Friday, November 03, 2006

MLB: Free Agency and the Race for Daisuke Matsuzaka

Dustin Hockensmith: What has baseball free agency come to in the 21st century? Dry markets, especially for pitching, have been a source of desperation for Major League clubs looking to improve, and now there's a $30 million price tag simply to negotiate with Daisuke Matsuzaka??

DegenerateGambler: Something has definitely changed over the past decade or so. A combination of fewer reliable front-end starters, along with longer contracts for guys who do fit that mold, have put teams in a tough spot. $30 million to talk to a guy? From what I have seen, it just might be worth it.

DH: Every season seems to yield a more dismal crop of free agents for all the reasons you just mentioned. With a nasty repertoire and some success in the World Baseball Classic that should translate pretty smoothly to the Majors, Matsuzaka is certainly the crown jewel of this year's free agent crop. The top American free agent, Barry Zito, is a former Cy Young winner, but he is also annually listed among the American League leaders in walks. Each and every pitcher is a question mark in his own way, so looking to Japan and a mega talent in Matsuzaka is very logical.

DG: The guy is 26-years old and has already pitched professionally for eight years. He started off strong with a 16-win, Rookie of the Year performance in Japan and hasn't looked back. His numbers have only gotten better and his control has followed suit. Over the past two seasons, Matsuzaka has averaged 16 wins, a 2.21 ERA, 213 Ks and only 42 BBs. That 5:1 strikeout to walk ratio is something Zito could only dream of.

DH: That 5:1 strikeout ratio would mean that Barry Zito is drinking the Barry Bonds Kool-Aid and striking out 500 guys per year. What all this means, though, is that general managers must be more creative to address needs and covet their young pitching even more than they already do. Much like the Red Sox did last season when they over-addressed their need for pitching by trading for Josh Beckett, we'll still likely see a team sacrifice long-term success for a shot to win now.

DG: Well, with the early rumors giving him a potential $50 million contract, and another $30 million going to the Seibu Lions in Japan, there aren't many teams with a shot at signing Matsuzuka. Basically, the only teams in the running will be the Yankees, Mets, Red Sox and maybe the Cubs or Angels as long shots. $80 million is a big price to pay for one piece of the huge puzzle that is an MLB team.

DH: That's where the game is heading with such an immense premium on pitching. Pitching prospects are more difficult to project and develop than position players, primarily due to injury risk. Pitching free agents will continue to fetch big time money on the market, and we'll all continue to wish that our talents were throwing a baseball, rather than writing mediocre sports articles.

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