Record bid bags Matsuzaka rights

Red Sox offer Lions $51 million just to talk

Compiled From Kyodo, AP

The Boston Red Sox have won the right to negotiate with right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka after the Seibu Lions accepted a $51.11 million offer, a record-setting amount linked to a player’s move in Japanese sports.

News photo Daisuke Matsuzaka lifts the Most Valuable Player trophy after Team Japan’s 10-6 victory over Cuba in the
World Baseball Classic championship in March. The Boston Red Sox have won the right to negotiate a
major-league contract with the 26-year-old pitcher after offering the Seibu Lions 51.11 million, dollar a
record amount for a player’s move in Japanese sports.

Seibu and Major League Baseball confirmed the Red Sox bid Wednesday. The American League team now has 30 days to reach a contract agreement with Matsuzaka, 26, one of Japanese baseball’s best-ever pitchers.

If Matsuzaka doesn’t agree to a contract, the bid will not be paid.

The Boston Red Sox’s bid — $51,111,111.11, to be exact — is far more than the $13,125,000 the Seattle Mariners paid for Ichiro Suzuki in 2000, the previous high under the so-called posting system that enables Japanese players to sign up with a major-league team before becoming free agents.

Matsuzaka said he was “relieved” to hear the Red Sox had won the bidding battle.

“To be honest, my first reaction was relief,” Matsuzaka told a news conference at Narita airport before boarding a plane for the United States. “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, though he 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 the Pacific League Lions.

“He is a treasure in Japan and we are very pleased that the best possible evaluation has been done for him,” Ota said. “We thought this amount deserves careful and thoughtful consideration in making a response.

“He has had this dream of playing in the major leagues since he was 10 years old and we hope deeply that it will come true,” Ota said, adding he notified Matsuzaka of the top bidder and the amount on the phone just before Wednesday’s announcement.

“He said a number of times he was happy,” Ota said.

The offer for Matsuzaka nearly doubles the estimated 3.2 billion yen (about $27 million) fee paid when soccer player Hidetoshi Nakata joined Parma from fellow Italian League club AS Roma in 2001. The transfer fee for Nakata had previously been regarded as the highest tag placed on a Japanese player in switching teams.

When asked about how the money will be used, Ota said he would like to give priority to helping reinforce the team and promote programs to better entertain the fans of the Pa League club based in Saitama Prefecture.

In one of the recent reports that appeared amid the media hype surrounding the bidding for Matsuzaka, the ESPN sports TV channel said on its Web site Monday, quoting unnamed sources, that the Red Sox had won the negotiating rights for Matsuzaka for $42 million.

According to Tuesday’s edition of the New York Daily News, the New York Mets proposed $38 million and the New York Yankees offered about $30 million while the Texas Rangers were willing to pay up to $27 million.

Boston general manager Theo Epstein talked of his admiration for Matsuzaka after the MLB commissioner’s office confirmed Boston’s bid.

“Matsuzaka has a real talent,” Epstein said. “He would be a great fit with the Red Sox organization . . . We’re excited to have won this part of the process. We’re hopeful we can reach an agreement.”

A deal between Matsuzaka and Boston would add to excitement among baseball fans in Japan, who can anticipate matchups between him and Japanese American League stars Hideki Matsui (New York Yankees), Ichiro (Seattle Mariners) and Tadahito Iguchi (Chicago White Sox).