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Arms race escalates

Matsuzaka runners-up turning to Zito, Schmidt

Posted: Sunday November 12, 2006 11:01PM; Updated: Monday November 13, 2006 3:21PM
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NAPLES, Fla. -- The winner of the Daisuke Matsuzaka sweepstakes may not be known in the States until Tuesday. While the winning team has been kept quiet, one person in the know suggested there were multiple bids in the $30 million range, and perhaps even a little higher.

The Seibu Lions are expected to accept a posting fee for Matsuzaka that should trump their lofty expectations. ESPN.com reported that the Red Sox bid between $38-45 million, and some competing executives are taking the lack of denial of this story by MLB people as a sign Boston is indeed the high bidder -- even if those figures are slightly off. While industry scuttlebutt had Boston's bid at "close to $40 million,'' one person indicated the reported $38-45 million range was "not correct.'' But if Boston's bid was just a million or two lower than that range, it's still hard to see someone else landing Matsuzaka. It is believed that both the Mets and Yankees bid closer to the $30 million neighborhood, and neither New York team seemed particularly optimistic they'd beaten Boston to Matsuzaka.

At least eight teams, including the Rangers, Angels, Cubs, Diamondbacks and Indians, were believed to have bid on Matsuzaka. However, the Yankees, Mets and Red Sox are seen as being in perhaps the best position to bid high since they run their own TV networks and Matsuzaka is the type of international superstar who could generate TV dollars. The Red Sox and Mets probably have an extra impetus since the Yankees already have one Japanese star, Hideki Matsui. And Boston has yet another important reason to bid big: to keep him away from the Yankees.

No one was quite conceding to Boston here Sunday night, but in the last day or two a few other teams have seemingly stepped up their pursuit of Barry Zito, possibly indicating some pessimism regarding their chances for the right-handed Matsuzaka, who's widely recognized as the winter's biggest pitching prize.

After the winner is announced, the one-team negotiations could become almost as interesting as the auction. A large posting fee may present a challenge to Matsuzaka's agent, Scott Boras, to extricate anything close to Matsuzaka's true open-market value. The strategy of some of the bidders was to place an overall value on Matsuzaka, then divide the monies between what they envisioned as a winning posting fee and a presentable player contract.

If Matsuzaka is unhappy with the offers from the winning bidder, his lone option would be to return to Japan, where he could either try to post again next year or wait two years to become a free agent. While Boras is used to getting his targeted number, he is doubly handicapped here. For one, only the winning bidder will be negotiating with Matsuzaka. For another, there's a 30-day time limit to negotiate, so Boras can't use the clock to his advantage, like usual.

In this bizarre system Matsuzaka would seem to lack leverage in negotiations. But Boras, who's expected to raise Roy Oswalt's five-year, $73-million deal as a comparable, said, "His leverage is his talent and his age. He's a No. 1 pitcher, and he's 26.''

What about Zito and Schmidt?

Boras said "12 to 15 teams" are showing interest in Zito, not surprising considering the incredible lack of quality pitching available. Besides Matsuzaka and Zito, the only other starter who could genuinely be called a No. 1 or 2 and who's widely available and sure to play is Jason Schmidt. (Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens may retire, Mike Mussina is believed all but re-signed for two years and around $23-24 million with the Yankees and Tom Glavine very likely will go back to the Mets.)

But while many more teams are involved, the most likely landing spots for Zito are all the losers in the Matsuzaka derby. So the Yankees, Angels, Mets, Cubs, Rangers and perhaps the Dodgers are expected to be players, assuming none of them wins Matsuzaka.

While the Yankees were originally thought to be "lukewarm'' on Zito, that could change in a hurry. Zito's handlers insist his acting and music are sidelights and won't cause him to focus only on the New York and Los Angeles teams. But his friends do see Zito as a big-city guy and someone who's likely to eventually wind up in one those two locales.

Meanwhile, Schmidt's agents have been fighting the perception that he is a West Coast-only guy who's likely to sign with the Mariners, though people around the game definitely view Seattle as the favorite to land him.

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