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Setting it straight about Matsuzaka’s free agency status

by Wayne Graczyk

As the deadline (Dec. 14) approaches for the Boston Red Sox to sign posted Seibu Lions Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, let me clarify — once and for all — one key point seemingly misunderstood by many.

Should the Boston Red Sox fail to reach agreement on a contract with Matsuzaka, and he reverts to the Seibu Lions for 2007, he cannot file for free agency until after the 2008 season. He could, once again, be posted for major-league service following the 2007 campaign.

Various news reports published in Japan and North America have indicated this is Seibu’s last chance to collect a huge posting fee (in this case more than $51 million), because Matsuzaka would become a free agent in November next year. Not true.

One fan also suggested there may be some “hanky-panky” between the Red Sox and the pitcher, whereby Boston, not wanting to deal with agent Scott Boras, would pay off Matsuzaka to return to the Lions in exchange for his promise he would sign with the BoSox after becoming a free agent in the fall of 2007. Again, this is not possible.

Although Matsuzaka has played eight seasons (1999-2006) in Japanese baseball, and he would normally become eligible for free agency after his ninth year, his service time was lessened by an injury in 2002, limiting him to only 14 games. Therefore, if he remained in Japan, he would not accumulate enough time for free agency until midway through 2008 and could not file until that season comes to a conclusion.

Having said that, I do not believe Matsuzaka will come back to Seibu, and there is no funny business going on. He is expected to come to a contract agreement with the Red Sox any day, and we’ll know soon for sure, won’t we?

That was an interesting trade between the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks and Yokohama BayStars made last week. The Hawks sent pitcher Hayato Terahara, a native of Kyushu, to the BayStars for outfielder Hitoshi Tamura, whose home prefecture is Kanagawa. Fukuoka should get the better of this deal, if — and it is a big if — Tamura can play a full season void of injury.

With Tamura, Softbank could field a lineup of sluggers, including four guys who have posted 40-home run seasons in Japan. He would supposedly play right field and bat third in manager Sadaharu Oh’s lineup, ahead of left fielder Nobuhiko Matsunaka, who hit 44 and 46 homers in 2004 and 2005, respectively.

Fukuoka returnee Hiroki Kokubo would bat fifth and play third base, followed by first baseman Julio Zuelta — provided the Hawks can re-sign the Z-man. Kokubo slammed 44 home runs in 2001 for the then-Daiei Hawks and 41 in 2004 for the Yomiuri Giants. Zuleta had a 43-homer season for Softbank in 2005.

Tamura was a member of Japan’s 2006 World Baseball Classic championship team, and he belted 40 out of the park for Yokohama in 2004. Since then, he’s had a series of health problems.

In 2005, Tamura’s action was limited to 117 games after he was hurt in a mid-summer traffic accident. This past season, he played only 39 games for the BayStars, missing more than 100 with a variety of injuries. He’s a .284 lifetime hitter over eight seasons in Yokohama.

Terahara, a No. 1 draft choice of the Hawks in 2001, was 3-7 with a 4.23 ERA in 16 games for Softbank in 2006. In his five-year pro career in Fukuoka, his record is 16-14 with a 4.75 ERA in 56 appearances.

He started and pitched well in the final game of Stage 1 of the Pacific League playoffs against the Seibu Lions at Invoice Dome on Oct. 9, but the pitching-rich Hawks figure they can do without him and are going with the power.

I checked the Yakult Swallows Web site and found the names of infielder Greg LaRocca and pitcher Rick Guttormson are no longer on the roster. I suppose Yakult’s thinking in dropping LaRocca is that he is just too injury-prone to take a risk on him for another season. All the teams in Japan know what Greg can do if he plays every game.

As for Guttormson, in 2006 he compiled a losing record he did not deserve. The right-hander was 9-10 but put up a 2.85 ERA, sixth best in the Central League. Rick just did not get the run support from the Swallows hitters.

Speculation in the Japanese sports papers says Guttormson’s replacement will be right-hander Seth Greisinger who has major-league experience with Detroit, Minnesota and Atlanta.

Expect Guttormson, 8-5 with a 4.18 ERA in 2005 and who hurled a no-hitter for the Swallows against the Rakuten Eagles in interleague play on May 25 of this year, to be picked up soon by another Japanese team.

The same goes for Alex Ochoa, let go by the Central League champ Chunichi Dragons. The Nikkan Sports says the Dragons are talking to major-league veteran infielder Enrique Wilson, and it could be him who would replace the popular Alex.

Finally this week, Michihiro Ogasawara looks weird after a shave and haircut, necessitated by his move to the Yomiuri Giants where there is a New York Yankees-style regulation on facial hair and long locks.

He’s cut off his trademark goatee and mustache, and his new look is reminiscent of the clean-as-a-whistle appearance of Johnny Damon when he left the Red Sox and joined the Yankees last year.

It also calls to mind John Sipin when he shaved off the “lion mane” hair and mutton chop sideburns he wore with the Taiyo Whales from 1972-1977 and joined the Giants in 1978.

“Guts” just does not look that gutsy any more.

Contact Wayne Graczyk by e-mail at wayne@JapanBall.com