Everyone seems blown away by the fact that the Red Sox just bid $51 million for the exclusive right to negotiate a contract with Japanese superstar pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka. Setting aside the question of how good he's going to be, let me explain why the new Boston hurler is merely a metaphor for the fine ride to the left, the 2008 Nissan Skyline GT-R.
It's only been available in Japan.
We Americans have trouble looking past our borders (unless we're at war or trying to build a fence to keep out Mexicans). Imagine if Ferraris weren't sold in the U.S. They might have the same cachet and name recognition, but I doubt it. The Skyline GT-R has only been sold as a right-hand drive model, so it's never made its way over here. Matsuzaka has pitched his entire career in the Japanese Pacific League, that country's equivalent of our MLB. (He never pitched in the minor leagues.) So you hadn't heard of Matsuzaka before ESPN started hyping him. That doesn't mean he didn't exist.
The statistics are undeniable.
Over the last four years, Matsuzaka's put up numbers in the Pacific League that compare to the 2003-2006 version of Roger Clemens, the 2004 NL Cy Young winner and 2005 ERA champ (1.87!). The Skyline GT-R will have a 450-horsepower twin-turbo V6 driving the rear wheels and a suspension tuned by Lotus. That's about 100 more horses than the BMW 650i.
It's been around a really long time.
Even though it's never been brought to American shores, the Skyline GT-R has actually been around since 1969. That's not as old as the Corvette, which debuted in 1953, but it's only five years younger than the Mustang, a car Ford just redesigned with retro styling cues. Matsuzaka has been a national hero in Japan since 1998, when he threw 250 pitches to notch the win in a quarterfinal game of the Japanese high school baseball tournament (think March Madness, now mulitply national interest by 17). In the semi, Matsuzaka played the outfield but got a save. In the final, he threw a freakin' no-hitter. The next year, he won the rookie of the year as a 19-year-old in the Japanese major leagues. Dwight Gooden was 20 when he won the NL award in 1985.
It opens up an entirely new market.
Sure, the Red Sox need a quality starter after their 2006 rotation of Schilling, Beckett, Clement, Wakefield and Wells didn't work out. Of course, Boston's ultrahigh bid was designed to fend off the Yankees. But more than anything else, this deal is about generating Japanese interest in the Red Sox. Of course there are stadium advertisements in the Bronx and Seattle, where Hideki Matsui and Ichiro! play, respectively. But have you noticed the Japanese ads in Toronto? The Yankees come through less than 20 times a year, but some company's paid to get its name in Skydome (or whatever they're calling it these days) just so it can be televised on the Yankee games broadcast back in Japan. Boston wants a piece of that, no doubt.
The same goes for the Skyline GT-R. Nissan sees an opportunity to get in on the luxury sport coupe market dominated by the likes of BMW, Mercedes, Jaguar and Porsche. And note that the Skyline will be sold as a Nissan not an Infiniti (Nissan's upscale brand), as Nissan looks for a "halo car" to bring deeper pockets into its showrooms.
It's expensive, but worth it.
The MSRP on a z06 Corvette (the exclusive, high-powered version) is $70,000. Nissan plans to price the Skyline GT-R at $65,000. For those with the cash, the 2008 model will outperform the Z06 and a Porsche 911 Turbo while lending the exclusivity that an entirely new car can bring.
When the Sox sign Matsuzaka to the five-year, $75 million contract people expect Scott Boras to negotiate, the pitcher's total cost including the bid will be the same $25 million/year that everyone's favorite punching bag Alex Rodriguez makes with the Yankees. There's a reason A-Rod earned such a large contract: He was a Gold Glove-quality shortstop with unprecedented hitting skills (for the position) coming into his prime. Despite complaints about Rodriguez's lack of "clutchness," the numbers he's put up each year justify his high salary. Middle infielders - even if the Yankees play him at 3B - who hit 35+ home runs every year are not widely available. The Red Sox see Matsuzaka the same way. He's a Cy-Young quality pitcher just entering his prime, with the added bonus of a marketing gold mine to come.
Do I wish the Mets, who finished second with a bid of $39 to $40 million, had won Matsuzaka instead? Yes. Would I rather have a new Skyline GT-R parked in my garage? Yeah, I think I would.