D-Mat in the house…

November 16th, 2006 → 7:04 pm @

I’m at Fenway (because nothing gets me on the Acela quicker than a good Bob Lobel-hosted fundraiser)…and D-Mat* fever is already a full-on reality. As I walked down Yawkey Way, there were two cabs full of what I later learned were Japanese reporters…and Matsuzaka isn’t even in town yet. The security guards are talking about Matsuzaka, the front office folks not in Naples are buzzing; hell, Fenway hasn’t been this electric in November since 2003. (And we all know how that worked out.) For what’s it worth — almost nothing, mind you — the perception here (and among some members of the Fourth Estate) is that the Sox will end spending that $51.1 mil…because Matsuzaka will be part of a Schilling, Beckett, Papelbon, Wakefield rotation next year.

Anyway. This morning’s post resulted in some quick (and snappy) comments; a chunk of them were along the lines of “this doesn’t change the economic reality of the Red Sox vis a vis the Yankees.” On one level, that’s obviously true. If I spend $500 on a shirt, that purchase doesn’t make me any better off. What it does do is give the people the sense that I have enough economic security so that it’s not an issue if I want to spend $500 on a shirt. (Don’t worry: my much-maligned pink shirt cost nowhere near that much.) Offering up a $51 million posting fee doesn’t change the fact that the Yankees play in a much, much bigger market, nor does it change the fact that their revenue streams are much larger. It does mean it’ll be harder for the Sox to argue — as they did on this year’s trade deadline — that they didn’t make such and such a move because it they couldn’t afford to do so (even if that’s true).

And that — that appearance/perception/whatever — could very well become an issue…especially if/when the Sox struggle and what’s increasingly becomming an instant-gratification fan base gets a little blood lust. Two thousand and six was a rough one; what would it have been like if the Sox had claimed relative poverty after shelling out $51.1 mil for the right to negotiate with D-Mat?

That said, everything I know about this front office leads me to believe that neither this move, nor future moves, will be made in reaction to public perception, which is why I disagree with gary’s comments (“I think the theo was stung by the notion that he didn’t do enough at the trading deadline, and this is the result. But it doesn’t mean this isn’t a blip on the radar” and “if they had lost out to ny again, hell would have been the result”). It’s my firm belief that Theo wasn’t stung by what people did or didn’t think about what happened at this year’s trade deadline, just as it’s my firm belief that if the Sox make a move with the Yankees in mind, it won’t be because they’re worried about what the ‘EEI response will be to any given signing/non-signing.

* Boras-san has dubbed Matsuzaka D-Mat, presumably figuring that a first letter, first name-first three letters, last name label landed A-Rod $250 mil…so it has to be worth an extra mil or two a year, right?

Post Categories: 2006 Hot Stove Season & Daisuke Matsuzaka & Red Sox Fans & Red Sox front office & Theo Epstein

$51.1 million: it boggles the mind

November 16th, 2006 → 8:36 am @

Astute observers may have noticed that there was not a single post up yesterday, the first full day after the Red Sox had been declared winners in the right-to-talk-with-Matsuzaka’s-agent sweepstakes. (For some reason, there’s still some lingering confusion on the following point: if the Red Sox don’t sign Matsuzaka, they’re not on the hook for that $51.1 mil.) The simple answer for that is that I was busy; the more complicated answer is that I’m a bit…confused.

Not, mind you, about why the Sox did what they did (although when you come in $20 or so million above the next closest bidder, it does seem there might have been a bit more wiggle room) — Matsuzaka has the potential to be one of the best pitchers in Major League Baseball, and a starting rotation with a three-headed, 26-year old monster of Matsuzaka, Beckett, and Papelbon looks pretty damn formidable. (As Peter Gammons points out, Boston also has “Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and Daniel Bard on the horizon” as other potential young-stud starters; what’s more, Matsuzaka is obviously a way to plant a Red Sox flag in the Far East, both in terms of talent and marketing dollars.)

But this type of bid means the Sox have forever forfeited the right to bitch about the Yankees endless pockets…and that’s frustrating, both because it’s satisfying being thought of (and thinking of yourself) as an underdog, and because it belies the reality that the Sox will never have as much flexibility as the Yankees. Sean McAdam is right: that the notion of the Yanks as the Evil Empire, Abreu-acquiring, uber- organization just went out the window. “No more suggestions, please, that the Yankees are some financial superpower capable of trampling the rest of baseball with their reckless and boundless spending. No more talk about the Red Sox being the plucky underdogs that somehow must make do with less,” McAdam wrote on ESPN. He’s right. Even Gammons pointed out that “[t]he Red Sox have posted more money than their professional scouting director, Allard Baird, had to sign his entire team as the GM in Kansas City.”

I’m also worried — about Matsuzaka’s previous workload (in today’s Globe, Gordon Edes makes a comparison with Hideo Nomo: “Over the span of 21 months, he would belong to six teams. It appeared his heavy workload in Japan had caught up with him. He had thrown more than 140 pitches 61 times in his career, by one estimate, and in his last season in Japan he threw a staggering 191 pitches in one game, walking 16 batters”) and about the fact that the Sox will be negotiating while the other (far less skilled) free-agent pitchers are deciding where to land.

Finally, I’m confused. On the one hand, I understand that a past decision shouldn’t overly inform a current one, and what the Red Sox did with Bronson Arroyo or Johnny Damon doesn’t really have anything to do with Matsuzaka; that’s a cornerstone of the rational philosophy the Sox’s front office tries to adhere to. But…that’s a lot of money to pay for the right to sign a player, and it’s hard not to think back to the hometown discount Arroyo gave the Sox before he was traded away. Arroyo is a proven pitcher. And he’s shown he’s a workhorse. I’m also a bit confused as to how precisely this jibes with Theo’s stated notion that he wants to focus on developing young talent. Matsuzaka is young, but isn’t Boston becomming the type of uber-organization Theo warned against immediately after the ’05 season? (For a full description of that moment, check out the introduction to my book.) I’m not the only one who’s found this whole affair a bit vertiginous: the Matsuzaka frenzy has even put Dan Shaughnessy in a good mood. (Everyone remember this if/when Matsuzaka ends up on the Sox and the decision is eventually deemed a bad one…)

So…there’s a lot to mull over. I’m heading down to Boston today for a fundraiser at Fenway, so I likely won’t post again until tonight. But there’ll be lots of cogitating between now and then. And I welcome any and all of your thoughts…

Post Categories: Daisuke Matsuzaka & Red Sox front office & Sports Reporters

Today in Matsuzaka land

November 14th, 2006 → 11:10 am @

More reports (these coming from Peter Gammons) that the Sox won the bidding for the right to negotiate with Daisuke Matsuzaka; the latest reports tab that bid at $42 million. At this point, there’s not a lot to say until the official announcement is made at 8 pm tonight…and after that point, there won’t be much to say until the Sox (or whichever team managed to outbid Boston and fly completely under the radar) sign/fail to sign Matsuzaka to a deal.

That’s not all that’s going on in Boston: in today’s Globe, Nick Cafardo reports that Theo has made offers to two other unnamed free agent pitchers; there’s also lots of discussion about what a Matsuzaka signing would mean for the Red Sox’s presence in Japan.

In other Matsuzaka-related news, Murray Chass tries to outdo his recent boneheadedness with today’s column, in which he demonstrates that:

* He sucks at math: Chass says the Red Sox bid is in the “$45 million range” and that that figure (according to an “official”), “would be perhaps 50 percent higher than the other bids. … [which] were either slightly above or slightly below $30 million.” Regardless of what an anonymous official says, 30 is not half of 45.^
^ Dammit all, it turns out that I’m the one who sucks at math: as three posters pointed out in short order, 45 is actually 50 percent higher than 30…even if 45 is not twice as much as 30, which is what I ended up saying. Alas. I’ll leave this up here so as not to whitewash my sins…

* He’s still pissed that George Steinbrenner won’t talk to him, although this anger is now couched as condescending pity: the Boss’s refusal to get on the blower with our man Murray is “sad.” “In the past, Steinbrenner would not have passed up an opportunity to comment caustically on what the Red Sox bid, especially with the evil empire label still in his mind. Those who have heard many of his comments can only shake our heads in sorrow and accept that an era has passed.”

* His irrational hatred of the Red Sox continues unabated: Chass asks — apparently in all seriousness — if the Sox’s bid for Matsuzaka is “evil” and decides it’s “[m]ind boggling perhaps, but not evil. Stunning perhaps, but not evil. Incredulous maybe, but not evil. Obscene, as an executive of another club said, but not evil.”

* Related to this, the inconsistency of his internal logic is as skewed as ever: After spanking Steinbrenner for not dishing out some incendiary quotes, prompted by Chass’s regurgitating of Larry Lucchino’s “evil empire” comments vis a vis the Jose Contreras signing, Chass takes those same comments at face value and tries to throw them back in Boston’s face.

* And finally, Chass’s understanding of baseball is as shakey as ever: the Contreras signing was a pure-payroll play; Lucchino’s evil empire comment was explicitly referring to New York’s seeming endless capacity to add payroll, luxury tax and repercussions be damned. The Matsuzaka posting bid, as many, many people have pointed out, is both a one-time cost and is unrelated to the luxury tax or total payroll.

That’s it for now. More on the post story post-8 pm tonight.

Post Categories: 2006 Hot Stove Season & Daisuke Matsuzaka & Murray Chass

Murray Chass discovers a new way to be woefully wrong: by doing PR for Scott Boras

November 12th, 2006 → 6:25 pm @

In his Sunday “Baseball Notes” column, Murray Chass reports, “Daisuke Matsuzaka will bring [the gyroball] with him when he comes from Japan next season to make his major league debut. Matsuzaka, a 26-year-old right-hander, did not name the pitch, which is a special part of his repertory.” Chass then quotes Boras, Matsuzaka’s agent, as saying the gyroball is a pitch with “a little bit of backspin” that “kind of sits that and breaks late. It looks like a fastball but has a late break to it and it breaks down.”

No, you’re not crazy: what Boras is describing really isn’t that different from a slider, and is also similar to a split-fingered fastball. In fact, Boras — and mouthpiece Murray — acknowledges as much: “Asked whose slider he might compare it to among major league pitchers, Boras mentioned Steve Carlton and Randy Johnson.”

Why all the fuss about a pitch that’s similar to a couple of well-known sliders? Does this warrant all this attention (or, for that matter, a headline on Chass’s item that reads, “Matsuzaka Has His Own Pitch”)?

No, it doesn’t…but the actual gyroball — a pitch (actually created by scientists) that is thrown so as to propel the baseball with sidespin similar to that of a bullet (or a football) — does. The Bigfoot-like gyro comes in as quick as a fastball, appears to be a hanging curve, and then has late-breaking horizontal action (on Friday, Slate posted a nice “Explainer” piece on the pitch; embedded within there is an interesting Popular Mechanics link).

Even if Chass had been able to get even the faintest specifics of the pitch right, he is, by almost every account, not correct in acting as if the gyroball is a pitch Matsuzaka can throw with any regularity…if he throws it at all. Matsuzaka himself has been cagey on the subject, at times claiming he can throw it, while at other times seeming to say the opposite (last spring, he told Yahoo! Sports’s Jeff Passan that he was still “trying to throw it”). Newsday‘s David Lennon has smart, well-reported piece on the whole thing. (Lennon quotes Bobby Valentine, who coaches the Chiba Lottle Marines: “I’ve heard about it all year. I’ve looked for it. I’ve looked for it on film. After he pitches, I’ve waited for players to start talking about the gyroball, and I’ve never heard anyone say it. You would think someone would mention it.”)

There is at least one (very knowledgeable) baseball writer who believes in the gyroball: Baseball Prospectus‘s Will Carroll, who calls Matsuzaka the “clear star” of the gyroball universe. If that’s true, and if the Sox do win the Matsuzaka sweepstakes, that could a problem in and off itself, because…

Post Categories: Daisuke Matsuzaka & Murray Chass & Sports Reporters

The gyroball: be afraid. Be very, very afraid. (But not for the reasons you’d think)

November 12th, 2006 → 6:25 pm @

…because Carroll, in this 2004 piece, also discusses Matsuzaka’s elbow troubles in 2002 and 2003 and questions whether attemtps to throw the gyroball could be the cause: “Is this elbow problem the result of throwing the gyroball? Some flaw in double-spin theory? It’s hard to know. While much of the pitching research being done in Japan is on a par with that in America, research on pitch counts and pitcher workload has been ignored. Pitchers routinely throw 150 or more pitches and are asked to throw more in the bullpen after a poor performance. Matsuzaka is reported to have thrown more than 140 pitches ten times in 2002, just before his shoulder problems began. Worse, he had a legendary high-school start in which he pitched a complete game . . . and threw 249 pitches in 17 innings!”

Yeow. All those “I walked eighty miles to school uphill in both directions with no shoes in raging blizzards” types will scoff at this pansy-ass pitch-count talk, but 249 pitches? I did some perfunctory online searches and it seems as if Matsuzaka’s elbow was fine these last few years, and it’s not unusual for a pitcher to have some problems in his early twenties only to grow out of them by the time he’s 26 (Matsuzaka’s age now) or 27. But that’s certainly another good reason to be cautious.

Post Categories: Daisuke Matsuzaka & Murray Chass & Sports Reporters

Clearly, it was a bad weekend to go out of town.

November 11th, 2006 → 4:58 pm @

As expected, plenty of folks — including Buster Olney, the man who broke the story — are doing a bit of backpedaling on the whole “the Sox won the bidding rights to Matsuzaka” story. Yesterday, Olney said the Sox had won the right to bid for the Japanese phenom. (Today’s version of the story — which had been edited this morning at 11:44 — read that the Sox “may” have won the bidding; that’s not my recollection of how the piece read yesterday, but I stupidly didn’t save it.)

Today, Olney is making the whole thing sound as imprecise as exit polls (which, *cough cough* is a quip I made yesterday). “Nothing has been confirmed,” Olney writes. “No announcement has been made,” which, at the very least, is a far cry from the “according to Major League Baseball sources” we were hearing about yesterday.

Indeed. It wouldn’t be much fun to discuss if it wasn’t true (for Olney or anyone else); unfortunately (for me), some people who’ve made comments on my last post and Olney himself have already delved into some of the aspects of this supposed bid I wanted to make. The most relevant ones:

* The $40 mil the Sox may or may not have bid is a one-time cost; it’s not added payroll, which would result in: a) raising the Sox’s payroll to a new high, and with this fan base (and this media coverage) it’s hard to ever reduce payroll, b) putting the Sox well above the luxury tax threshold, which would mean every dollar they shelled out would cost much more than that at the end of the day.

* The notion that this is a worthwhile investment solely because of the prospect of increased revenues from the Far East is a load of crap: every dollar the Sox earn is only worth about 50 cents; the other 50 cents goes into the revenue sharing pot, which essentially means the Sox are paying teams like the Orioles and the Blue Jays to continue to run their clubs in a determinedly bone-headed way…the better to bleed the Sox and the Yankees. (Revenue sharing — and baseball economics in general — is a weird and confusing thing. There’s a bunch about it sprinkled in between shocking behind the scenes revelations and hilarious anecdotes in the book. Which, by the way, makes a great gift, and signed copies are available here.)

Without getting into all the ins and outs of Olney’s piece, he comes down on the Sox front office pretty hard, criticizing them for both not paying for players like Johnny Damon (or for trading players like Bronson Arroyo) while (maybe) dedicating a boatload of money to Matsuzaka. He also raises the possibility that the Sox are working without a plan. There are a lot of good possibilities; that’s not one of them…


In other news, Tony Massarotti has this take on Foulke’s departure. I need to confess, I’m a bit confused by Foulke’s not taking the $5 mil-plus he would have gotten by exercising his player option, because he ain’t getting anything like that kind of money from anyone else. One thing I disagree with in Tony’s column is this: “Now Foulke is gone and here is the truly amazing thing: No one is shedding a tear.” Fine: I’m not crying. But I think Foulke — along with David Ortiz — is the single most important reason why the Red Sox won the ’04 World Series. Without Papi’s superhuman heroics, he would have been a shoo-in for ALCS MVP; as it was, he sure as hell should have beat Manny for the WS award.

And finally, Sheffield is off to the Tigers in exchange for three pitchers. This whole thing was shrewdly done by the Yankees, and the fact that they’re re-stocking their minor league system — and really without losing anything in this case — has to be upsetting for the folks on Yawkey Way.

Post Categories: 2006 Hot Stove Season & Buster Olney & Daisuke Matsuzaka & Gary Sheffield & Keith Foulke & Red Sox front office

Shoot, I’d pay $40 mil for the right to negotiate with Scott Boras, too

November 10th, 2006 → 6:17 pm @

Even on North Carolina’s Outer Banks we got the word that the Red Sox seem to have posted the top bid for Daisuke Matsuzaka…and said bid is somewhere between $38 and $45 million dollars. (At least according to Buster Olney; the Globe‘s Nick Cafardo says there’s a growing consensus that Olney’s right.)

Let’s take this with an appropriate grain of salt. Many times over the past several years, Manny Ramirez has been all but traded…”according to [nameless] Major League Baseball sources,” who are cited in the Olney piece. (Cafardo also cites MLB sources as saying, essentially, “Yeah, that wouldn’t surprise me.”) According to Major League Sources, Boston was going to suit up Alex Rodriguez at short and Magglio Ordonez in left. And according to MLB sources, John Kerry won the 2004 election.

Winning the right to negotiate with Matsuzaka doesn’t mean he’ll be starting ahead of Curt and Beckett next year; all it means is that the Sox are the sole team with the right to negotiate with Boras (DM’s agent). And Boras has shown he has absolutely no problem keeping his players out of the majors for a year if it means they/he will get more money (see: Varitek, Jason). Forty mil is a lot. It’s conceivable the Sox wanted to make sure the Yankees didn’t get him, bid an outrageous amount of money but don’t think they can sign him for something reasonable. It’s also conceivable that the Sox will trade the right to negotiate with Matsuzaka to another team, pay a chunk of that $40 mil, and ask for a young, proven player who hasn’t yet hit free agency. (In some very weird way, this fits in well with the Sox’s roster development philosophy, but it might be too clever be half, just as it might be against the weird and wooly rules governing this whole “posting” phenomenon. But it also might be the kind of Red-drafting-Larry-when-he’s-a-junior type of thing that the Sox would actually put in play.)

If the Red Sox have put in the winning bid, and if they do end up signing him, I’m sure as shit be excited. I’d also be worried, for reasons I’ve previously explained. In either case, it’s an early sign that the ’06 Hot Stove season will be plenty active in Boston. But isn’t it always?

Post Categories: 2006 Hot Stove Season & Daisuke Matsuzaka