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11/15/06 12:32 AM ET

Red Sox win Matsuzaka bid

Winning bid to negotiate with Japanese star is $51.1 million

NAPLES, Fla. -- The Boston Red Sox have won the U.S. rights to negotiate with star Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka of the Seibu Lions and it could cost them plenty.

The annoucement was made jointly on Tuesday night (Wednesday morning in Japan) by Major League Baseball and the Nippon Professional Baseball commissioners' offices. In Tokyo, Lions officials said Boston's winning bid was $51.1 million, far and away the highest ever for an Asian player and dwarfing the $13.1 million Seattle paid the Orix BlueWave six years ago for the right to sign Ichiro Suzuki.

The Red Sox now must negotiate a contract with the pitcher and his agent, Scott Boras, in the next 30 days or lose those rights. If he doesn't sign by midnight heading into Dec. 15, Matsuzaka would return to Japan and play for the Lions again next season.

"We are pleased and excited to have acquired the rights to negotiate with Daisuke Matsuzaka," said Boston general manager Theo Epstein during a press conference held after the first full day of the annual MLB general managers' meetings. "We have long admired Mr. Matsuzaka's abilities and believe he would be a great fit as a member of our organization."

Epstein declined to disclose the amount of his team's bid, but sources said it topped the Mets and the Yankees, who bid about $39 million and $33 million, respectively.

Boras, who held court in the lobby of the Naples Grand Hotel at midnight as Tuesday became Wednesday, said the Red Sox bid certainly sets some parameters for what his newest client should be paid.

"The licensing fee is certainly something that shows that this is a premium guy," he said. "That talent is going to help win on the field and he also brings off-the-field value to them as well. He's really a bulldog on the mound. I'm anxious to see how he transfers here. I don't know when that's going to be, but we'll see."

Bob DuPuy, MLB's president and chief operating officer, said earlier on Tuesday that Commissioner Bud Selig would be closely watching the negotiations.

"Under the protocol, the Commissioner has the responsibility for overseeing the entire process," DuPuy said. "That's to insure that the intent and practice of the process is met. As he has in the past, he will monitor it throughout each stage of it to make sure the process is fulfilled to its original intent."

MLB accepted bids that were in the $20 million to $50 million range on behalf of the Lions last week for the Most Valuable Player of Japan's victory in the first World Baseball Classic. Only the top bid was presented to the Lions. The Angels, Yankees, Mets, Cubs, Diamondbacks and Rangers had also reportedly made bids.

Mets general manager Omar Minaya said he was asked by MLB officials not to disclose his bid, although he said late Tuesday night that he believed his team had finished second.

"Am I surprised that we didn't win? No," Minaya said. "Am I comfortable with the amount that we bid? Yes. You've got to pay a pitcher like Matsuzaka when he's already proven himself in the Olympics and in Japan and the [World Baseball] Classic. A lot of people respect this pitcher."

For once, the Yankees weren't even in the same ballpark as their heated American League East rivals, but general manager Brian Cashman said he was content to go about doing his club's business as the Yankees reload for next season.

"You put your best foot forward and you make your evaluations," Cashman said. "He's a tremendous pitcher and I congratulate the Red Sox. Obviously I have work to do in trying to improve our club going forward as we always do. We'll see where this all takes us. All I can do is wish Boston good luck and we'll focus on addressing our needs on the free agent and trade markets."

The Rangers came in at $27 million and even team owner Tom Hicks said he was fooled by the amount of money tossed around in the bidding.

"I bet we finished second, but a distant second," Hicks said. "When we made our bid last week, we really thought we were going to win. We had no idea somebody was going to bid so high."

The Red Sox will need as much luck as they can get. In addition to the posting price, the Red Sox will undoubtedly have to pay Matsuzaka a contract worth about $12 million a year for the next three or four years, placing the entire deal in the $80 million to $100 million range.

DuPuy said he was not concerned that the package would knock baseball's delicate economic and competitive balance out of whack.

"We have worked very hard to share revenues and try to get some competitive balance," DuPuy said. "Under the Commissioner's leadership we've made an awful lot of progress in that regard. But the fact is there is a Japanese professional league. The fact is that there are foreign signings. There are inevitabilities in the system that have to work themselves out."

The expenditure may make sense for the Red Sox, who are trying to rebuild a shaky starting rotation, are always in toe-to-toe competition with the Yankees and have lagged well behind their New York rivals in building relationships in the Far East.

"Clearly we believe Mr. Matsuzaka is a real talent," Epstein said. "We're excited to move on to the next step of the process."

After the 2002 season, the Yankees went into a working agreement with the Yomiuri Giants of Japan's Central League to share scouting and development data. Shortly thereafter, the Yankees signed former Giants slugger Hideki Matsui to a three-year contract, which was extended last year. The outfielder, though, was a pure free agent with more than nine years in the Japan leagues and the Yankees did not have to pay the Giants.

Players with less experience -- like Matsuzaka and third baseman Akinori Iwamura -- must go through the vigorous posting system, which was put into place in 1995 after the Dodgers signed pitcher Hideo Nomo. The posting process was instituted so MLB couldn't raid Japan of its up-and-coming stars without paying a high price to the originating team.

Posting was closed on Friday for Iwamura, who is set to leave the Yakult Swallows if that team accepts MLB's high bid later this week. But for the next 30 days, all eyes will be on Epstein, Boras and Matsuzaka.

"He's a tremendous pitcher who's shown his ability on the international level," Cashman said. "We may be seeing him pitch at Fenway (Park). But it's not my business, it's their business. They were able to secure him and they have the negotiating rights to him and my job now is to concentrate on the available talent."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.