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A Yen for an Ace

Why the Red Sox broke the bank for the right to talk to a ballyhooed Japanese fireballer

THE BOSTON RED SOX allowed 2004 World Series stars Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe and Johnny Damon to leave as free agents by refusing to match what other teams were willing to pay. But after missing the playoffs last season, Boston was willing to spend big in the bidding for Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka. The Sox reportedly bid more than $40 million just for the exclusive right to negotiate with the 26 year-old who is nicknamed Kaibutsu (which means monster) but has never pitched in the majors. (The winning bid was to be officially announced on Tuesday.) And if Scott Boras, the agent for Matsuzaka, demands a three-year deal that would allow the pitcher to be an unrestricted free agent in 2009, the Red Sox just might wind up risking a total of about $75 million. Why would the Red Sox spend that much on Matsuzaka?

1. He is that good. After being named MVP of the World Baseball Classic last March, the righty went 17--5 with a 2.13 ERA for the Seibu Lions. He throws a fastball between 91 and 96 mph and features a wicked assortment of breaking pitches he throws on any count. Boston dreams of Matsuzaka fronting a rotation with fellow 26-year-old fireballers Josh Beckett and Jonathan Papelbon.

2. They knew only an inflated bid could keep him from the Yankees, who finished 11 games in front of Boston. Now the Red Sox have forced the Yankees into potentially overpaying for Barry Zito, 28, or Jason Schmidt, 33, the next best available free-agent arms.

3. They see new revenue streams. The Red Sox are likely to forge sponsorship agreements with Japanese companies, as the Yankees have done because of Hideki Matsui. Matsuzaka, who is enormously popular in Japan, may also provide the Sox with a halo effect in his home country, making the team more prominent—and more attractive to Japanese fans and players.

4. It's only money. The posting fee will not count against the $148 million payroll threshold that triggers the luxury tax. Aces in their mid-20s rarely become available and don't come cheap when they do. Last year the Red Sox had to give up shortstop Hanley Ramirez and pitcher Anibal Sanchez, both of whom became star rookies for the Marlins, to get Beckett. So for the Sox, Matsuzaka is clearly worth kaibutsu cash.





WORLD-BEATER In the WBC, Matsuzaka won three games, including the championship.