Fri, Nov 17, 2006 - Page 21 News List

Boston's skyhigh bid raises eyebrows

OVERPRICED?Speculation is mounting about the real reason the Red Sox bid so much for the right to negotiate a contract with Japanese pitching star Daisuke Matsuzaka


Here's the US$51.1 million question: Did the Boston Red Sox bid all that money to sign Daisuke Matsuzaka or merely to block him from going to the New York Yankees?

"I can understand why there might be some speculation," Houston Astros president Tal Smith said on Wednesday, a day after Boston won the right to negotiate with the Seibu Lions pitcher. "The Red Sox are the only ones that can answer that."

"Obviously, there's a lot of factors from a standpoint of ethics and integrity and so on," Smith added. "I don't think anybody should question it as it stands in advance. You have to feel that they're acting in good faith."

Matsuzaka stands to become the priciest pitcher in Major League Baseball next year if the money the Red Sox would pay the Seibu Lions and the salary they would pay Matsuzaka are lumped together.

Currently, the highest average salary among MLB pitchers is the US$16 million Randy Johnson is getting from the Yankees. Houston's Roy Oswalt will average US$14.6 million under the five-year contract he starts next year.

"I'm sure that he wanted to stay in Houston and took a hometown discount to do so," Scott Boras, Matsuzaka's agent, said when asked whether Oswalt's deal was a starting point in discussions for Matsuzaka.

Even Matsuzaka took note of Boston's big bid -- double what some thought the winner would pay.

"I was very surprised when I heard the figure," he said on Wednesday before flying to the US. "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."

Boston general manager Theo Epstein spent more energy side-stepping questions than answering them at Tuesday night's news conference to announce the Red Sox had won Matsuzaka's rights. He pretty much repeated variations of the typed statement the Red Sox released.

When asked whether Boston submitted a bid to prevent Matsuzaka from going to a division rival, he responded: "This was a bid to acquire the rights to negotiate with Mr. Matsuzaka and we hope to acquire the services of Mr. Matsuzaka. Again, we think he'd be a great fit with the Red Sox organization."

Meanwhile Major League Baseball said the eye-popping size of the bid will cause a review of the whole process.

"The reported magnitude of the amount paid for the right to negotiate with Matsuzaka will cause us at the end of this posting to review the system," MLB president Bob DuPuy said.

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