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Daisuke Matsuzaka to return to Japan for 2015 season

After eight up-and-down years in the U.S., Daisuke Matsuzaka will be returning to the land of his birth to play baseball

"Sometimes we have so much to say, we cannot say it. Sometimes it's best we do not say goodbyes."
"Sometimes we have so much to say, we cannot say it. Sometimes it's best we do not say goodbyes."
Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

On November 2nd, 2006, the Seibu Lions made Daisuke Matsuzaka available to pursue a career in Major League Baseball via the posting system. Since debuting for the Lions as an 18-year-old, Matsuzaka proved himself to be one of the premier pitches in the Land of the Rising Sun, posting a 2.95 ERA over 1402.2 innings between his rookie season in 1999 and his final season with Seibu in 2006. Among his many accolades was the Pacific League Rookie of the Year Award (1999), an Eiji Sawamura Award (2001), three NPB Best Nine: Pitcher Awards (1999-2001), seven Mitsui Golden Glove Awards (1999-2001, 2003-2006), and six All-Star selections (1999-2001, 2004-2006). Roughly two weeks after being made availible, the Boston Red Sox shocked the world by submitting a bid of $51,111,111.11 for the right-handed ace, considerably outbidding the Texas Rangers, New York Mets and New York Yankees. After some tense negotiating with Matsuzaka's agent, Scott Boras, the two sides agreed to a six-year, $52 million contract.

Matsuzaka made his much-anticipated debut on April 5th, 2007, against the Kansas City Royals. Widely recognized as both the number one prospect in Major League Baseball, Dice-K did not disappoint that afternoon, allowing one run over seven innings while walking one and racking up ten strikeouts. While he might not have been as dominant over the course of the season, he finished his rookie year with a serviceable 4.40 ERA (108 ERA+) over 204.2 innings, and placed fourth in the American League Rookie of the Year voting, losing out to teammate Dustin Pedroia.

The 27-year-old won 18 games in his sophomore year, the most on the team that year. While Matsuzaka looked a lot more impressive, posting a 2.90 ERA (160 ERA+) and holding batters to an AL-leading .211 batting average, a red flag that would impact the rest of his career in the U.S. manifested itself that season- an inability to control his pitches. While the Japanese-born pitcher commented on having to get used to the MLB standard ball back in 2007, he was able to maintain a respectable 3.5 BB/9 rate. In 2008, his walk rate ballooned to a 5.0 BB/9, as he ended the year walking a Major League leading 94 batters in 167.2 innings.

In 2009, Matsuzaka decided to pitch for Samurai Japan in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. Though the Red Sox were concerned about his participation, they allowed their Cy Young candidate to play in the tournament. Though Dice-K pitched brilliantly for Samurai Japan, winning the tournament MVP honors thanks to a  3-0 record with a 2.45 ERA in 14.2 innings, he struggled when he was on the mound for Boston thanks to an injury in his hip that led to two lengthy DL trips.

Injury and ineffectiveness would mar the rest of Matsuzaka's career with Boston. After facing neck problems in 2010 and elbow problems in 2011, the Red Sox announced that their star import would be undergoing Tommy John Surgery in June 2011. He made his return to baseball almost one year to the day, on June 9th, 2012, but was mostly ineffective. At the end of the season, Matsuzaka became a free agent. All in all, while he failed to live up to lofty expectations, the right-hander was mostly worth his contract, accruing 10.4 fWAR/9.2 rWAR in 668.1 innings pitched- the $51 million posting fee, however, is another story.

In February 2013, Dice-K agreed to a minor league contract with the Cleveland Indians, and was assigned to their AAA affiliate, the Columbus Clippers. He made 19 starts with them, and was fairly effective, posting a 3.93 ERA, a strong 8.3 K/9 rate, but most importantly, a passable 3.4 BB/9 rate. He asked for his release in August, so that he could sign an MLB-guaranteed deal with another club, and two days after being granted it, was signed by the Mets, who immediately plugged him into their starting rotation. Though he was slow to get out of the gate with the Mets, allowing 15 earned runs in his first three starts, Dice-K ended the season strong, posting a 1.37 ERA in his next four.

In January 2014, he and the Mets agreed to a one-year minor league contract. By the time opening day arrived, Dice-K was competing with Jenrry Mejia and John Lannan for the final spot in the Mets' starting rotation. Though Matsuzaka lost, he had his contract purchased by the Mets in mid-April, replacing John Lannan on the roster. Pitching as a dedicated reliever with the occasional spot start, the 34-year-old found success. Through the first half of the season, he posted a solid 3.55 ERA in 71 innings. Injury marred his second half, limiting him to only 12 innings and putting his MLB future in doubt.

Though the market for his services in the U.S. was extremely thin, numerous teams in his native Japan began courting him, the NPB champion Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks and the Yokohama DeNA Baystars primary among them. In the end, Dice-K decided to go with the reigning champions, who extended a three or four-year, ¥1.6 billion (roughly $13.5 million) deal and offered the former Sawamura Award winner the uniform number ‘18'- considered an auspicious number denoting a team's ace (though the Hawks certainly have one in Tadashi Settsu).

The Hawks are planning to announce the deal officially in early December, bringing to a likely end Daisuke Matsuzaka's baseball career in the United States. Over the eight years he spent playing ball here, the right-hander went 56-43, posting a 4.45 ERA (99 ERA+) in 790.1 innings with a 4.4 BB/9 and 8.2 K/9, accruing 10.5 fWAR/9.3 rWAR.