Going Postal in Beantown
Daisuke Matsuzaka has posted, and if you're a Yankee fan, you're not going to like where.
The Red Sox won the blind bidding for the Japanese ace with a whopping bid of $51 million. To put this in context, when Ichiro Suzuki was posted by the Oryx Blue Wave before the 2001 season, the winning bid was $13 million. The rumors going into the posting process on Matsuzaka was that the bidding would likely exceed $20 million, perhaps go as high as $30 million.
No one dreamed of a $51 million bid, because--if you take the bid process seriously--posting at that figure would make it virtually impossible to make a deal with Matsuzaka, who's a Scott Boras client. Let's say you stretched the barriers for a pitcher deal, and gave Matsuzaka six years (there's no indication that Boras is actually looking for a deal that long, given that his client is only 26), that's like tacking $8.5 million to each year of the deal. So signing a guy for $10 million per year over six years--Carl Pavano money--becomes paying a guy $18.5 million per year over those six seasons--Roger Clemens money. And $10 million per season is a low figure given Matsuzaka's expectation.
Matsuzaka figures by every account to be the real deal, but we're still talking about a guy who hasn't thrown a single pitch in the big leagues, who has had elbow trouble in the past, and who has thrown a lot of pitches per start over the past few years. A $100 million is a lot of money to risk, even for the Red Sox.
You'll notice above the modifier I put on the financials analysis, "if you take the bid process seriously". Something stinks about the Red Sox bid, and there are a couple of loopholes to how the bid process working, that might tell us where the stink is coming from. First, is the possibility of a kickback of a large portion of the posting fee back to the Red Sox as they negotiate with Matsuzaka. Rumor is that back in 2000, the Mariners paid only a fraction of Ichiro's posting fee, per a side deal with Oryx. Kickbacks make sense for the Japanese team because they get no part of the posting fee if the posted player doesn't sign with the top bidder. So it makes sense, if the U.S. club needs money to make a deal with the player work out, that the Japanese team figures that 50% or 30% of the posting fee is better than getting nothing.
Still, kickbacks make a mockery of the bidding process, and I'd imagine that some of the other bidders--including the one in the Bronx--will take some care to make sure the Sox actually pay every penny of that posting bid, and get none of it back.
The other key issue, is something I mentioned above. If the winning bidder doesn't agree to a deal with Matsuzaka in 30 days, they lose nothing. From the Red Sox point of view, Matsuzaka presented two problems: a) the Sox need starting pitching, so they're interested in him, and b) the Yankees need starting pitching, so the Sox are interested in the Yankees not getting him. If you think about it in that context, the Red Sox almost had no alternative but to put in a crazy, huge bid, like they did.
The only way the Red Sox could be sure that Matsuzaka doesn't wind up in pinstripes is by winning the bidding. If some other team won, they might sign Matsuzaka and trade him to the Yanks for prospects plus the posting cash. By overbidding, the Red Sox make sure that they have, at the very least, blocked the Yankees. If Matsuzaka accepts a lowball offer, or Seibu comes up with a good enough kickback, the Sox get the big-shot pitcher of this off-season; if not, they lose nothing, and keep the Yankees from being able to negotiate with him.
Good faith negotiation is purely optional. It stinks, but it's the smart play.
Jaret Wright For the Birds
Since last we spoke, the Yankees ended their two-year association with Jaret Wright, eating the $4 million sunk cost they would have had to pay had they voided his contract, and sending Wright to the Orioles for yet another young righthanded reliever.
This time, the Yanks get Chris Britton, a rookie in 2006 who turns 24 in December. Britton had a pretty good season for the Orioles--3.35 ERA in 53 2/3 innings, with 10.6 adjusted runs prevented on the season. For context, that ARP number would have been third on the Yankee staff in 2006, behind Mariano Rivera (25.4) and Scott Proctor (21.3).
Nice job by the Yanks turning up something in return for Wright, a free agent mistake when he was signed away from the Braves in December, 2004. Wright re-joins O's pitching coach, Leo Mazzone--for whom he had his best season--and Baltimore gets a limited pitcher at a pretty nice price of $3 million. This could be a win-win all around.
Mets Shea Good-bye
The Mets announced yesterday that their new ballpark's naming rights had been sold to Citigroup, so the Metropolitans will play their future games at CitiField. If the new ballpark isn't an aesthetic upgrade on the Mets' current digs, or if there's a few losing seasons by the home team, CitiField could lend itself to some unfortunate and profane derivations.
I'm glad that--for the moment, at least--the Yanks have avoided all of this naming rights nonsense. Yes, it's a revenue stream, but one that's made so many ballparks generic--I sometimes have a hard time differentiating Petco from Safeco, PNC from PacBell, Great American from Comerica and U.S. Cellular. So far, the Yanks haven't gone for that revenue source, perhaps because the Yankee brand is so valuable to them.
Shea Stadium, named after William Shea, attorney, sports enthusiast, and political operator, was part of the Mets' history, going so far as threatening to start a third major league in order to prevail upon the National League and convince it to expand. Something will be lost when the Stadium bearing his name is given back to the giant parking lot in Flushing Meadow. Not because the building itself was any great shakes--in my humble opinion, Shea Stadium's ugly, warehouselike, and more than a little run down. It'll be a shame because one more distinctive thing about the Mets will have gone generic, the same way that the Mets' network, SNY, has a name you'd have a hard time picking out of a lineup.