51 million dollars.
Let me repeat that: 51 million dollars.
The figure has become legend in some baseball circles. For those not in the know, that's how much money the Boston Red Sox paid for the opportunity to offer Daisuke Matsuzaka a contract.
And the 51-million-dollar question: Can any player be good enough to warrant that much dough before even signing a big league deal?
My first Daisuke sighting came during the World Baseball Classic, when he led his native Japan to the championship. Sure, he was the MVP of the tournament, but still:
Of course, I'm a baseball fan, not a baseball analyst. Maybe the Red Sox knew something about Daisuke I didn't. Maybe he was the imported X-factor in whatever formula Boston management had concocted to win another championship.
Obviously, someone very powerful saw something very special.
Was it his 90-mph fastball? His assortment of breaking pitches? His mythical gyroball? The fact that he's so durable he might actually be a mecha
In any event, Daisuke landed a plush deal and has become the main attraction in Boston. After five starts, the boy wonder is 3-2 with a 4.36 ERA. Not bad—but not that much better than, say, Chris Ray with his 2-2 record and 4.73 ERA.
Who's Chris Ray?
It's too early to call Daisuke a bust, but he's not exactly lighting it up. When you come with a $100 million price tag, you're expected to make an immediate impact. Daisuke's non-superhuman start has given fodder to critics ready to pounce on the Red Sox for what might turn into a multi-multi-multi-million-dollar fiasco.
And that's exactly the wrong way to approach the situation.
Read any of Daisuke's bios and you learn that he's always trying to get better. You aren't born with an arm capable of throwing 250 pitches in a high school championship game—you work for it. The hype that now surrounds Daisuke wasn't of his own making—it was thrust upon him, by managers, agents, fans, and media types looking to create a story.
Daisuke is, undeniably, a solid pitcher. He's not an unstoppable pitching machine, hurling unhittable gyroballs left and right. The best way to evaluate the Daisuke phenomenon is to look at him as you would any other rookie pitcher: He works hard, he's dedicated, and hopefully one day he'll become a premier major league player.
For now, he's just like any other young upstart—he makes mistakes...and no, he's not worth $100 million.
But then again, he wasn't the one who wrote that check.