That cool breeze you just felt? That was Red Sox nation breathing a collective sigh of relief. A deal has been reached with Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, a six-year 52-million dollar deal, to be exact. Add that total to the 51 million the Red Sox paid his former team, the Seibu Lions, just to talk to him, and the deal nears 104 million dollars. The deal was completed earlier this evening, roughly 24 hours before the scheduled deadline.
Just a few days ago it seemed as though Matusaka’s agent, super agent Scott Boras, would be content taking his client back to Japan if he didn’t get what he thought was a fair deal. But in a move of true courage, the Red Sox brass held their ground and ended up paying what they were comfortable with. Boras has shown in the past he isn’t afraid to hold out his clients (see young JD Drew) and the Red Sox came out winners by not paying the 100 million dollar mega-deal Boras alluded to.
Matsuzaka will be under immense pressure this season. The Boston media will eat this guy alive (and the front office for over paying him) if he does not perform impossibly well this season. Former National League ace Josh Beckett looked like a lost child pitching against power American League lineups last season. Dice-K (I detest the nickname “D-Mat”. I think I stole Dice-K from Bill Simmons) will probably have similar woes against deep AL lineups. From his numbers and performance at the World Baseball Classic, Dice-K is almost a sure thing to be a very good major league pitcher but it will take some time. I plead the Boston media not to rip this guy for going 12-12 with a 3.75 ERA in his rookie season.
The Red Sox have been the most active team during the winter free agent meetings. JD Drew cashed in to the tune of five years and 70 million dollars. And if there is joy surrounding the Dice-K deal, there is an equal amount of “Oh God” surrounding the Drew signing. Drew is the poster boy for Spoiled Sports Star magazine (they had to break up all the T.O. covers). Coming out of college he was drafted by the Phillies number one, but when they wouldn’t pay him enough, Boras decided it would be best to hold out and re-enter the draft next year. Ever since then he has been one of the most over paid players in baseball.
Drew has earned 10 million dollars a year or more ever since his rookie season. He has only hit 25 home runs twice (2004 and 2001), only hit over .300 twice (’01 and ’04), only had 90+ RBI’s twice (’04 and ’06) and has averaged just over 103 games played per season. Now his on-base percentage numbers are good, always around .375-.400 and he plays solid defense. But Drew is injury prone, reclusive and doesn’t seem totally devoted to the game. Hitting behind Ortiz and Manny means he will have plenty of chances to knock in runs. There are no more excuses. Also having those guys ahead of you means you will see a lot of pitches to hit. In Boston you have to produce, but it you don’t, you have to hustle. Trot Nixon always played hard. He may not have become the player we all wanted him to, but he never quit and consequently the fans loved him. Drew will get booed if he does not give his full effort. The problem is I don’t think Drew has ever given his full effort.
Julio Lugo is the other high-profile free agent the Red Sox have signed thus far. About a week ago Lugo signed a four-year, 36 million dollar contract to fill the shortstop gap in Fenway. Compared to the other deals the Red Sox have made this off-season, Lugo seems like a steal. Lugo is a solid top of the line-up guy who can steal, run, get on base, and has some pop in his bat. He is a little error prone (19 last season) and will be a defensive downgrade from Alex Gonzalez. But the Red Sox are all about offense and Lugo has that. He has also played in the AL East with the Devil Rays so he knows the park and what it is like to be in a high profile division.
The biggest boon to this signing may be Lugo’s Dominican heritage and personal relationship with David Ortiz. Lugo has said that he and Ortiz are good friends and have often talked about Lugo coming to Boston. This creates a solid comfort level that will help Lugo adjust to playing in the pressure cooker that is Boston. Lugo seems like a friendly and outgoing guy, which is a characteristic that is a must in being successful in Boston. Look at Edgar Renteria; he was somewhat of a recluse, rarely speaking with the media. He never seemed comfortable in Fenway. That is why the Red Sox are paying him to play for Atlanta. Lugo seems like a good fit for the Red Sox.
I give the Red Sox a B+ for their off-season moves so far. The Dice-K deal could go either way; he could be a historic steal or a historic bust. But for not bending to Boras, that is commendable. Julio Lugo will hopefully stop the revolving door that Nomar has left at shortstop since his departure. Lugo and Crisp will be fun to watch on the field and the base paths, bringing much needed speed to the roster. I really don’t like the Drew deal but here is to hoping he figures out how talented he is and finally starts playing like it.