"The first thing is that it's evidence of the world's best pitcher. It reflects that a major league team knew that someone of his caliber would have a great impact on the goals on the field, a great impact on internationalizing and increasing revenues in advertising and marketing in the area in the Pacific theater.'' -- Scott Boras on the Red Sox bidding $188.8.131.52 million for the rights to negotiate with Daisuke Matsuzaka, Nov. 15, 2006.
"We never expected a gigantic off the field economic opportunity. We thought it was more of a long-term presence in Japan. It was the agents, at the time, who were projecting the massive economic benefit flowing to the Red Sox, therefore we should spend even more." -- Red Sox president Larry Lucchino, reflecting on the effect of the Matsuzaka acquisition, Oct. 19, 2010.
ORLANDO, Fla. -- The importance of the general managers meetings are most often hidden. It certainly isn't the kind of exercise that makes reporters stand in a hotel lobby from 8 a.m. until 1 a.m. with the hope that they might come across something that will push them to their computers thanks to a trade, signing, or some other sort of rumor. That is reserved for a few weeks later, at the Winter Meetings.
For the Red Sox, the 2009 version, for instance, was defined by the meeting between Sox general manager Theo Epstein and Steve Hilliard, the agent for then-free agent John Lackey. It was in Epstein's hotel suite at the O'Hare International Airport Hilton that the GM first was informed that Lackey wished to pitch for the Red Sox, paving the way for the pitcher's introductory press conference a month later.
But four years ago, there was an aberration. That's when the Red Sox won the bidding for the rights to negotiate with Daisuke Matsuzaka.
Back then there were formal press conferences, occurring both at the meetings in Naples, Fla. and in Japan, and one notable informal press conference, coming when Matsuzaka's agent, Scott Boras, decided to hold court in the lobby of the Naples Grande Resort Hotel just after midnight.
One could make the argument that it was that night at the GM Meetings that the intrigue surrounding Matsuzaka might have actually found it's peak. How 1,460 days can change things.
'WAS IT A WINDFALL? NO.'
Matsuzaka's name might ultimately be brought up again at this year's GM Meetings -- being held over the next few days at the Waldorf Astoria -- but it would be in a dramatically more clandestine setting than four years before, this time involving the usual foundational trade talk that happens this time of year. No press conferences. Not even the same legion of Japanese reporters.
But there is one aspect of Matsuzaka's existence that remains -- mystery (or confusion, take your pick).
Now, as we watch the GM Meetings morph even more into the innocuous event it used to be, stock can be taken regarding how much has changed since that night in Naples.
"I think it has been very, very good for the Red Sox. From a baseball perspective there have been certain benefits, and from a business perspective there have been certain benefits. I know it hasn't been a financial windfall that some people had predicted, but I do think it was always a baseball decision," said Red Sox chief operating officer Sam Kennedy. "There was a lot of made of the business aspect. Did we open some doors in Japan? Yes. Was it a windfall? No. Was it a good baseball move? You can debate that all day long, but Daisuke did help us win a World Series in 2007. Looking back on it, I do think it was a great thing for the organization."
Kennedy's analysis isn't anything new, and hasn't been altered by Matsuzaka's presence. Dating back to Jan. 2007, the then-vice president of sales and marketing was quoted as saying, "The signing of this player is definitely not a huge financial windfall for us. There really aren't a lot of economic benefits."
The point is, despite Boras' claims, the Red Sox were never in line to use Matsuzaka as their cash cow when it came to siphoning new revenue from Japan. Part of the reason is because outside of the advertising and sponsorship deals cut to generate revenue inside Fenway Park and within the six New England states (except Yankees-controlled Fairfield County in Conn.), the Red Sox "mark" is controlled by the Major League Baseball.
In simple terms, any Red Sox item sold in Japan is broken up 30 ways, with all the other big league clubs making as much off of the sale as the Sox.
And when it comes to specific sponsorships, Japanese companies (with the exception of Funai) haven't, for the most part, been able to establish a presence with the Red Sox. The reason is that the Red Sox' "product areas" are already taken. Example: Asahi Beer -- which has long partnered with Matsuzaka -- didn't have a chance to find a niche at Fenway Park because of the Sox' existing relationship with Anheuser-Busch.
So, how about the part of the equation that Kennedy points out was the Red Sox' main impetus for going after Matsuzaka -- on-field performance?
This is where times, and perception, have truly changed.
ACE OR ACED-OUT
First off, Matsuzaka is a different type of pitcher than the one Boras described. His six-pitch repertoire has been cut in half, with a two-seamer being incorporated into the mix. The righty also started working a bit faster in 2010 (emphasis on "a bit") in an attempt to turn back a piece of negative analysis observers had built up over the previous three seasons.
But, while the subtle alterations have been somewhat encouraging, it isn't easy to ignore what Matsuzaka has produced in his first four seasons with the Red Sox. He does have 46 wins (10 fewer than Lackey, nine less than Josh Beckett, and eight shy of Jon Lester). His batting average against during his stint with the Sox (.244) matches up with the likes of Lester (.241), CC Sabathia (.242), and Felix Hernandez (.243).
But then you go to the numbers that point optimism in the other direction, such as Matsuzaka's opponents' on-base percentage (.334), walks (278, 14th-most), and relative lack of starts (98, 39 less than Sabathia).
Matsuzaka is clinging to baseball's view of him as a potential top-of-the-rotation starter, but currently resides in the reality that he is living the life in the back of the Red Sox' starting pitching pack.
WHAT HE'S WORTH
It's interesting to compare Hiroki Kuroda, who just agreed to a one-year, $12 million deal with the Dodgers, and Matsuzaka over the past three seasons. Daisuke has made 17 less starts, won three more games, and has an 4.07 ERA compared to Kuroda's 3.60. With a slight adjustment due to differing leagues, you could make the argument that the two are somewhat comparable. (Kuroda is five years older, but we're talking payment for '11 alone.)
It at least helps answer the question whether or not Matsuzaka is the $20 million pitcher he will be paid as over the final two years of his current contract. The answer is, despite all of his peccadilloes, most likely. That is why the idea of dealing the starter (who has a full no-trade clause) might not be tarnished because of his current deal.
Another point of reference when trying to decipher Matsuzaka's worth comes from the recent news Japanese star pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma would be negotiating with the Athletics after Oakland won the rights to talk to the 29-year-old with a reported posting fee of $17 million.
Obviously, Matsuzaka was about five years younger than Iwakuma's current age when teams bid on Daisuke's services, but it might offer a guideline as to what kind of interest the Red Sox' righty could be currently soaking in. It's no dramatic leap of faith to suggest that Matsuzaka might have had similar numbers to the former ace of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles if he remained in Japan.
When it comes to Matsuzaka, four years haven't offered a whole lot of answers, but it certainly hasn't slowed down the debates.