Sox execs head west for negotiations
Epstein, Lucchino to meet with Matsuzaka, Boras
With urgency ratcheted up to get Japanese star Daisuke Matsuzaka signed by the midnight deadline at the end of Thursday, the Red Sox -- represented by general manager Theo Epstein and club president/CEO Larry Lucchino -- flew to Southern California on Monday to negotiate directly with the pitcher and agent Scott Boras.
Red Sox principal owner John W. Henry offered his private plane to Epstein and Lucchino, who arrived, as Epstein put it, "unsolicited."
Epstein, in a conference call with reporters shortly before 1 a.m. ET on Tuesday, noted his goal of a resolution in succinct terms.
"John Henry has very generously made his plane available, it's here in Southern California," said Epstein. "It will leave on Wednesday morning. We hope Matsuzaka-san will be on it, that we can complete the physical in Boston in time to get a contract done."
Media availability wasn't part of Epstein's and Lucchino's agenda upon arrival. But with Boras holding a press briefing at his Newport Beach, Calif., office on Monday evening with nearly 40 reporters -- most of whom were representing Japanese outlets -- the Red Sox felt it was only appropriate to grant availability.
Tuesday will be spent trying to hammer out a deal. It is then that the Red Sox will present their second offer to Boras, even though the agent never provided a counter to the original offer. Matsuzaka is expected to participate in the discussions.
"We do have plans to meet with them [Tuesday]," said Epstein "Again, we flew out unsolicited and called immediately upon landing and asked for a meeting, not only with Scott but also with Daisuke. We'll present the second offer, an improved offer, one that we hope will get this deal done. We're not frustrated. We're just doing everything possible under the sun to get a deal done. That's all we can do. We can control the Boston Red Sox actions, and we plan to leave no stone unturned."
It is clear that the Red Sox feel that Boras has been somewhat elusive during this process, so they felt the best way to remedy that was a face-to-face meeting.
"I think it's also fair to say that we're on Scott Boras' doorstep because he hasn't negotiated with us directly thus far," said Henry. "We're taking the fight directly to him -- the fight to try to have a negotiation here."
Boras thinks that his client should be compensated like an elite Major League free agent.
"One thing is clear -- D-Mat will someday be a Major League player," Boras told The Associated Press. "We have further negotiating to do. The deadline's not here in five minutes. The parties do understand what this player's value is in the free-agent system."
According to numerous reports in recent days, the Red Sox and Boras have been far apart in terms of what they view Matsuzaka's value to be.
"The progress is something I'm not going to comment on," Boras said. "I'm not going to characterize the negotiations. This is not a customary negotiation. The question is, with a posting fee, how do you handle that?"
The Red Sox won exclusive negotiating rights to Matsuzaka with a historic bid of $51.1 million to the Seibu Lions on Nov. 14.
"We've made a tremendous financial commitment, not only with the posting fee but also with the contract we're proposing, which I believe is a record for players who haven't previously played in the Major Leagues," said Epstein. "I believe it will be the most ever received by a Japanese player coming to the Major Leagues in his initial contract. We're hopeful and we're excited. And again, we just want to make sure we leave no stone unturned because it would be a shame if something unnecessary -- some impediment got in the way of this deal, which so many think is destined to happen."
Perhaps with Epstein and Lucchino on-site for the next day or two, the sides will be able to work out the issues that have forced the deal to go down to the wire.
Making two offers before the agent makes his first is not Epstein's typical way of doing business. But in this case, he felt that nothing could be left to chance.
"It's highly unusual, but again, signing Matsuzaka is extremely important to the Boston Red Sox," said Epstein. "We're very committed to making sure that happens. Although it's normally not good policy to make a second offer without receiving a counteroffer, we want to demonstrate to Matsuzaka and to fans of Japanese baseball around the world just how important this is to us."
Matsuzaka, 26, is nothing short of a national treasure to the baseball fans of Japan, and for good reason. He has a record of 108-60 with a 2.95 ERA over his eight-year career with the Lions, and last March he was named the Most Valuable Player of the inaugural World Baseball Classic.
"In Japan he's known as the national treasure," Boras said. "Here he will be known as Fort Knox."
The Red Sox don't hide their admiration for Matsuzaka's talent, even at this delicate point of the negotiations.
"Certainly the Red Sox understand the caliber of player Matsuzaka is," Epstein said. "That's why the posting fee was so sizable. That's why our contract offer is so sizable, indeed, a record in its own right."
The Red Sox envision Matsuzaka leading their rotation for years to come, teaming with such fellow young hard-throwers as Jonathan Papelbon, Josh Beckett and Jon Lester. In the short term, he would team with ace Curt Schilling -- who is entering his final Major League season -- in anchoring the 2007 rotation.
But none of that can happen unless the Red Sox, Boras and Matsuzaka get the deal done.
If there is no deal, Matsuzaka's most likely option would be to return to the Seibu Lions for 2007. He could either go through the posting system again following the 2007 season or be eligible for outright free agency after 2008.
"The posting fee represents the problem," Boras said. "It's historic, it's new, it's something that's never been done. How do you reflect value in a posting fee in an appropriate contract for a player?"
The same posting system was used by the Mariners to land Ichiro Suzuki prior to the 2001 season, but that winning fee was $13.1 million, a far more modest number than what the Red Sox would pay Seibu if they are successful in landing Matsuzaka.
"Certainly the posting system was embraced in this case," said Epstein. "It was the means the player chose to have his potential entry into Major League Baseball. Again, the Japanese club and the player agreed that the player would be posted. We were the winning bidder, and I think all parties hope that this will lead to the player fulfilling his dream in the Major Leagues."
Boras made it clear that he won't be strong-arming Matsuzaka into making a decision.
"This decision is going to be Daisuke's. He has to make the call," Boras said.
Epstein and Lucchino, who flew to Los Angeles last month to have dinner with Matsuzaka, are looking forward to having another meeting.
"I would say we would very much like him to be a part of the meeting to be sure that the level of communication is as high as it can be," said Lucchino. "And indeed, Scott has, on more than one occasion, referred to the fact that the decision ultimately belongs to the player, and he's the one who needs to be a part of this negotiation."
Dramatic contract negotiations are nothing new during Epstein's time as general manager. In November 2003, he and Lucchino flew to Phoenix for Thanksgiving in an effort to convince Schilling to waive his no-trade clause and come to Boston. That mission was successful.
A month later, Epstein and Lucchino were at the office of the Players Association trying to find a way to get the contract of Alex Rodriguez restructured so that he could come to Boston in a blockbuster for Manny Ramirez. That one ultimately fell through.
Now Epstein and Lucchino have just simple goal: To bring Matsuzaka back to Boston with them on Wednesday.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.