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  Sunday, March 1, 2015
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xtra xtra!
Taking a Gamble
By Paul Noonan

     The biggest name of this free agent season wasn’t A- Rod, it wasn’t Soriano, not Barry Zito or even Barry Bonds.  That title belonged to a player who has never set dug his feet into a Major League Baseball pitcher’s mound.  Yet Daisuke Matsuzaka was so prized that it actually cost money, and a lot of it, to simply have the rights to try and sign him.  The Red Sox felt it was worth the gamble, though.  Their offer of $51.1 million to Matsuzaka’s Japanese team was the winning bid and now the Sox have until mid- December to sign the overseas phenom.


     Matsuzaka became somewhat of a known name in the U.S. after his performance in last summer’s World Baseball Classic.  With a 3-0 record, 1.38 ERA and the win in the championship game, Matsuzaka was named the tournament’s first ever MVP.  It was then he became a coveted person in the MLB.  In a league that has been trying to garner more fans in the Far East, the MLB saw Matsuzaka as another chance to do so.  With recent import successes like Hideki Matsui and Ichiro, the league is hoping Matsuzaka can join the list.  For the Red Sox, they’re hoping he can strongly help a shaky pitching staff.  If his numbers in the MLB mirror those of his in Japan he should do more than that.  In eight seasons in Japan, Matsuzaka has an average ERA of 2.95 is averaging 13.5 wins a season, 170 strikeouts, 175 innings pitched and a WHIP of 1.17.  After last year’s pitching woes the Sox would welcome anything near those numbers with open arms.  If he can repeat those on top of another strong season from Schilling and hopefully a better season from Beckett, the Sox will have their best 1-2-3 punch in a long time. 


     On paper, the move seems like a good one for the Red Sox.  An elite Japanese pitcher who has been dominant overseas and in international competition, how can we go wrong?  Well, there is the one big catch:  he has never played in the MLB.  His performance in the WBC seems to indicate he should handle the pressure of pitching in a market such as Boston which is a good sign.  Nevertheless his WBC success does not take into account the limited exposure players had to him.  Only Korea saw the Japanese team more than once in the tournament and no team saw Matsuzaka more than once.  That will not be the case in the major leagues.  Undoubtedly every AL East team would see him at least twice if not six or seven times.  Teams will have more time to prepare for him unlike in the WBC.  Scouts will get a better look at his stuff and be able to find out some of his tendencies and weaknesses.  The MLB has yet to have a long term successful pitcher from Japan.  The Red Sox are hoping that Matsuzaka will break that trend and hopefully add another championship to his resume.        

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