TOKYO -- Daisuke Matsuzaka hopes his next pitch will be in
the major leagues.
The most dominant pitcher in Japanese baseball for the last
eight seasons, Matsuzaka had his path cleared when the Seibu Lions
officially agreed to release the 26-year-old ace.
"I feel very relieved today," Matsuzaka said Wednesday. "I've
wanted to go to the major leagues for a long time and am happy this
day has finally come."
Matsuzaka was 17-5 with a 2.13 ERA and 200 strikeouts this year.
He impressed many major league scouts last March during the World
Baseball Classic, where he was selected as the MVP after Japan won
the title, and the 2004 Olympics.
Matsuzaka also has gained attention because of the "gyroball."
It's a pitch that a right-hander would use to break to the left,
although he has said he's yet to master it.
Seibu said Matsuzaka's rights will be "posted," meaning that
all 30 major league teams can bid on the righty. The club with the
highest bid gains the right to attempt to sign the pitcher.
The New York Yankees and the Seattle Mariners have shown
interest in Matsuzaka. The Los Angeles Dodgers, the Boston Red Sox
and the New York Mets are also thought to be among teams with the
best chances of signing the Japanese star.
Reports say the Lions plan to charge a major league team $30
million just for rights to negotiate with Matsuzaka.
Matsuzaka has selected agent Scott Boras to represent him in
negotiations with major league teams.
"I'm not sure which team I will end up playing for," Matsuzaka
said. "I know there are several teams that are interested and I'll
go with the one that most appropriately evaluates my ability."
Since turning professional in 1999, Matsuzaka has dominated
Japan's pro leagues. He consistently throws in the high-90s and
has superb command of his off-speed pitches.
A first-round draft pick in the 1998 amateur draft, Matsuzaka
has led the Pacific League in wins three times and in strikeouts
four times while winning the ERA title twice.
Matsuzaka first burst onto the scene at the 1998 national high
school baseball tournament.
After throwing 250 pitches in Yokohama High School's 17-inning
quarterfinal victory, he came in the next day to get the save in
the semis before tossing a no-hitter the following day as his team
won the championship.
At the inaugural World Baseball Classic, he went 3-0 in leading
Japan to the championship. At the 2004 Athens Olympics, Matsuzaka
shut out Cuba for eight innings.