An Open Letter To Jim Hendry

Dear Jim:

Hey! How are you? Doing well, I hope, after the Cubs have had an 8-3 homestand? Happy?

Pleasantries aside, and I know those were pretty platitudinous pleasantries, there's a point to this letter to you, and here it is:

Do you know who that is, Jim? If you don't, shame on you, and I'll tell you. His name is Daisuke Matsuzaka, and he is the best pitcher in Japan -- maybe the best pitcher that has ever pitched in Japan. He is twenty-six years old and he wants to come and pitch in the US.

Please get this man to come and pitch for the Cubs, Jim. He throws something called a gyroball, which is supposedly going to revolutionize pitching. Jim, you can click here and watch Matsuzaka throw a gyroball.

Now, it's going to cost you a lot of money to sign him. First, it's going to cost you to just get the rights to sign him from his Japanese team, the Seibu Lions. This is because MLB and the Japanese leagues agreed, after so many Japanese stars came over here (beginning with Hideo Nomo), on a system called "posting", where Japanese teams announce that a player or players want to come to the US and MLB teams submit sealed bids to get those players. This is how Ichiro Suzuki came over here. For the Lions, according to Seattle Times columnist Larry Stone, it's a possible Catch-22, though. Stone writes:

Whether Seibu will do so is an open question that draws considerable variance of opinion. Because Matsuzaka will not be a free agent until after the 2008 season, his only route to the United States before then is if Seibu agrees to "post" him -- the same method by which Ichiro joined the Mariners after the 2000 season.

I surveyed a cross-section of major-league officials, scouts and media with knowledge of Japanese baseball, and found virtually a 50-50 split of opinion on whether Matsuzaka will be posted this winter by Seibu -- which has twice already denied his request to be posted.

The Lions don't want to do this because of Matsuzaka's popularity -- but Jim, I'll bet you if you could get $30 million of the Tribune Company's money, they'd let him come to the Cubs. (C'mon -- you can do it, right? Tribco's got TONS of money sitting around under mattresses, right?) Or maybe $40 million. But you're going to need that, because in addition to the Mariners, the Yankees are interested. And so are the Angels. Former major league pitcher Willie Fraser, who now scouts Asian players, had this to say about Matsuzaka last winter (Matsuzaka has turned 26 since this interview Fraser gave to the Hudson Valley Record):
He threw an 11-inning no-hitter in high school. He is 6-foot and 25 years old. Matsuzaka's got a fastball that ranges from 92-96 mph and has command of two other pitches (slider and splitter). I think he is a No. 1 or No. 2 starter in the majors. He's pitching in the World Baseball Classic, so people get a chance to see him in the U.S.
Look, Jim, I know that it'll cost you a lot of money just to get his rights -- and then even more to sign him to the four- or five-year deal he's going to want. But this is not only getting a #1 starter who's the same age as Mark Prior, it's getting a rock star, a drawing card, which the Cubs sorely need. Matsuzaka is so popular in Japan that people who were born in 1980 or 1981, near the time that he was born, are called the Matsuzaka Generation. Think Ichiro times two.

And Jim, know what the best part is? There are strong indications that if the Lions agree to post him, Matsuzaka will choose Scott Boras as his US agent. You know Scott well, Jim, and we all know you have made several deals with him, to the benefit of the Cubs. This would be the best one of all, and would not only get a highly marketable player to the Cubs, but would also address a huge need they have (a healthy, ace starting pitcher), and would show all of us, your loyal fans, that you ARE doing whatever it takes to put a winner on the field. I mean, look at the video again -- Matsuzaka wears #18, and there's no one on the Cubs' entire 40-man roster wearing #18 right now, so you wouldn't even have to worry about some selfish guy not giving up his number to a superstar.

Enjoy the rest of your day, Jim, and get that cellphone cranking to Japan. Tell ya what -- if you need it, I'll get you an international phonecard so you can call over there as much as you like.

All the best, and Go Cubs!,
Al Yellon

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