World Series Notebook: Does Matsuzaka want to join Ichiro?
Yankees expected to battle Mariners for star pitcher
Monday, October 23, 2006
By JOHN HICKEY
DETROIT -- The World Series, as always, is a celebration of the two teams that outlasted the other 28 to make it into the second half of October.
That doesn't mean the other 28 can be completely dismissed during the Fall Classic.
Not far from the talk of the Tigers and the Cardinals is talk of how others are planning on making it to the Series next year and beyond.
In many circles, that talk includes Daisuke Matsuzaka. The teams that are believed to be preparing posting bids to pay the Seibu Lions for the rights to the services of the right-handed starting pitcher are the Mariners, Yankees, Red Sox, Rangers, Dodgers, Cubs and Mets. And the Angels and Orioles might take a flier at the 26-year-old right-hander who was 17-5 with a 2.13 ERA in Japan this season.
But where is it that Matsuzaka himself would like to land? Baseball sources say that if he could choose, he'd come to Seattle to play. The reasons are twofold -- center fielder Ichiro Suzuki and catcher Kenji Johjima.
Matsuzaka, associates say, has long wanted to play with Ichiro, something that both men experienced in the World Baseball Classic last spring. Team Japan won the tournament with Matsuzaka winning the Most Valuable Player award and Ichiro serving as mentor to the younger men on the team.
And Matsuzaka and Johjima spent time as teammates at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
The Mariners, and everyone else, had believed they would have one last chance to scout Matsuzaka next month when a team of major league All-Stars, including Johjima, plays a five-game tour in Japan.
Matsuzaka was supposed to be on the Japanese select squad, but this weekend came word that he is pulling out. He cited lingering pain from a hit off his right elbow in September, while tour organizers said he was withdrawing because he wanted to focus on his conditioning in preparation for joining a major league team.
The posting process probably will run its course by the middle of next month. The Yankees, the team with the most money, and the Mariners, the team with the best Japanese connections, are widely considered the clubs that will ultimately butt heads for the right to sign Matsuzaka.
However, the bids are submitted just once for each team, no one knowing what the other teams might do. Seattle bid $13.1 million for Ichiro in fall 2000, and most believe this year's winning bid on Matsuzaka will be in excess of $20 million.