The market price for pitching talent is soaring so high that it's come to this: The Boston Red Sox are ready to pay more than $50 million just for the right to negotiate with Daisuke Matsuzaka, who's never thrown his "gyroball" -- or any pitch, for that matter -- in the major leagues.
The $51.1 million winning bid is only the start. Now the Red Sox have 30 days to finalize a contract with the Japanese ace.
Making a record-setting bid that easily blew away offers from the New York Yankees, Mets and others, the Red Sox won the auction Tuesday for the World Baseball Classic MVP.
"We have long admired Mr. Matsuzaka's abilities and believe he would be a great fit with the Red Sox organization," Boston general manager Theo Epstein said. "Clearly, we believe Mr. Matsuzaka is a real talent."
And they're prepared to pay big money for him -- the previous high bid for a posted player from Japan was $13,125,000 by the Seattle Mariners for Ichiro Suzuki after the 2000 season.
"The one reflection it does have is the demand in the marketplace for someone who is that good, that young and that visible," said agent Scott Boras, who represents the 26-year-old Matsuzaka.
Speculation about what it will take for Boston to sign Matsuzaka has ranged from $7 million to $10 million annually over three to four years.
The Seibu Lions of Japan's Pacific League announced they had accepted the high bid for their prized pitcher, and the major league commissioner's office simultaneously confirmed at the general managers' meetings that the Red Sox had made the offer.
If the Red Sox and Matsuzaka can agree to a deal by midnight on Dec. 14, the right-hander would join a talented rotation that already includes Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett and converted closer Jonathan Papelbon.
"We're excited to have won this part of the process and we're hopeful we can reach an agreement," Epstein said.
After missing the playoffs last season, Boston outbid its longtime rival this time.
Epstein said the team would invite Boras, Matsuzaka and his family to Boston to begin negotiations. Boras said the sides planned to set up a meeting soon, but wasn't sure whether it would be in Boston, Japan or California.
"The Red Sox are a team that has a long history, great fans and a great atmosphere," Matsuzaka said at the Tokyo airport before boarding a plane for the United States.
Matsuzaka was 17-5 with a 2.13 ERA and 200 strikeouts for the Lions this year. He throws in the high-90s mph, has good off-speed pitches and is known for his deceptive "gyroball," which has been likened to a screwball.
"Because he throws 95 miles an hour and he has four pitches, he is the player who comes here with a résumé that transfers," Boras said.
"Daisuke is someone who dominated in Japan and in the WBC, and I think it reflected the fact that a major league team knew that someone of his abilities could have a great impact on their goals," he said.
In assessing the amount of Boston's bid, Boras compared Matsuzaka's allure to what outfielder Hideki Matsui has brought to the Yankees.
"It's the value of a No. 1 starter. It's much like Matsui and the Yankees," Boras said. "It shows the value of a player like this. He brings advertising dollars. He brings a network presence in Japan."
Unlike Matsui, Matsuzaka was not yet eligible for free agency.
For selling their star pitcher, the Lions would get the $51.1 million from Boston -- but only if the Red Sox sign Matsuzaka.
The Mets finished second with a bid between $39 million and $40 million, according to a baseball official who spoke on condition of anonymity because none of the losing bids were revealed. The Yankees bid between $32 million and $33 million, another baseball official said.
Matsuzaka was scheduled to fly to the United States on Wednesday and give a brief news conference at the airport.
Even before the Matsuzaka announcement, general managers had assumed Boston would be the highest bidder in the blind process.
"We'll congratulate the winner and move on," New York Yankees GM Brian Cashman said Tuesday afternoon.
The Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers also were thought to be among the bidders.
"I'm very comfortable with the bid that we made," Mets general manager Omar Minaya said, sidestepping whether he would have topped Boston's offer now that he knew what it was.
Bidding closes Friday for Akinori Iwamura, a third baseman with the Central League's Yakult Swallows, but sources told ESPN's Peter Gammons that Tampa Bay Devil Rays have posted a winning bid of $4.5 million for the rights to negotiate with Iwamura. Iwamura, 27, batted .312 with 32 homers for Yakult in 2006.
Before the Matsuzaka announcement, agents roamed the hotel lobby, discussing their free-agent clients.
"Pitching, as usual, is at a premium," Boras said.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.