(In addition to appearing at The Captain’s Blog, this post is also being syndicated at TheYankeeAnalysts.)
Now that Daisuke Matsuzaka’s decision to have Tommy John surgery has essentially closed the book on his Red Sox career, we can finally examine whether the signing was worthwhile. In addition, the same analysis can be used to settle another rivalry-based question: who was the better (or less disastrous) acquisition, Matsuzaka or Kei Igawa?
It’s an absurd question, right? After all, Matsuzaka has been an above average pitcher over his major league career (although his last two-plus seasons have been well below average), while Kei Igawa has been a denizen of Scranton. However, after a closer look, the answer doesn’t seem so obvious.
When the Red Sox paid over $51 million for the right to negotiate with Matsuzaka, it was not only an unprecedented price for a posted Japanese player, but also $13 million more than the next highest bid, which was made by the New York Mets. Although the Red Sox offer was high, expectations for Matsuzaka were even greater, with many experts predicting he was a lock to become an ace starter. Obviously, by committing over $100 million to the Japanese righty, the Red Sox expected just as much.
Although several teams made an offer, the bidding for Kei Igawa wasn’t as intense as it was for Matsuzaka. The Yankees’ top bid of $26 million easily out distanced the Mets, who once again finished second in the process (considering that team’s current fiscal troubles, it’s a good thing they came up short both times). Unlike Boston, however, the Yankees had very low expectations for the money spent. In fact, Brian Cashman went out of his way to temper the signing by first referring to Igawa as a back of the rotation starter and then later as a potential middle reliever. In other words, something other than performance-based expectations seemed to be behind the acquisition.
Matsuzaka’s a front-end of the rotation type of starter. I think we’ve been very honest in saying that we’re looking at Kei to help us solidify the back of the rotation. They’re dissimilar pitchers; we don’t want to confuse our fan base. But we think he can be a successful pitcher here in the major leagues.” – Brian Cashman, quoted by the New York Times, January 9, 2007
Whatever the motivation, Igawa proved to be a bust off the bat, and after 12 mostly disastrous starts in 2007, he was banished to the minor leagues. Meanwhile, after a slow start, Dice-K began to show signs of his promised dominance by going 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA in 2008. Although many were skeptical of his peripherals and lack of innings, heading into the 2009 season, it looked as if Matsuzaka would at least come close to providing value that was comparable to his cost.
Unfortunately for the Red Sox, their expensive import has paid declining returns since his 2008 campaign, culminating in a surgery that will likely preclude any further contribution. So, barring an unexpected promotion for Igawa, it’s now fairly safe to make a comparison between the two contracts and see which team came out ahead.
Comparison of Matsuzaka, Igawa Contracts
*Value is a WAR-based conversion into dollars.
Source: fangraphs.com and Cot’s Contracts
Over his four-plus seasons in Boston, Matsuzaka contributed 10.5 WAR, while Igawa, who barely pitched in the majors, had a negative contribution of 0.2. Based on that disparity, it’s obvious that Matsuzaka was the better signing based on relative talent. However, the contracts also need to be judged based on their contribution to the bottom line, and, in this regard, the Igawa deal actually comes out looking better.
The main reason Matsuzaka’s contract appears to be a bigger bust is because of its relative size. After all, the posting fee alone for Dice-K was higher than the total obligation involved in the Igawa acquisition. As a result, the contract paid to Igawa, who actually contributed a negative value, had a smaller value discrepancy than Matsuzaka’s. Using fangraph’s conversion of WAR to a dollar scale as the basis for analysis, the Red Sox overpaid Dice-K by over $59 million, while the Yankees deficit turned out to be a little more than their initial $46 million outlay.
Granted, Matsuzaka provided something that Igawa did not: innings, and at times, quality ones. However, if you add the expected cost of the value Matsuzaka provided to the amount paid to Igawa, the total of $90 million still falls short of the $103 million allocated to Dice-K (and that doesn’t include the time value expense of having to make a much larger upfront posting payment). In other words, even after writing off the sunk cost associated with Igawa, the Yankees would have still had more than enough money to acquire a pitcher who performed as well as Matsuzaka.
Hindsight is 20/20, so it’s easy to now say that Matsuzaka was the bigger bust. However, in defense of the Red Sox, many experts raved about Dice-K, so their investment was at least made with sensible intentions. So, even though Matsuzaka didn’t come close to returning comparable value, criticism of the signing should be tempered by the prevailing wisdom at the time.
A similar defense can’t be offered for the Igawa signing. As mentioned, the Yankees pursuit of the less heralded lefty was a head scratcher, even at the time. Based on the tone of Brian Cashman’s comments after the signing, and the Yankees short leash with him, it seems apparent that the acquisition was simply a kneejerk reaction to the Red Sox’ earlier victory in the Matsuzaka bidding process. Basically, the Yankees flat out wasted $46 million.
In the end, both the Yankees and Red Sox turned out to be losers with their investments. Or, were they? Also on the market that offseason was Barry Zito. Less than one month after the Matsuzaka and Igawa auctions, the lefty signed a seven-year, $126 million deal, which at the time was the most lucrative contract ever given to a pitcher. To date, Zito has underperformed that contract by $36 million, and there are still three-plus years and about $58 million to go. So, when the book is finally closed on Zito’s contribution with the Giants, the deficit from his contract could dwarf the ones suffered in Boston and New York.
The 2006 off season turned out to be one of the most costly in recent memory, with several teams entering into obscene contracts that seemed absurd at the time. In addition to Zito, Matsuzaka and Igawa, the feeding frenzy that winter also included over $400 million committed to Carlos Lee, Gil Meche, Juan Pierre, Gary Matthews, and Alfonso Soriano alone. Based on that context, maybe the Red Sox and Yankees came away with bargains?