Sox-Yankees rivalry reaching new level

New level for Sox-Yankees rivalry

During the course of the baseball season, the battles between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees are settled on the playing field in full view of an attentive audience.

During the offseason, the competition between the two rivals turns into a chess match.

Just last year, the Red Sox didn't meet the contract demands of their leadoff man and center fielder, Johnny Damon. The Yankees came in with a solid offer, and it was a case of "checkmate."

It was a single move whereby the Red Sox suffered a loss and the Yankees made a significant gain.

Damon, as we know, plays center field and bats leadoff for the Yankees. The Red Sox still are trying to figure out how to fill these two needs in a championship fashion.

The Red Sox made big news recently when they placed a bid of $51.1 million for the rights to negotiate with the star pitcher from Japan, Daisuke Matsuzaka.

The Yankees now have followed up with a call of "check" by gaining the rights to negotiate with a young left-handed pitcher from Japan, Kei Igawa.

Most scouting reports declare that Igawa isn't at the same level as Matsuzaka, but the Yankees paid just slightly more than half the amount ($26 million) that Boston put on the line.

This script as to what is happening with these two pitchers from Japan is sure to send the folks at Major League Baseball into a number of closed and confidential meetings. The current structure relating to players coming to the U.S. raises a number of questions and potential problems.

For one thing, how much sense does it make for the Red Sox and Yankees to be paying a combined $77.1 million to two clubs in Japan, assuming the deals for both pitchers go through? There are Major League teams that don't have the resources to be competitive and need revenue sharing to be presentable and they don't have the opportunity to sell the contract of a player for the type of money that is being offered to the Japanese teams.

Wouldn't it make more sense to enable lower revenue Major League teams to sell their top young stars if the dollars involved range from $26-51.1 million per player? These types of dollars could help a team make a major impact in its player-development system.

Also, there are only a few Major League teams -- the large-revenue clubs -- that can even play the game of bidding for the top players from Japan. And the money that is paid isn't factored into the equation of luxury tax for the high-revenue clubs.

There is tremendous pressure on the Red Sox to sign Matsuzaka, particularly now that the Yankees have gained the rights to have a star pitcher from Japan on their staff.

There are those who might claim that the Red Sox really have nothing to lose if they don't sign Matsuzaka. They will, after all, get their posting fee returned if there is no agreement, and they will have kept the star pitcher out of the hands of the Yankees.

It's not that simple. Matsuzaka is Japan's most visible star, and he would lose tremendous face to return to his home country over the issue of money. The Red Sox would even lose more face and might damage their long-term credibility in Japan.

A case of Boston not signing Matsuzaka and New York signing Igawa would give the Yankees a tremendous upper hand in Japan in terms of both marketing dollars and future deals with players.

This is the reason the Yankees gaining the rights to negotiate with Igawa was a master stroke. The Yankees already have star outfielder Hideki Matsui, who came without a fee being paid to his club in Japan because he was a true free agent and didn't have to go through the posting process.

There is a battle within this battle between the Red Sox and Yankees as the two pitchers are represented by two of the game's top agents -- Scott Boras handling the negotiations for Matsuzaka and Arn Tellem calling the shots for Igawa.

The agent who walks away with the best deal for the player -- and at the same time leaves a smooth relationship with the teams involved -- will take a clear-cut lead in representing other players from Japan.

You would have to give the Yankees the edge in terms of their ability to do a deal with Tellem for Igawa. The New York club has a strong relationship with the agent, including a number of recent deals.

If both the Red Sox and Boras decide to play hardball as opposed to "let's make a deal," the negotiations could explode, particularly in that there is a 30-day timeframe in these negotiations.

The thing that complicates the deals is that the agents aren't going to want to hear about the dollars that have been paid for the rights to negotiate with the player. It will be a case of "show me the money" as related to the payment of the player.

There are other problems tied to this arrangement between the Major League teams and teams from Japan. Many of the U.S. teams already have working arrangements in place with the Japanese teams.

These agreements are all over the lot and range from payment to the U.S. teams for Spring Training visits, scouting services and instructors being sent to Japan.

Let's assume, for example, that a Major League team pays a high amount to a club from Japan for a posting fee but somewhere along the line receives a very large payment for various services. Are the necessary safeguards in place to make sure all of this is on the up and up?

The dollars involved in the U.S.-Japan agreement have exploded before our very eyes, and the media attention to all of this now is full blown on an international level.

The game of chess is on, and the stakes are high. The Red Sox and Yankees are making the moves, but the fallout from all of this goes well beyond the classic battle between two teams.

Fred Claire was a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1969-98, serving the team as Executive Vice-President and general manager. His book-Fred Claire: My 30 Years in Dodger Blue-was published by SportsPublishingLLC. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.