Bids are in, wait on Matsuzaka begins

Bids are in, wait on Matsuzaka begins

Now they wait.

Wednesday's 5 p.m. ET deadline to submit a bid for negotiating rights to Daisuke Matsuzaka has passed, and the Major League teams that placed bids must now wait to hear from the Seibu Lions, who have four days to accept or reject the top bid.

The 26-year-old right-hander, described by scouts as a top-of-the-rotation pitcher for practically any big-league team, was due to arrive in Los Angeles on Wednesday, uncertain where his journey across the Pacific Ocean eventually will take him.

It might be New York, Boston or Chicago, or maybe even Texas.

Regardless, the next phase of Matsuzaka's career is as cloudy as it is bright.

"We don't have the money that some of these other teams do," Rangers owner Tom Hicks said on Tuesday, "but we're going to put in a bid. It will be an interesting process."

On Thursday, the Lions acknowledged that they received the highest bid, but won't make a decision before Friday at the earliest.

"We have confirmed the amount of the bid, but we cannot make any comment for now on whether the club will accept it," said spokesman Ryuichi Chikamune, who declined to disclose which team offered the highest amount, or how many teams bid. "The offer will be discussed at a Seibu board of directors meeting to be held later this week. After that, we will announce whether to accept the offer."

If the top bid is accepted, the identity of the "winning" organization will be revealed for the first time and would have 30 days to work out a contract with Matsuzaka and his representative, Scott Boras. If the Lions reject the bid, or a contract agreement isn't reached within a 30-day window, the posting money would be returned to the MLB organization and Matsuzaka's dream of pitching in the Major Leagues would be delayed for at least one year, when he would be eligible for free agency under Japan rules.

With the secret bids expected to be in the $25 million-$30 million range, followed by a substantial multi-year contract, the list of bidders is expected to be short.

While the Rangers have thrown their caps into the ring, the Seattle Mariners, who acquired outfielder Ichiro Suzuki from the Orix Blue Wave for $13.1 million six years ago, have announced they will not get involved in the Matsuzaka sweepstakes.

Most potential bidders haven't been as forthcoming as the Rangers or Mariners.

Mets general manager Omar Minaya said the organization would not tip its hand.

"He is a guy that is a free agent out there," Minaya said. "I really don't want other teams to know our feelings on him, our evaluations of him and what we think of him."

The intense rivalry between the Yankees and Red Sox could increase even more as both American League East teams have a need for starting pitching and the finances to become involved in the Matsuzaka sweepstakes.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has been extremely quiet the past two weeks, but it is known that assistant GM Jean Afterman has taken at least three trips to Japan in recent months.

Red Sox officials also are playing it close to the vest.

"He is very special. He has a good fastball that he throws from 90 to 95 mph. He has very good control and can throw any one of three other pitches over for a strike at any time in the count."
-- Former MLB manager Bobby Valentine, on Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Manager Terry Francona said on Monday that he has not heard any rumors concerning possible interest the team might have in the pitcher.

"Not too much," he said of any speculation that he has heard. "I understand our front office has a job to do. I haven't been in there for a while because I was nursing that foot, but I know our front office puts -- I don't want to say a number -- but a figure on a player, and if he falls in our area, we'll go after him. But I certainly haven't heard his name out there."

"We never discuss players who are under contract with another organization," GM Theo Epstein said. "He still is, technically, and we're just not going to have any comment on him until the process is complete."

However, a report in The Boston Globe this past weekend said Matsuzaka has been scouted by Boston's international scouting department, led by director Craig Shipley, leading to speculation that the Red Sox are serious about their interest.

The Cubs sent two of their top scouts, Gary Hughes and Randy Bush, to Japan, presumably to check out Matsuzaka. The Cubs currently are having organizational meetings in Phoenix and are expected to be among the teams submitting a bid for the 6-foot, 187-pounder who has an assortment of pitches that includes a "gyroball," a pitch that reportedly breaks inward and then outward on a right-handed batter.

After building a stellar career with Seibu the past eight years, compiling a 108-60 record with a 2.95 ERA and being selected as the Most Valuable Player of the inaugural World Baseball Classic, Matsuzaka is ready to broaden his horizons and test his talent in the Major Leagues.

He has been one of the most dominant pitchers in Japan's Pacific League the past eight seasons, leading the league in wins three times, strikeouts four times and ERA two times. His 17-5 record, 2.13 ERA, 200 strikeouts in 186 1/3 innings -- along with his dazzling World Baseball Classic -- all factor into his popularity among MLB organizations.

Trey Hillman, who manages the Nippon Ham Fighters in Japan and was a finalist for the Rangers' managerial opening, said, "This guy's legit. He'll have some bumps coming over to the Major Leagues, I'm sure, but he can definitely be a No. 1 or No. 2."

"He is very special," former MLB manager Bobby Valentine recently told The Seattle Times via e-mail. "He has a good fastball that he throws from 90 to 95 mph. He has very good control and can throw any one of three other pitches over for a strike at any time in the count.

"He likes to compete and is a good fielder. He would do very well in the States. He is going to pitch at 27 next year and has pitched more than any other pitcher his age. He might pay the price for that in the future, but you have to play now to find out about that later."

The interest in Matsuzaka could be linked to the last time a star Japanese player had his contract "posted."

Ichiro's sensational MLB career -- six straight 200-plus hit seasons, two batting championships, six All-Star Game selections, six Gold Gloves, one Most Valuable Player Award, Rookie of the Year and the single-season hit record -- probably adds to the Matsuzaka mystique.

Jim Street is a reporter for The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.