Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Matsuzaka news

  • After reports that the talks were hopelessly stalled, it looks like a deal or Daisuke Matsuzaka has been agreed upon. Boston GM Theo Epstein and President Larry Lucchino flew out to meet personally with Scott Boras. Progress was made quickly in the negotiations, but both sides were still apart by about $4 mil./year. The deadline for a deal was essentially by this afternoon, as the Sox needed Matsuzaka to fly back to Boston to pass a physical before the deal could be finalized. Word was that Epstein & Lucchino would be flying back to Boston today with or without Dice-K.
    And the Red Sox fans rejoiced when the word went out that they were coming back with Matsuzaka. Boras had previously stated that he wouldn't let Dice-K fly to Boston unless a deal was in place, so we can take this as a good sign that the sides have come to at least a preliminary arrangement.
    Word on the contract figure is 6 years/$52 million. If that sounds hideously low, it's because the Red Sox are factoring in the $51.1 million posting fee. The hold-up in the negotations came when Boras insisted that Dice-K get market value, regardless of the posting fee. If the $52 million figure is correct, then Boras must have caved somewhat (the deal also includes escalators that could raise it to $60 million).
    Is it a good deal for the Red Sox? Absolutely. It comes along with all of the risk of signing a free agent pitcher, especially sight unseen from another continent. But every indication is that Dice-K will pitch like a strong #2, if not an ace. There is downside in the deal, yes, but it's one of the best of the off-season, along with the Schmidt contract.
    Despite being two years younger than Gil Meche, Matsuzaka got the same contract length. And even if you add the posting fee in, the Sox will be spending about $103 million over 6 years, which comes down to about $17.2 million per year. We have to take into account, though, that the $51 million bid isn't factored into the luxury tax, so the Sox will save some money there. There are also the fringe benefits (which have been somewhat overstated) of having a Japanese player on your squad, especially if you haven't already mined that revenue stream. Factoring all of this in, the contract looks entirely reasonable for Boston, especially in the context of this inflated off-season.
    With Matsuzaka signed (and the bar set), we should see some progress in the Yankees' negotiations with Kei Igawa. There has also been a holdup in the Devil Rays' negotiations with Akinori Iwamura. The Rays' only bid a fraction of the $51 million it took to get Matsuzaka. And Iwamura projects to be a very good hitter either at second or third base. Nate Silver's projection for him (posted on BP) is a batting line of 275/354/445. Combine that with what is (reportedly) good defense from a third baseman (although he could shift to second), and we've got a better version of Tadahito Iguchi. Iwamura could make an All-Star team or two (especially considering the team), but it's doubtful that he'll be a major force. Still, the Rays' woeful offense could use above-average production from a key defensive position, especially if it comes with above-average defense.
  • The Blue Jays have reportedly offered CF Vernon Wells a 7-year, $126 million contract. Both Wells and the Jays have confirmed the offer, but the number is still a rumor.
    While I do think that the Jays would like to keep Wells, I see this move as a pretty bold bargaining move. Reports came out of Toronto last year that Wells wanted to leave Toronto when his time was up, which got a big negative reaction from the Jays. If the Jays make this offer (if the numbers are true), and Wells doesn't accept, then the Toronto front office has successfully cast themselves as the good guys. If Wells doesn't accept this contract, he will most definitely look like the bad guy, and the Toronto fans won't make his walk year very pleasant. The ball is in his court, and I don't think it's by accident.
    Perhaps I'm being too cynical to look for ulterior motives in the Jays' offer. I don't really doubt that they'd like to keep Wells. But I'd love to know who leaked that number to the press. The Jays may feel that if they put Wells on the spot in public, he'll feel more inclined to sign.
    For the record, I'm not convinced that Wells is worth $18 mil. per year. He's a troubling case to evaluate; he's had two very good seasons, 2003 and 2006. But in between, he was just above-average. Which is the real Vernon Wells? The Jays would love to know for sure. And signing him to a near-Soriano contract is a pretty big risk, especially when there are several center fielders scheduled to go on the market in 2007.
  • There's a funny article in BP Unfiltered by Nate Silver, who runs the PECOTA forecasts. PECOTA thrives by coming up for comparable players for every player in baseball. This can be difficult with guys like Barry Bonds and Julio Franco, who are unique on the historic level.
    But none of them brought the system to its knees, as did minor league pitcher Jason Neighborgall. The aspect of Neighborgall's game that made PECOTA cower in fear was this:
    In 13 IP last year (in the Rookie leagues), Neighborgall walked 46 batters.
    Wait -- is that really 46 walks in 13 innings? Yes, it is. Jason makes "Wild Thing" Vaughn look like Greg Maddux. His walk rate is 31.85 per 9 innings.
    Silver calls him The Man Who Broke PECOTA.

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