- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 21, 2006

The recent saga involving the Boston Red Sox and Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka was a clear reminder that baseball is, perhaps above anything else, a business.

True, many fans have been intensely focused on Matsuzaka’s performance, his presence on the mound and his unique gyroball pitch, but the fact is most people were more fascinated by the drama between the Seibu Lions, the Red Sox and agent Scott Boras over his contract. Many barrels of ink were spilled on the $51 million posting fee the Red Sox paid to the Japanese club, and the six-year, $52 million contract Matsuzaka signed to play in Boston.

Of course, now the question becomes: did the Red Sox overpay for Matsuzaka, or is he a steal? The true answer won’t be known until he takes the mound, but it’s fun to speculate.

One of the more fun places to discuss player values is at ProTrade, a Web site that treats pro athletes like commodities to buy and sell. There’s no money trading hands, but the idea is that fans can sign up and build “portfolios,” competing against others in an effort to earn the most make-believe money. Many athletes have accounts themselves. ProTrade’s founders contend that their system is a very accurate way to determine how valuable a player is to his team, citing the philosophy of the “wisdom of crowds.”

ProTrade held an “initial public offering” for Matsuzaka yesterday, and it’s clear users believe he will be one of the better pitchers in baseball. As of this morning, Matsuzaka (ticker symbol: DICEK) was priced at $204.87, ranking him fifth behind Johan Santana, Jake Peavy, Chris Carpenter and Roy Oswalt. ProTrade’s internal rating system, however, marks Matsuzaka a “strong sell,” indicating they believe he is overpriced at the moment. (The company’s system projected an IPO of $171.11.) But, they acknowledge that projecting the performance of someone who has pitched in Japan all his life can be tricky.

Pro Trade member Ryan Wilkins may have articulated it best in writing:

“It’s the most compelling question facing seamheads this offseason. What do we know about this known quantity? If PROTRADE is the NASDAQ in 1995 — a market on the verge of a revolution — is DICEK the super-hyped company with a cutting-edge product and a brand new approach like Netscape? Or is he a bust in the waiting, like Garden.com?”

Comparing Daisuke Matsuzaka to Internet stocks — something tells me Abner Doubleday didn’t see this coming.

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