Friday, November 17, 2006

Introducing the new A-Rod

Let’s see: a star player with phenomenal talent has a team pony up massive amounts of money to land him, thereby bolstering already huge expectations to nearly unachievable levels.

Where have I seen that before?

With the six billion yen hurled at the feet of the Seibu Lions by the Red Sox ($13 million more than the next highest bid) for the mere right to negotiate with the Japanese star, the Sox front office has unwittingly sent Matsuzaka down the road to becoming the next Alex Rodriguez.

I’m not saying it’s a sure thing he’ll end up the tattered mass of nerves that Alex is. I’m just saying the scenario has happened before, and let’s be honest—how many guys who have gotten massive contracts over the past ten years have really been worth every dime? I can really only name two—Curt Schilling and Derek Jeter.

Matsuzaka has a strong advantage over A-Rod though, in that he doesn’t speak a word of English. He can’t have his psyche shredded by talk radio or the likes of Dan Shaughnessey, because he can’t understand them.

The only place he’ll risk getting his ego bruised is at the park. I’m guessing boo means boo in any language.

Hell, in a nickname contest on Boston.com, the leading moniker fans have chosen so far even bears an obvious similarity to Rodriguez’s: It’s D-Mat.

This guy might be doomed before ever pitching an inning. He’s got a lot going against him right from the start. There are more reasons that this is a bad decision than there are possible favorable outcomes. Let’s talk about a few negatives:

1. National League pitchers can’t even hack it in the American League. How’s a guy from another country going to fare? Japanese baseball has long been a graveyard where washed-up MLB hitters go to die. So say what you want about Matsuzaka’s success as MVP of the WBC. Freddy Garcia and Daniel Cabrera both went 1-0 with a 1.23 ERA in two starts in the WBC. The world’s best players, indeed.

2. It’s like putting a down payment on a house for someone else. $51 mil to talk to the guy, and what do they get for their investment? Three, maybe four years, if the talk is right about what Scott Boras wants for his new ace. After his contract is up, he’ll be a 29-year-old or so free agent in his prime. The next team to sign him will have to pay him more than the Sox contract will be, but they essentially get to waive the down payment. You better hope the Sox re-sign him. If they can't? On behalf of the Yankees organization, I’d like to thank Mr. Henry for his generosity.

3. Not just pressure. Worldwide pressure. Throwing this kind of money down on top of a lucrative contract gives the kid a lot of pressure in front of the fans in Boston. But he also has to deal with the pressure of a whole country. First, to the Japanese people who want to see him succeed because he’s their countryman and already a National Hero in Japan; and second, to the Japanese people who are genuinely ticked at him for contributing to the decline of the Japanese game, like Shigeo Nagashima, the defining player in Japanese baseball history. He called out the kid and said he was disappointed he wasn't staying in-country. That’s like Cal Ripken or Yogi Berra calling a guy a traitor. That’s got to mess with your head.

4. What happened to “preparing for the future”? Oh, the 2006 Red Sox season happened. But if you’re trying to tell me this was Theo’s call, you’re out of your mind. This was Larry, and it’s proof that the front office is again split. Of course, after Theo’s recent calls, this is probably a good thing for the Sox.

5. $51.1 to talk to a guy, but they couldn’t find $10 million for Damon to keep him for four more years? How much do you think Damon enjoyed watching Kevin Youkilis bat in the leadoff spot last year? No one knew Crisp would be that big of a flop, one so big his name was liberally thrown around before the trade deadline, only months into his Sox career. Seeing the money being thrown around for Matsuzaka is hilarious knowing the Sox didn’t think Damon was worth a measly $10 million. Maybe Damon will steadily decline, maybe he won’t, but is there any doubt he was worth the extra $10 mil? You should always pony up more for proven commodities. What’s really hilarious about this deal is the Sox weren’t willing to go higher for a proven commodity like Damon, but they’re willing to spend for an unproven one. Quality logic by the Sox front office.

6. This is a Yankees' move from the earlier part of this decade. After I did a double take at the amount, those were my exact words to my buddy Keith when he told me the news. Giambi, Sheffield, Mussina, Randy… all guys the Yankees tossed insane amounts of cash at just to win a championship, only to be upended by low-payroll teams like Arizona, Florida, Anaheim (twice) and now, Detroit. Matsuzaka might be worth every penny in the end, but I can’t say there isn’t a part of me that is glad the Yankees lost the bidding. It’s nice to be able to point the finger and laugh at another team for going beyond all rational reasoning. Throwing money at the problem doesn’t get you anything, except maybe a ticket to the playoffs. For the Sox and Yanks, that’s nothing special.

Of course, Matsuzaka could go on to become one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history, and decades from now people could look back and consider the $51.1 million a brilliant move, even a “deal.”

Or maybe he will be the MVP of a World Series over the next four years, bringing Boston a title.

Because anything less than either of those, and he’d be falling short of expectations, right? From the moves the Sox are making to get him, it sure looks like that’s what they’re expecting.

And that means the fans will be too. And that is not good news for D-Mat, um, I mean, Matsuzaka.

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