Friday, August 11, 2006

The Battle for Daisuke

I don't want to even get into the Yankees loss to the Angels today. It bugs me. You can likely find a lot of comments on the Yanks dismal showing on other blogs in the Yankee blogosphere. I'm choosing to focus on Daisuke Matsuzaka today. Speculation about his future is growing almost by the day, and I thought I'd take a look at the latest. This post appears at Matsuzaka Watch in truncated form for the benefit of non-Yankee fans. For a video of the young righty's 14 K performance this season, click this link to the story.

The Seattle news media has been busy lately speculating on the Mariners acquisition of Daisuke Matsuzaka in the off season. Blurbs in the newspapers, from Seattle's MLB.com writer, and translations of the both have included the Mariners in the race for the ace righty's services. It's natual given the influence of board member Minoru Arakawa, who basically created Nintendo America, Donkey Kong, and the NES systems. He is the son-in-law of former Nintendo Chairman and Mariners owner Hiroshi Yamauchi. The Mariners have been in the hunt for Japanese talent after pioneering the acquisition of everyday players with the signing of Ichiro Suzuki.

This short note from Rotowire is a nice short summary of the news, and includes mention of the money involved in the posting, and perspective on the high pitch counts. $30 million dollars seems to be a popular figure bandied about in the discussions of Seibu negotiations, which seems outlandish, but they are in a seller's market after all. If you take that figure into consideration, and factor in the estimate of $10 million a year over 4 or 5 years, the amount of money teams will need to spend on Matsuzaka is roughly $16-$17 million per season. Ouch. That kind of money is reserved for the Mussinas, Clemenses, Randy Johnsons, Andy Pettittes, Pedro Martinezes, and Curt Schillings of the world. Even those guys are somewhat overpaid at that figure.

The base salary of $10 million a season would put DM in the company of Derek Lowe, Jose Contreras, Ben Sheets, Matt Clement, Eric Milton, Jason Schmidt, and Tom Glavine among 2006 base salaries. As good as he is, and as much as I believe he'll earn that kind of money as a frontline starter for the next 7, 8, 9 years, it all but eliminates most of the Major League clubs. 19 teams have a starter making $8 million or more. 13 teams have a $9 million+ starter. 10 teams have a guy making more than $10 million for a single season. Those teams are the Giants (Schmidt), the Mets (Glavine, Pedro), the Braves (Smoltz, Hampton), the Astros (Oswalt, Pettitte, Clemens), the Cubs (Wood), the White Sox (Vasquez), the Blue Jays (Halladay), the Red Sox (Schilling), the Padres (Chan Ho Park!!), and the Yankees (Johnson, Mussina).

What you see there is a combination of big market teams, with both New York and Chicago franchises on the list, a couple of mid-market teams with owners who wisely spend on pitching in the Red Sox, Astros, and Braves, ace pitchers on floundering middle of the road teams (Halladay and Schmidt), and an awful contract in San Diego. Chan Ho Park is the 5th highest paid pitcher in the Majors this year at $15.3 million!!!

The Mariners starting rotation in 2006 looks like this:

Jarrod Washburn ($7.45 million)
Joel Pineiro ($6.8 million)
Jamie Moyer ($5.5 million)
Gil Meche ($3.7 million)
Felix Hernandez ($340,000)

By contrast, the Yankees are paying the following starting pitchers:

Mike Mussina ($19 million)
Randy Johnson ($15.7 million)
Carl Pavano ($8 million)
Jaret Wright ($7.7 million)
Cory Lidle ($3.3 million)
Sidney Ponson ($1 million)
Chien Ming Wang ($353,175)

The Mariners would seem to have a nice amount of wiggle room in their payroll (currently ranked 11th at a little over $87 million) with Jamie Moyer, Joel Pineiro, and Gil Meche's contracts expiring after this season. I'm not up on the latest Mariners' contract discussions, but you'd have to figure that they are ready to say goodbye to Moyer. You'd have to figure that they will keep one of either Pineiro or Meche, who will both turn 28 in September. Both seems silly, given their mediocre performances, but you never know. There will be a lot of freed up money to splash on Matsuzaka if the Mariners are serious. With Ichiro and Johjima in the fold it makes sense. It almost seems like they had this plan a year ago when they brought in a catcher who speaks Japanese, huh?

The Yankees, for their part, would seem to have more flexibility than it would appear at first glance. Beyond deep pockets, the Yankees have some moves they can make to actually lower payroll and still add Daisuke. Here's how.

The Yanks can refuse the option on Mussina, thereby losing $17 million from the 2007 payroll. It makes sense given his declining performance, the first half of this year notwithstanding. Even in today's market Mike Mussina is not worth $17 million when that money can be put to good use on a younger guy.

They can lose an additional $16 million off the 2008 payroll when they let Randy Johnson walk. His performance is even further beyond Mike Mussina's decline and there are no Yankee fans anywhere that would cry to see him leave.

Unless we trade him somehow, Carl Pavano's increasing payout will be counted against us through at least 2008. There's not much we can do about that. Jaret Wright, on the other hand, can be bought out after this season at a drastically reduced rate. 2007 became a club option with a $4M buyout since Wright was on the disabled list for more than 75 days with a pitching-related shoulder injury in 05-06. He will almost certainly be an ex-Yankee next year. Sidney Ponson's $1 million is gone as soon as the paint dries on the season. Cory Lidle may be in the same boat.

I'm not clear about Chien-Min Wang's options after the 2006 season, as his Major League service has been short, but he'll be due for a nice payday in the near future. I'm guessing the Yanks will shell out Pavano money to him to keep the 26 year old in the fold for a while. Whatever happens, it would seem that he'll be a Yankee at a discount rate next year as well.

All in all, the Yankees can trim the 2007 payroll by letting Mussina, Ponson, and Lidle go, and buying out Jaret Wright at $4 million. That's a total savings of around $25 million. Using the Mussina money to pay Matsuzaka evens out, while the remaining salary cuts should be able to fund another veteran pitcher for a couple of years, until the younguns are ready to crack the Major League rotation. We'd be looking at a 2007 rotation somthing like this:

Randy Johnson
Daisuke Matsuzaka
Chien-Min Wang
Carl Pavano
Veteran FA or Minor Leaguer

It would seem wise to grab a veteran to shore up the #5 spot to hold the young pitchers for emergency situations. When Randy Johnson's contract comes off the books prior to the 2008 season, we can throw his money at a pitcher like Carlos Zambrano or Roy Oswalt. We could forseeably field a 2008 rotation of:

Carlos Zambrano/Roy Oswalt
Daisuke Matsuzaka
Chien-Min Wang
Carl Pavano
Phil Hughes

That could be a fearsome young rotation. All of those pitchers, with the exception of Pavano and Oswalt, would be 27 years old or younger. No lefty in the rotation is the only problem I see with that group. What you've done in the span of two off seasons is transform a rotation of high priced pitchers on the wrong side of their careers with stud pitchers in their primes for the same money. The beauty of it is, that rotation should stay solid for a good stretch of time at a fixed cost, and the only player mentioned that will likely be sent off in favor of a cheaper, better replacement is Pavano. Perhaps we'll see Hughes pitch so well that our 5th starter can be another kid like Joba Chamberlain, Adam Kennedy, or Tyler Clippard. Dellin Betances will be in the wings for the next generation of Yankees.

In the end, the "posting money" you gave to Seibu can be offset by Japanese marketing. You'll draw even more television interest, tourism, jersey sales, memorabilia, and ad sales to Japanese companies. The base salary that Matsuzaka will earn, actually becomes a bargain if he performs like an ace. Smart business. Seattle already knows it with Ichiro, and the Yankees definitely know it with Matsui. Unlike Ichiro and Matsui, Matsuzaka will only pitch every 5th day. It hardly matters, however, as the interest in those games he starts will be huge. He is called "the Crown Jewel of Japanese Baseball" after all.

The Mariners and the Yankees are the wisest choices for everyone involved. With everyday Japanese players in their lineups , and large Japanese populations, New York and Seattle will reap the benefits of additional exposure in Japan. Without the everyday player the TV coverage is limited to a once a week appearance. Seibu figures to make money from the marketing of Matsuzaka as one of their own in the Major Leagues, Japanese advertisers would benefit from the everyday tv exposure that their brand would get, and Matsuzaka himself would have a comrade to consult on the peculiarities of life in the US.

That's not to say that the Angels, Dodgers, Red Sox, Mets, or other high payroll clubs wouldn't love to get in on the action. I'll examine those teams a bit more closely as we get closer to the close of the season. How would paying Seibu and signing Matsuzaka affect those teams' fortunes? For now, it seems the Mariners and Yanks are off to the races.

5 comments:

Jamie said...

Mike,
Your blog is a daily read of mine and the first Yankee blog I read everyday.
I was wondering however, you didn't mention anything about the Yankees new hire in Japan. I remember that he was a scout and does this have any pull when it comes to Daisuke making up his mind?

RollingWave said...

Mike, that rotation would be wihtout a lefty in 08, which is problematic.

They might end up signing a half decent FA lefty (Randy Wolf/ Ted Lilly or even Mark Buehrle) sometime in this or next off season. unless they go grab Zito ofcourse.

Then there is the Sheffield question... which will also impact on how the Yankees spend on their pitching next year.

Also, Jaret Wright's buyout is pretty darn high at 4M when it cost 7M to keep him.. so there may be a chance he gets back next year as a spot starter / long reliever guy.

Wang will still make the minimum next season and most of the 08 season. he is here to stay for sure.

Sidney Ponson doesn't cost us 1M this year, we only pay him the minimum, the Cards pays the rest.

Still though, 17M is A LOT .. you could get Zito for less than that. who while doesn't bring overpowering game does bring a lot of consistency and a clean health record.

The decision is up to Ca$hman and crew though, whatever happens I will respect their profesional decision, and really I think Matsuzaka is a great pitcher that might really be worth 17M

Mike Plugh said...

Matsuzaka is a better pitcher than Zito and younger. The additional benefit of establishing the brand even further in the Japanese market is invaluable.

Zito's only advantage over Daisuke is his lefty arm, which I hardly think makes up for the Pedro-esque stuff that Matsuzaka possesses.

I think Sheff is a goner. I love the guy and his bat, but he's the odd man out. I can't imagine the Yankees re-upping with him, although I could be wrong.

Wright may have earned another year with the Yankees, but $7 million to stay versus 4 million to go, with a better guy replacing him seems to be a good way to go. Wait and see.

Travis G. said...

i thought Matsuzaka threw like 95-96. when i watched that video, it displayed 150 kph. that translates to 92.5 mph, a bit underwhelming. is that what he tops out at?

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