Several days ago, Daisuke Matsuzaka said some things to the Japanese media, discussing his performance in the US and the training regimen he was on. These remarks were translated as:
"If I'm forced to continue to train in this environment, I may no longer be able to pitch like I did in Japan. The only reason why I managed to win games during the first and second years [in the United States] was because I used the savings of the shoulder I built up in Japan. Since I came to the Major Leagues, I couldn't train in my own way, so now I've lost all those savings."
Predictably, statements like this caused an uproar. The Sox staff replied with pointed criticism of Matsuzaka's conditioning, his performance, and of his willingness to go to the media. See this article for details. Unfortunately, this inter-team bloodletting just intensified the media feeding frenzy.
Tony Massarotti's response struck me as particularly amusing. He issues this disclaimer:
"In the middle of this crisis, it is important to remember that Matsuzaka has no real allies or outlet in the American media and that this story is likely to be one-sided. American reporters have nothing to lose by criticizing Matsuzaka and taking the side of the Red Sox, regardless of whether the Sox have handled things in proper fashion."
Of course, Mazz says this in a column in which he accuses Dice-K of being a fat prima donna. CHB also wrote a column about this subject, which probably means that Mazz comes off looking like a Matsuzaka apologist compared to Shaughnessy.
I do not like how the Sox initiallly handled this situation. Internal personnel disputes should not be played out over the sports pages. We had enough of that with the Lucchino-Epstein rift. So it was encouraging when Francona made an effort to mend relations yesterday. See here.
I still believe that Matsuzaka can succeed in MLB. Whether his success requires better conditioning,* stricter adherence to the Sox, or a regimen more similar to what he did in Japan, is unclear. What should be clear is that it is in the best interest of EVERYONE that Matsuzaka succeed.
So far the Dice-K experiment has had ambivalent results. His 2007 was a decent year, 2008 was good, and 2009 has been an absolute disaster and is probably lost. Nobody knows what 2010-12 will bring. I still believe that Matsuzaka has the tools to succeed - he was able to work out of trouble all last season, largely on the strength of his fastball and slider. If Dice-K can figure out how to go deeper into games and throw strikes consistently, he could be a great pitcher.
But performance is just one side of the coin. Another is recruiting. Having Nippon's national hero should help with recruiting Japanese talent. Junichi Tazawa could well be a better pitcher than Matsuzaka, and if Dice-K's signing makes Boston the premier destination for other Japanese players, both veterans and young players, then it could be very good for the team's future.
*I find the obese Dice-K angle a little hard to buy. If conditioning was really the problem, how did he manage to dominate the WBC AGAIN?