Friday, December 22, 2006

"Flied lice? It's fried rice, you plick."

I was watching the Daisuke Matsuzaka press conference in Boston, and as many other people have noted by now, the Red Sox/Matsuzaka need to hire a translator that actually speaks English. It will be bad enough listening to announcers and reporters botch the pronunciations of the names of the new influx of Japanese players, but I'd at least like to know what the players themselves are trying to say. I need to understand their canned answers and evasive replies.

So anyway, I just wanted to briefly comment on the posting system, which I think is garbage, but not for any of the usual reasons given (such as the idea that it should be more like free agency). For the uninitiated, when a team in Japan is willing to allow one of their contracted players to come play for Major League Baseball, the various teams submit secret bids for the right to negotiate with that player. The highest bid wins, naturally, and that money goes to the team losing the player, which is sort of the equivalent of selling your daughter to a white man for marriage purposes. That player then has to either sign with the winning bidder or return to his Japanese club, which would cause that club to forfeit the posting bid and presumably bring disgrace to a nation.

The Red Sox posted a monstrous $51.1 million bid (6 billion yen, specifically), while the Bronx Bombers bid $26 million to talk with Kei Igawa (the Yankees bid was exactly $26,000,194, with the last three numbers reportedly Igawa's strikeout total last season, tied for first in the Central League along with Kenshin Kawakami of the Chunichi Dragons...source). Since both players have signed with the MLB clubs, that money has been paid to Japan, although it does not go towards luxury tax, much to the relief of the Sox and Bombers. That actually makes sense, as it is included as just another expense towards getting the player, in the same way the Mets recently spent money to fly to California to try to woo Barry Zito (hint: it takes mountains of cash). That shouldn't count towards the luxury tax.

Igawa (known as Iron Nerves, or as the top of his website says, "IRON NERVERS / トップページ") signed a five-year, $20 million dollar contract, while Matsuzaka (stupidly dubbed "D-Mat" and "Dice-K" in Boston) signed a six year, $52 million contract, potentially worth $60 million with "please don't suck" incentives. For all intents and purposes, we'll just leave it at $52.

The Sox paid a lot of money, and because of that, Matsuzaka got a below market value contract to help ease the weight of the dinero the Sox were dropping. Thanks to the bidding system, including the posting fee, Boston is paying about $17 million a year for Matsuzaka's services, while New York is paying a little over $9 million for Igawa. The players themselves are earning pauper's dollars; Matsuzaka gets roughly $8.5 million per season, while Igawa gets $4 million. Barely enough to feed themselves, let alone their families (fortunately rice cookers are cheaper in the U.S. than in Japan, go figure).

While millions of dollars is nothing to bark about, both sides in each deal are still getting shafted. The Red Sox could have negotiated a $13 million deal for Matsuzaka, saving themselves $4 million a season and giving Matsuzaka some extra dough, while the Bombers could have given Igawa $6.5 million a year, saving themselves some change in the process and giving Igawa some extra spending money.

I don't see why MLB teams can't buy the release of the player with a more reasonable sum of, say, $5 million. The highest team salary in Japan in the year 2002 was $32.6 million US (Yomiuri Giants); the Seibu Lions and Hanshin Tigers (Matsuzaka's and Igawa's clubs, respectively) had significantly lower payrolls (source). So $5 million US is nothing to sneeze at for a Japanese club. In fact, it would have been 1/3 Hanshin's 2002 payroll. So the Yankees probably paid more to the Tigers than the Tigers pay their entire team. Heck, the Red Sox probably doubled the Seibu payroll. In some sense, there may be no reason for teams to not start selling off their older stars. At least at $5 million, there is a little more cause for restraint. It's nice, but not jump up and down nice.

So, I guess that wasn't very brief.

As an aside, and going back to what I first mentioned, thanks to a brief yet intense interest in anime during college, as well as writing about Japanese video game people the past few years, I've become fairly competent at pronouncing Japanese names. Listening to the bastardized versions of these pitchers (I've already heard "Dice-kay" instead of "Dai-soo-kay" and "Key" instead of "Kay") is going to bug me all season. Fortunately, the foreign culture of Japan will offset that irritation by amusing and delighting me, as it has always done:

(P.S. - Welcome to New York, 井川 慶. Please do well. Thanks.)

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