Advertisement

Will They Look to East for Next Ace?

Times Staff Writer

For the Dodgers, this could be the $70-million question this winter: Daisuke Matsuzaka or Barry Zito?

Matsuzaka could be the most intriguing pitcher available in free agency, if he’s available. Matsuzaka, 25, the most valuable player of the World Baseball Classic, would like to jump from Japan’s Seibu Lions to the majors. However, because he is not eligible for free agency, he must ask Seibu to auction him among major league clubs.

If Seibu agrees -- and that is by no means guaranteed -- the highest bidder would buy negotiating rights from the Lions, then negotiate a contract with Matsuzaka. In 2002, the Dodgers paid $11.3 million to the Yakult Swallows for the rights to Kazuhisa Ishii, then signed him to a four-year, $12.3-million contract.

With the New York Yankees and Seattle Mariners eager to bid and the Angels interested as well, the rights fee for Matsuzaka could be two to three times more than the one for Ishii. And, to negotiate his contract, Matsuzaka reportedly has retained agent Scott Boras. Zito, the Oakland ace and pending free agent, also is represented by Boras.

Advertisement

The Dodgers are interested in Matsuzaka, a club official said Saturday, but are not likely to wage a bidding war for him.

“I’m just a player, but I would recommend the Dodgers take him,” said Dodgers closer Takashi Saito, in his first season in the U.S. after 14 seasons in Japan. “He’s a great, great player.”

*

Rookie Chad Billingsley, whose high pitch counts have taxed the Dodgers’ bullpen and patience, met behind closed doors with Manager Grady Little and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt. Billingsley is not in danger of getting sent back to the minor leagues, Little said, but his spot in the rotation is in jeopardy.

Advertisement

“He’s going to pitch Tuesday,” Little said. “What happens after that, we’re not sure yet.”

Said Honeycutt: “The responsibility of a starting pitcher is to get as deep into the game as you can. It’s not just pitching five innings. It’s being able to make those adjustments.”

Billingsley has averaged 5 2/3 innings and 100 pitches per start. He said he has been “wasting pitches” by getting ahead in the count, then throwing pitches that would not tempt even the most aggressive hitters and ending up with a full count.

“You’ve got to know when to pitch to contact and when to pitch away from contact,” Honeycutt said. “You can’t pitch away from contact all the time.”

Advertisement

*

The Dodgers purchased the contract of veteran catcher Einar Diaz from triple-A Buffalo and sent him to triple-A Las Vegas. Diaz, 33, offers the Dodgers an experienced backup in case of injury to Russell Martin or Toby Hall and a third catcher when rosters expand in September. ... Outfielder Kenny Lofton made $50,000 on Thursday, with his 350th plate appearance. Lofton’s one-year contract includes a base salary of $3.5 million, a signing bonus of $350,000 and incentive bonuses of $50,000 at 350, 400 and 450 plate appearances.


Advertisement
Advertisement