Wednesday, November 15, 2006

What were the Red Sox thinking?

Switching gears, the big news in sports this week is that the Boston Red Sox had the highest bid in the auction for the right to talk -- that's right, talk -- to Seibu Lions pitcher Matsuzaka Daisuke. They reportedly paid $51.1 million.

Mull that over for a minute.

$51.1 million. To talk.


Sorry Red Sox fans, but I'm with ESPN's Sean McAdam on this one: "...In submitting the winning post for Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, the Red Sox also forfeited the right to whine about [the Yankees'] economic might ever again."

I've never understood the whole "Yankees-as-evil-empire" trope as mouthed by Red Sox fans. After all, in 2004, the year that the "Idiots" succeeded in their assault on the, er, Death Star, the Red Sox payroll was second in Major League Baseball, around $50 million behind the Yankees. I'm afraid that hardly counts as virtuous. Now had the Red Sox beaten the Yankees with the Brewers' MLB-lowest payroll ($27.5 million), that would have been something to get excited about.

Arguably, the Red Sox only upped their payroll because the Yankees did first (time to break out the game theory). And that reasoning is certainly understandable. But at the same time, given that the Red Sox management decided to copy the Yankees, the Red Sox (and their fans) have indeed forfeited the right to complain about how the Yankees are outspending everyone. As McAdam writes:

No more suggestions, please, that the Yankees are some financial superpower capable of trampling the rest of baseball with their reckless and boundless spending. No more talk about the Red Sox being the plucky underdogs that somehow must make do with less.

The Sox's insistence that the Yanks were economic bullies always seemed a bit hollow, anyway. Sure, the Yankees have baseball's deepest pockets, as might be expected in a sport in which local revenues are critical to a team's financial footing.

Here, though, is what the Red Sox never acknowledged: Although the Yankees could indeed outspend them, the Red Sox, in turn, could outspend the other 28 teams in baseball.

Do the Gettys complain about the Rockefellers?

It was the Red Sox's misfortune that the one club with more resources just happened to be their longtime rival, with whom they're locked in an annual battle for divisional supremacy.

That's not some cruel inequity; that's merely geographic bad luck.

I secretly hope that the Red Sox will be unable to seal the deal with Matsuzaka, but then signing Matsuzaka might provide a greater opportunity for schadenfreude. To spend upwards of $100 million on a pitcher who has never pitched in the US, to spend that much on any pitcher -- given that pitching involves motions that the human body wasn't designed to perform -- seems absurd. Consider, moreover, that Japanese teams have historically run down their pitchers' arms early in their careers, meaning it's possible that the Red Sox could only get a couple good years out of Matsuzaka before he's finished.

In any case, if the Red Sox manage to sign Matsuzaka, they will be an elbow ligament tear away from wasting an awful lot of money. As a Cubs fan, I have seen two very promising young pitchers' careers go up in smoke in recent years. Don't think it can't happen to Matsuzaka.

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