The Baby-Faced Ace
Matsuzaka is said to throw a mysterious pitch called a "gyroball"
Starting pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka of the Seibu Lions, the so-called "baby-faced ace," may have the best raw stuff in all of Japan. He's particularly celebrated for his alleged mastery of a mysterious pitch, the gyroball, and his extraordinary durability: As a high schooler during the playoffs, he once threw 250 pitches in a 17-inning complete game, followed it with a save the next day, and followed that a day later with a nine-inning no-hitter. This past spring, we saw him win the MVP at the World Baseball Classic.
For some time, Matsuzaka has sought to jump to the big leagues; until this year, the Lions refused him permission to do so. Last Thursday, however, Seibu, in dire financial straits, reluctantly announced that it would "post" Matsuzaka.
What this means is that Major League Baseball, acting on behalf of the Lions, has begun accepting sealed bids for the rights to negotiate with the pitcher. To win those rights could cost more than $30 million. Scott Boras, the Dick Cheney of sports agents, represents Matsuzaka, and his public comments to date suggest the pitcher will be seeking #1-starter money--something on the order of $14 million a year. (This money is distinct from the posting fee, which the Lions will keep.)
After 5 PM tomorrow, we should know the amount of the winning bid, and possibly the identity of the winning bidder as well. Right now, we know that several teams have reportedly opted not to bid, among them the Mariners, Dodgers, Angels, and Indians.
Apparently some of these teams aren't participating because they've determined Matsuzaka doesn't want to play for them. I'm skeptical. Earlier this fall I spoke with an American and a National League scout, each from a team rumored to be interested in Matsuzaka. Both men had watched the pitcher extensively, and both told me the same thing: He's not a #1 starter. "His fastball's straighter than you'd like it to be," said one of them. I'm guessing that the teams that aren't bidding may have reached the same conclusion--that Matsuzaka isn't worth the money. Finding out whether or not they're correct will be one of the most interesting stories of the 2007 season.
For more on Daisuke Matsuzaka, see Matsuzaka Watch, a blog maintained by a Yankees fan living in Japan.