.
* There seems to be a growing consensus — raised on ESPN.com by Jim Allen, who covers baseball for Japan’s The Daily Yomiuri and echoed by Jack Curry in the Times article above — that it would incredibly difficult for Matsuzaka to return to Japan if he was rejecting, say, a $10 million-a-year deal. “If the sheer embarrassment of the nation’s hero being thrown back like an undersized trout is not enough to spark a showdown between Red Sox Nation and Japan,” Allen writes, “the fact that Japan’s loss of tax revenue would be 2.4 billion yen ($20.65 million), just might do it. Although Boras might think nothing of causing an international incident of these proportions, Matsuzaka is unlikely to be a party to it.”
Yup…it’s gonna be a fun couple of days. If this all feels familiar…well, that’s because it is. Somehow, the buttoned-down, press-shy Red Sox have found themselves smack dab in the middle of more imbroglios than any other team over the last several years. Way back in ’03, there was the Kevin Millar incident, making Millar surely the least consequential person ever to threaten relations between two superpowers. That same offseason brought the minute-by-minute machinations of the A-Rod to Boston, Manny to Texas, Nomar to Chicago, Magglio to Boston, etc., etc., deal. That had to be the most covered non-event in baseball history; a couple of months later, Brian Cashman somehow managed to orchestrate a trade for A-Rod to play for the world’s best known baseball team — you know, the one that plays in the country’s biggest media market — with nary a leak.
There’ve been the semi-annual Manny trade talks. (Manny’s not the only $20-million-plus superstar who was thought to be on the block…but we haven’t heard much about A-Rod, have we?) There was last year’s exceedingly public Theo-Larry blow-up/blow-out. (Cashman, to be sure, hasn’t had an easy time dealing with the Boss…but we haven’t heard much about that, either.) And now there’s Dice-K.
In a postscript to the paperback edition of Moneyball, Michael Lewis rails against the club of baseball insiders that set the games orthodoxy. At one point, Lewis writes, “It can never fully escape the larger culture that supports it.” He was talking about…well, never mind what he was talking about, but it strikes me that that’s a problem that’s going on with the Sox. To varying extents, the entire front office believes that it can succeed by both outworking and outsmarting the competition; no one thinks this is true as much as John Henry and Theo Epstein. In many, very creative ways, these guys are working to blow up accepted notions — not only of how to evaluate talent, but of how to do business, of how to construct a team, of how to relate to the entire game. That might work in the abstract, but sometimes I wonder if there’s not enough acceptance of the fact that the Red Sox are part of the larger baseball culture; that’s the world they’re trying to succeed in. Every trade doesn’t need to be the most clever; every negotiation doesn’t need to be won. Some, in fact, just need to be concluded.
In many ways, Scott Boras is an agent built from this same mold. He consistently gets much more money for his clients than anyone other team was willing to bid (see: Rodriguez, Alex…and maybe Drew, J.D.). He doesn’t have a lot of time for the accepted practices of the profession (he’s already making noises about suing to free Matsuzaka from the posting system, although it’s a bit unclear who’d be the subject of such a lawsuit).
In a worst case scenario, all of this means the two sides are on a mutually destructive collision course. Neither side compromises, Boras screws himself over by his failure to understand the intricate nuances of Japanese culture, and the lack of a top-of-the-rotation prize becomes the cherry on the top of a extremely unappetizing sundae for Red Sox Nation.
Of course, this probably will not be the case — as the above paragraph points out, both sides have too much to lose. But regardless of what happens, the distance between the Red Sox’s desire not to have their every move play out in the press and the reality of the amount of times they find themselves the focus of a national feeding frenzy deserves further discussion. (And, right on cue, the Sox announce they’ll have a press conference of their own. Sigh. I’m going to sleep.)