Plenty of credit to go around
Epstein, Boras and Matsuzaka come together to get deal done
Right before the closing credits roll in the 1997 flick "Batman & Robin," the loyal valet, Alfred, contemplates the expanding crime-fighting enterprise of Bruce Wayne and declares, "We're going to need a bigger cave."
Just like the Boston Red Sox, who, having partnered with Daisuke Matsuzaka and contemplating his Japanese press posse, say, "We're going to need a bigger press box."
Or Jason Varitek, who contemplates the many weapons in Matsuzaka's pitching arsenal, including something called a "gyroball," and says, "I'm going to need more fingers."
OK, roll the credits.
Plenty to go around here, for the timely, surprisingly fiscally sensible and ultimately painless signing of a 26-year-old right-handed pitcher whose world-wide reputation is exceeded only by the anticipation already building for his Major League unveiling.
Credit Theo Epstein for being proactive and persuasive. The Red Sox general manager raced Thursday's midnight negotiating deadline by commandeering club owner John Henry's private jet cross-country on Monday, then did the near-impossible by convincing Scott Boras that his $100 million valuation was half-right.
Yes, Epstein pinned Boras to the D-Mat. Within 48 hours, Esptein talked Boras down from nine figures to $52 million. Many other unique factors were at work here, but, just on face value, that could earn Epstein a Nobel Prize for baseball negotiations. And if that doesn't yet exist, we'll start it.
But also credit Boras, the agent who never before brought a white flag to the table, for knowing how to pick his fights. He has issues with the posting process, and hence will surely lobby loudly for changes, but realized he couldn't ask Matsuzaka to be a martyr.
Yet even Boras' settling price can be viewed as a mild anti-posting protest: His point all along had been that the player should get more than the team and, at $52 million he barely drove that point home.
And credit Matsuzaka himself for recognizing two things: That Boston sincerely wanted him to come -- and that the Seibu Lions just as sincerely didn't want him to come back.
That $51,111,111 bid for negotiating rights -- that's 6 billion yen on the Ginza -- represented approximately triple the Lions' total payroll for the 2006 season. Had Matsuzaka not signed, the Lions would have kept him, but not the check.
Let's see ... a 17-game winner who in two more years could walk away anyway as an unrestricted free agent or 6,000,000,000 little ones? Even in Japan, honor only goes so far.
So, all things considered, Matsuzaka's only satisfying option was to make a deal with the Red Sox. Japan had already given him a hero's sendoff, with Seibu controlling owner Hidekazu Ota saying, "Matsuzaka is a treasure of Japanese baseball. We want to help realize his dream." It was either deal or turn into Keith Jackson or even Roger Clemens, both of whom like going-away presents so much, they keep coming back for more.
Such as ... his 17-5 record and 2.13 ERA last season, his career 108-60 record, 2.95 ERA and 1,355 strikeouts in 1,403 innings. And perhaps the most intriguing number of all: 26, the young age by which Matsuzaka has accomplished all that.
Cynics' portrayal of D-Mat as an unknown commodity, simply because he has not yet pitched in the highest league, is simply wrong. Baseball is no longer played in a vacuum, and legions of scouts who have seen him -- and one-time or current big leaguers who have faced him -- offer gushing testimony.
Matsuzaka has already stuck it to Major Leaguers, with a complete-game 5-1 victory over the All-Stars who toured Japan in 2004 -- although Boras advised him to skip last month's renewal of that event. And D-Mat also conquered the World, with MVP honors in the inaugural World Baseball Classic.
But those are merely snapshots. Matsuzaka now has to be ready for the long reel, six years' worth. He is in for not only a competitive challenge, but a cultural one, as well.
As for the baseball culture, he may even have the advantage, because Japanese baseball's clock remains frozen in that bygone big-league era of the Bob Gibsons and Nolan Ryans, who built up arm strength through tireless work.
Matsuzaka, who as a 17-year-old completed a 17-inning game on 250 pitches and routinely warmed up for Japan League starts with 150-pitch bullpen sessions the day before, now steps into a forum of admittedly pampered arms.
There will no doubt be adjustments to make. As an incisive scout told the New York Daily News soon after Boston's bid was made public, "You've got to be especially wary of the fact that he's a high-ball pitcher and uses a lot of pitches. Wait until he sees the way Major League hitters can waste those high pitches. He's a talent, but for all those reasons he's also a gamble, especially at that kind of money."
Three million less and for one more season than the contract given a week ago to Gil Meche? "Mr. Epstein, call for you from a Mr. Nobel in Stockholm ..."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.