Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka said yesterday he was "relieved" to hear the Boston Red Sox had won the bidding battle to negotiate with a US$51.1 million offer for him to play in the major leagues.
"To be honest, my first reaction was relief," the 26-year-old right hander told a news conference at the airport just outside Tokyo before boarding a plane for the US. "I was very nervous, so it was a relief.
"I was very surprised when I heard the figure," he said. "It shows that they really appreciate my ability. I know there will be a lot of pressure, but that's something I'm used to and something I enjoy."
Matsuzaka said he looked forward to seeing Boston, but stressed that he hasn't signed a contract so "it's not as though I'm on the team yet."
"The Red Sox are a team that has a long history, great fans and a great atmosphere," he added.
The bid was announced earlier in the day by Hidekazu Ota, acting owner of Matsuzaka's Seibu Lions of Japan's Pacific League.
"I want Daisuke to realize his dreams of playing in the major leagues," Ota said. "I talked to him today, and he is very happy."
The pitcher, who is represented by agent Scott Boras, has 30 days to negotiate a contract with the Red Sox. If Matsuzaka doesn't agree to a contract, the bid will not be paid.
"He is a treasure in Japan and we are very pleased that the best possible evaluation has been made for him," Ota added.
The Yankees, New York Mets, Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers were thought to be among the unsuccessful bidders.
Matsuzaka, MVP of the World Baseball Classic, was 17-5 with a 2.13 ERA and 200 strikeouts for the Lions this year. He throws in the mid-140s kph, has good off-speed pitches and is known for his deceptive "gyroball."
He has long been considered one of the brightest prospects in Japanese professional baseball.
In his eight-year career in Japan, Matsuzaka has led the Pacific League in wins three times and in strikeouts four times while winning the ERA title twice and the Sawamura Award, Japan's version of the Cy Young pitching award, once.
Matsuzaka impressed major league scouts when he helped Japan win the inaugural World Baseball Classic title last March.
Matsuzaka has a 108-60 career record with a 2.95 ERA and 1,355 strikeouts in 204 games and 1,402-2/3 innings.