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Published: Thursday, 12/14/2006

Red Sox finalize $52 million pact with pitcher Matsuzaka

ASSOCIATED PRESS

BOSTON Daisuke Matsuzaka threw his first pitch off the Fenway Park mound today, the end of an 8,000-mile journey that the Red Sox hope will give them a new ace.

Boston announced Matsuzaka s $52 million, six-year contract at a packed news conference that ended several long days of negotiation. Now they hope the Japanese star will follow Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez as a dominant major leaguer.

In our minds, it was not a certainty until the very end, Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein said.

Red Sox officials and the pitcher s agent spent the early part of the week negotiating in Newport Beach, Calif., where bargaining often bogged down.

But on Wednesday morning with a preliminary agreement and Matsuzaka and agent Scott Boras on board Epstein and other team officials got on principal owner John Henry s plane and headed east.

Despite the often contentious negotiations, Red Sox officials, Matsuzaka and Boras smiled broadly at a news conference that was punctuated by repeated flashes from dozens of media cameras.

I d like to contribute to the world championship, Matsuzaka said. I d like to meet Curt Schilling.

Pitchers and catchers report for spring training on Feb. 16 in Fort Myers, Fla. The 26-year-old Matsuzaka will join Schilling in a strong rotation that includes Josh Beckett, Jonathan Papelbon and Tim Wakefield.

The Red Sox also will have another Japanese pitcher, lefty reliever Hideki Okajima, in training camp. He signed on Nov. 30.

For the next six years we hope to get the prime of (Matsuzaka s) career, Epstein said. We want Daisuke to be a Red Sox for the rest of his career.

They re certainly making a huge investment.

Add the team s winning $51.11 million bid for negotiating rights to the Japanese ace, which must be paid to the Seibu Lions by Dec. 21, to the $52 million contract and Boston s investment comes to $103.11 million. That doesn t include $8 million in escalators based on Matsuzaka winning awards.

Today what we re really doing is announcing the signing of a national treasure, Epstein said. We understand his importance in Japan. We know what he represents.

Matsuzaka was then handed a jersey with the No. 18 the number worn by Johnny Damon before he left for the New York Yankees as a free agent.

Matsuzaka said he had toured Fenway Park a place he d seen several times on television and saw ongoing renovations before his news conference.

Very beautiful and very impressed, he said.

The team s newest pitcher threw off the mound to Henry, with the soft toss sailing over his head. The owner fell backward before propping himself with both hands on the ground behind him.

We didn t go over signals, Henry joked.

The bleacher fans no doubt will hang K placards from the green wall behind them every time Matsuzaka whose first name is pronounced Dice-K records another strikeout. In eight pro seasons, all with Seibu, he has 1,355 strikeouts in 1,402 1-3 innings.

Matsuzaka called me after his press conference to thank me and he sounded very happy, Seibu acting president Hidekazu Ota said. I wish him and his family all the best.

Matsuzaka was in the spotlight in 1998 when he led Yokohama High School to the Koshein Tournament championship. He pitched in the 2000 and 2004 Olympics and was most valuable player last March in the inaugural World Baseball Classic, won by Japan.

Matsuzaka passed a physical at Massachusetts General Hospital on Wednesday night. Minutes after today s news conference, his deal was finalized when the terms were confirmed by the commissioner s office and the players association.

There were certainly a lot of ups and downs during the negotiations Epstein said. I think all the parties had a common goal which was for Daisuke to join the Red Sox and start his major-league career.

Epstein and Boras said the turning point came when Matsuzaka was satisfied that his wife and daughter would be taken care of during the transition to a new country.

In any negotiation, there s a time limit, Boras said. You make decisions and reach decisions based upon (the fact) you re forced to and the time frame for doing that obviously was escalated.

Had an agreement not been reached by midnight EST today, 30 days after the Red Sox won the bidding, Matsuzaka would return to Japan and they would have kept their money.

Matsuzaka has a 108-60 record in Japan with a 2.95 ERA and 1,355 strikeouts in 204 games.

He gets a $2 million signing bonus payable upon approval of the contract, $6 million next year, $8 million in each of the following three seasons and $10 million in each of the final two years.

Epstein wouldn t say if Boston has baseball s best starting staff, but Red Sox chairman and owner Tom Werner wasn t shy about doing that.

We ve certainly had some exciting days at Fenway Park in the past few years, he said, but the excitement at Fenway Park in 2007 will really be ratcheted up another notch.

Read more in later editions of The Blade and toledoblade.com



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