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Sports

November 15, 2006

Sox hit jackpot in Matsuzaka sweepstakes

NAPLES, Fla. - Shortly after Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein stepped away from the podium on the second floor of the Naples Grande Resort last night, the whispers swept through the hotel's lobby.



"Fifty-one!"



The number was met with astonishment at every turn. It was, as reported by the Seibu Lions at an early-morning press conference in Japan, the millions of dollars (actually $51.11 million) Boston had agreed to post for the rights to negotiate a contract with star pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka.



Every Red Sox offseason seems to have an unimaginable story, and thanks to a sealed winning bid, which was reportedly as much as $18 million higher than Boston's chief competitor, this is the latest.



"We are pleased and excited to have acquired the rights to negotiate with Daisuke Matsuzaka," Epstein recited from a prepared statement, citing the need for continued privacy as the Red Sox head into a contract negotiation, which has a deadline of midnight Dec. 14. "We have long admired Mr. Matsuzaka's abilities and believe he would be a great fit as a member of our organization. We look forward to meeting Mr. Matsuzaka and beginning the next step of this process with him and his representative, Scott Boras."




And with that, Epstein supplied few innocuous answers to a smattering of questions. Afterward, he was off to Phase 2 of the latest bizarre twist in Red Sox lore.



Just when you thought M.L. Carr offering a first-round pick to the Chicago Bulls for the rights to merely talk with Michael Jordan was bizarre, along comes the case of the man some are calling "D-Mat."



"It's not something for me to comment on," said Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, when asked if he was surprised at the amount of the bid. "When you're in a free-agent market, trade market, ultimately if you want a player, you put your best foot forward and try to get that player. That's what they did. They were able to secure him. They have the negotiating rights for him. My job now is to concentrate on the available market for me. That's what I'll do."



"I'll keep that to myself," said another competing bidder, Mets GM Omar Minaya, when questioned as to if he would ever have gone to the $50 million level. His team reportedly bid in the neighborhood of $30 million.



"You just don't know. Those bids, you put a number down that you think the number is how he's going to fit for you. This process is one that there's so much unknown as far as what other clubs are going to do," Minaya said. "Am I surprised that we didn't win? No. Am I comfortable with the number we bid? Yes. The bottom line, for us, that was the number we thought was the best number."



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