BOSTON (AP) – The Red Sox shaky rotation may become spectacular.

If they sign Japanese star Daisuke Matsuzaka after winning negotiating rights to him Tuesday night, he should fit nicely into a rotation that likely would include two other power-pitching right-handers who will be 26 when the season starts – Josh Beckett and Jonathan Papelbon – and veterans Curt Schilling and Tim Wakefield.

They acquired the rights to Matsuzaka, who spent the last eight seasons with the Seibu Lions, by offering that team $51.1 million. If the Red Sox don’t reach a contract agreement in the next 30 days with Matsuzaka, who is represented by Scott Boras, they would get the money back and Matsuzaka would return to Seibu for 2007.

“We’re very pleased and excited. We’ve long admired Mr. Matsuzaka,” Boston general manager Theo Epstein said. “Matsuzaka has a real talent. He would be a great fit with the Red Sox organization.

“We’re excited to have won this part of the process. We’re hopeful we can reach an agreement.”

Matsuzaka was named most valuable player in the inaugural World Baseball Classic last March and started the championship game in which Japan beat Cuba. He also participated in two Olympic Games for Japan.

During this year’s Pacific League season with Seibu, he was 17-5 with a 2.13 ERA. In 186 1-3 innings, he struck out 200 batters.

Earlier this month, Epstein cited a starting pitcher of one of many needs the team has going into its third season since winning its first World Series in 86 years in 2004. He also praised veteran Julian Tavarez, who pitched very well down the stretch as a starter after spending most of the season pitching inconsistently out of the bullpen.

“More than likely we’ll acquire a starting pitcher and Julian will be back in the setup role in the bullpen,” Epstein said at the time.

The Red Sox began last spring training with seven potential starters but ended the season with a lack of depth in the rotation. Schilling, who has said he will retire after the 2007 season, was 15-7 with a 3.97 ERA. Beckett, in his first season in the AL since being acquired from Florida, was 16-11 but had a 5.01 ERA.

Two potential starters left the rotation when Boston traded Bronson Arroyo to Cincinnati in spring training and turned Papelbon into a closer early in the season. Epstein said after the season that Papelbon would become a starter in 2007. Starters David Wells and Matt Clement missed considerable time with injuries.

Jon Lester, a promising left-hander who went 7-2 after being called up in early June, is being treated for anaplastic large cell lymphoma, a type of cancer that forms in the body’s lymph system.

Manager Terry Francona, limited by privacy issues, said early this month that “the only thing I think I’d feel comfortable saying is his spirit is unbelievably positive and I think he’s doing fantastic.”

Lester’s return to full strength would be another boost for the club.

“I don’t care how many home runs you hit,” former Red Sox pitching star Luis Tiant, who still works in a public relations capacity for the team, said Tuesday night, “If you don’t have any pitching when you need it to stop the offense, you’re not going to win.”

AP-ES-11-14-06 2132EST



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