November 15 , 2006


Gyroball has large price tag


Associated Press/Itsuo Inouye
Seibu Lions pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka talks to reporters during a news conference before his departure to the United States at Narita International Airport today. The Boston Red Sox have won the bidding battle to negotiate a major league contract with Matsuzaka, with a $51.1 million offer, a Seibu Lions executive announced.

AP Baseball Writer

NAPLES, Fla. — In dollars, it comes to $51.1 million. In yen, it’s a tad over 6 billion.
And that just gives the Boston Red Sox the right to speak with Daisuke Matsuzaka.
Making a record-setting bid that easily blew away offers from the New York Yankees, Mets and others, the Red Sox won the auction Tuesday for the Japanese ace who was MVP of the World Baseball Classic.
Now the Red Sox have 30 days to sign the 26-year-old righty to a contract. If they don’t, they keep the money and the pitcher known for his “gyroball” will have to stay with the Seibu Lions of the Pacific League.
“We have long admired Mr. Matsuzaka’s abilities and believe he would be a great fit with the Red Sox organization,” Boston general manager Theo Epstein said. “Clearly, we believe Mr. Matsuzaka is a real talent.”
The previous high bid for a posted player from Japan was $13.125 million by the Seattle Mariners for Ichiro Suzuki after the 2000 season.
Boston’s bid showed exactly how the market for pitching talent has soared — the Red Sox are willing to spend a whopping amount for someone who has not thrown a single pitch in the major leagues.
“The one reflection it does have is the demand in the marketplace for someone who is that good, that young and that visible,” said agent Scott Boras, who represents Matsuzaka.
Boras did not seem worried that Boston’s bid was merely a ploy to block the rival Yankees for getting Matsuzaka.
“I’m going to first assume that this whole process was done in good faith,” Boras said.
Matsuzaka was scheduled to fly to the United States today.
Speculation about what it will take for Boston to sign Matsuzaka has ranged from $7 million to_$10 million annually over three to four years.
The Lions announced they had accepted the high bid for their prized pitcher, and the major league commissioner’s office simultaneously confirmed at the general managers’ meetings that the Red Sox had made the offer.
If the Red Sox and Matsuzaka can agree to a deal by midnight on Dec. 14, he would join a talented rotation that already includes Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett and converted closer Jonathan Papelbon.
“We’re excited to have won this part of the process and we’re hopeful we can reach an agreement,” Epstein said.
After missing the playoffs last season, Boston outbid the Yankees this time.
Epstein said the team would invite Boras, Matsuzaka and his family to Boston to begin negotiations. Boras said the sides planned to set up a meeting soon, but wasn’t sure whether it would be in Boston, Japan or California.
Matsuzaka was 17-5 with a 2.13 ERA and 200 strikeouts for the Lions this year. He throws in the high-90s mph, has good off-speed pitches and is known for his deceptive “gyroball,” which has been likened to a screwball.
“Because he throws 95 miles an hour and he has four pitches, he is the player who comes here with a resume that transfers,” Boras said. “Daisuke is someone who dominated in Japan and in the WBC, and I think it reflected the fact that a major league team knew that someone of his abilities could have a great impact on their goals.”
In assessing the amount of Boston’s bid, Boras compared Matsuzaka’s allure to what outfielder Hideki Matsui has brought to the Yankees.
“It’s the value of a No. 1 starter. It’s much like Matsui and the Yankees,” Boras said. “It shows the value of a player like this. He brings advertising dollars. He brings a network presence in Japan.”
Unlike Matsui, Matsuzaka was not yet eligible for free agency.
The Mets finished second with a bid between $39 million and $40 million, according to a baseball official who spoke on condition of anonymity because none of the losing bids were revealed. The Yankees bid between $32 million and $33 million, another baseball official said.
Even before the announcement, general managers had assumed Boston would be the highest bidder in the blind process.
“We’ll congratulate the winner and move on,” New York Yankees GM Brian Cashman said Tuesday afternoon.
The Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers also were thought to be among the bidders.
“I’m very comfortable with the bid that we made,” Mets general manager Omar Minaya said, sidestepping whether he would have topped Boston’s offer now that he knew what it was.
Bidding closes Friday for Akinori Iwamura, a third baseman with the Central League’s Yakult Swallows.
Before the Matsuzaka announcement, agents roamed the hotel lobby, discussing their free-agent clients.
Minaya and Epstein met on Tuesday, but the potential availability of slugger Manny Ramirez wasn’t discussed. Boston has explored trade possibilities for the All-Star outfielder in recent years.
Second baseman Mark DeRosa became the first major league free agent to switch teams, leaving Texas for a $13 million, three-year contract with the Chicago Cubs.
The Mets re-signed two players, agreeing to a $12 million, two-year contract with 41-year-old pitcher Orlando Hernandez and a $3.8 million, one-year deal with second baseman Jose Valentin.
Mike Mussina’s agent, Arn Tellem, kept up talks with the Yankees on a new contract for the pitcher that likely will be worth $23 million to $25 million over two years.
“We’re in the red zone,” Tellem said.
Tellem also was making progress to keep Nomar Garciaparra with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
GMs, as usual, will hold their annual discussion today of whether to have instant replay available to umpires, a concept commissioner Bud Selig opposes. In the past, the idea hasn’t garnered enough support.
“I guess we’ll get a sense of that tomorrow,” said Joe Garagiola Jr., a senior vice president in the commissioner’s office.
There will also be talk today of whether to eliminate tie games, having them instead become suspended games. On Thursday, the GMs will discuss whether to have uniform standards for storing baseballs, a talk prompted by the use of a humidor by the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field.
As for the postseason schedule, nothing seems to have come of the idea floated by Selig to give wild-card teams fewer home games in_the playoffs.
“That is not officially on the agenda, so I suspect that will be some good lobby talk,” Garagiola said.




No more wild days for Webb

AP Baseball Writer

NEW YORK — In two years, Brandon Webb went from wild and ineffective to a Cy Young Award.
All it took was some time to master his sensational sinker.
The Arizona Diamondbacks’ ace won a wide-open race for the NL’s top pitching honor Tuesday, beating out San Diego closer Trevor Hoffman by 26 points in balloting by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
“It was pretty big emotions,” Webb said. “It’s with you forever. To have that title go along with you means a lot.”
One of six starters who tied for the league lead with a pedestrian total of 16 wins, Webb received 15 of 32 first-place votes and 103 points. Hoffman, who broke the career saves record this season, got 12 first-place votes and_77 points.
St. Louis Cardinals star Chris Carpenter, last year’s winner, finished third with two first-place tallies and 63 points.
“All three of us probably were deserving of it and probably a couple more guys, too,” Webb said. “I knew that I had a pretty good chance.”
Houston’s Roy Oswalt, who led the NL with a 2.98 ERA, got the other three first-place votes and came in fourth.
Webb, who went 16-8 with a 3.10 ERA and made his first All-Star team, was listed second on seven ballots and third on seven others.
“It’s really unbelievable, looking back to where I started from,” he said. “It just happened for me this year.”
No pitcher was included on every Cy Young Award entry, and Webb’s victory total was the lowest for a starter who won in a full season. The previous low was 17 wins, by Pedro Martinez of the Montreal Expos in 1997 and Randy Johnson for Arizona in ’99.
Fernando Valenzuela of the Los Angeles Dodgers was honored with a 13-7 record in 1981 and Atlanta’s Greg Maddux went 16-6 in ’94 — but those seasons were cut short by players’ strikes.
“A lot of the wins pitchers can’t control,” Webb said. “You can give up one hit and still lose the ballgame.”
Webb also is the first NL winner to have an ERA above 3.00 since Philadelphia’s Steve Carlton had a 3.10 mark in 1982. Rick Sutcliffe split the 1984 season between Cleveland and the Chicago Cubs, finishing with a 3.64 ERA overall but a 2.69 mark in the NL.
Webb’s satisfying success came only two years after he really struggled.
After a strong rookie season in 2003, Webb walked a major league-high 119 batters the following year for a terrible Arizona team that went 51-111. The right-hander also led the NL with 16 losses and 17 wild pitches.
But he cut his walks in half in 2005 and issued a career-low 50 free passes this year. And he got more help from Arizona’s much-improved infield defense.
“Basically, I just tried to do what I’ve done the last three years, which is throw a lot of sinkers,” Webb said.
The AL Cy Young Award winner will be announced Thursday — and Minnesota’s Johan Santana is a heavy favorite. The NL and AL Manager of the Year were to be revealed today.
The 27-year-old Webb threw a career-best 235 innings, which ranked second in the NL. He also tied Carpenter for the league lead with three shutouts and both had five complete games, good for second in the league.
“I was pretty surprised that Carpenter didn’t get as many first-place votes,” Webb said. “I thought it would be between me and Carpenter.”
Voters select their top three choices and points are tabulated on a 5-3-1 basis.
Webb’s worst start of the year came against San Diego in the regular-season finale, when he gave up seven runs in four innings of a 7-6 loss that allowed the Padres to clinch the NL West title. The outing increased his ERA from a league-leading 2.88 to 3.10 — but voters weren’t dissuaded.
“One start doesn’t make or break a season,” Diamondbacks pitching coach Bryan Price said.
One of the biggest keys in Webb’s development has been his ability to control his deceptive sinker, which helps him induce one harmless groundball after another when he’s on top of his game. He also helped himself in his mental approach.
“Early in my career, even in the minor leagues, if I had a bad inning or something went wrong I’d show emotion out there and let that get to me,” he said. “Every year I’ve tried to improve on that.”
Webb agreed to a $19.5 million, four-year contract with Arizona in January. For winning the Cy Young Award, the buyout of his $8.5 million option in 2010 doubles from $500,000 to $1 million.
“He replaces the strikeout with the double play. That defines a No. 1 pitcher in the big leagues to me,” Price said.
The 39-year-old Hoffman finished with a league-leading 46 saves in 51 chances for the Padres. He has 482 career saves, breaking Lee Smith’s previous mark of 478.
Hoffman went 0-2 with a 2.14 ERA in 63 innings spanning 65 appearances. He was listed second on three ballots and third on eight.
Hoffman also was a Cy Young Award runner-up in 1998 to Tom Glavine of the Atlanta Braves.
Carpenter and Hoffman each receive a $50,000 bonus for finishing high in the voting.