NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. (AP) – Scott Boras, the agent for Daisuke Matsuzaka, said lengthy meetings with Boston Red Sox executives were planned as the parties try to work out a deal with the Japanese pitcher before a Thursday night deadline.

Speaking at his office building some 45 miles south of Los Angeles, Boras wouldn’t comment directly on the negotiations, but did say Matsuzaka “is worth well in excess of $100 million.”

The 26-year-old right-hander didn’t join his agent for the news conference.

“In Japan, he’s known as the national treasure,” Boras told some three dozen media representatives – nearly all representing Japanese outlets. “Here, he will be known as Fort Knox.”

Boras said Red Sox principal owner John Henry, team president Larry Lucchino, and general manager Theo Epstein have traveled to Southern California to take part in the negotiations.

A major sticking point is the record $51.11 million bid the Red Sox submitted to the Seibu Lions for Matsuzaka’s services. The Red Sox submitted the bid last month, and were given 30 days to sign him.

The deadline is Thursday at midnight (EST), and if no agreement is reached, Matsuzaka returns to the Lions for another season before he can be posted again.

If a deal isn’t struck, the Red Sox keep their money.

“The posting fee represents the problem,” Boras said. “It’s historic, it’s new, it’s something that’s never been done. How do you reflect value in a posting fee in an appropriate contract for a player?

“In the American system, no player is asked to reduce their salaries for luxury tax purposes.”

Should the parties agree on a contract worth $100 million, for example, the Red Sox would actually be paying $151.11 million because they must pay the entire posting fee to the Lions.

“One thing is clear – D-Mat will someday be a major league player,” Boras said.

“We have further negotiating to do. The deadline’s not here in five minutes. The parties do understand what this player’s value is in the free-agent system.”

Boras said he planned to meet with the Red Sox executives later Monday night and all day Tuesday.

“The progress is something I’m not going to comment on,” he said. “I’m not going to characterize the negotiations. This is not a customary negotiation. The question is, with a posting fee, how do you handle that?”

Boras said the decision whether Matsuzaka will join the Red Sox or return to Japan will be made by his client, who earned MVP honors after pitching Japan to the championship of the inaugural World Baseball Classic last March.

Matsuzaka has a 108-60 career record in Japan with a 2.95 ERA and 1,355 strikeouts in 204 games.

“This decision is going to be Daisuke’s, he has to make the call,” Boras said.

Boras said Matsuzaka, who flew into Southern California on Saturday, has been throwing and working out for three to four hours a day.

When asked why he called a news conference, Boras smiled and replied: “I think this is the American way.”

AP-ES-12-11-06 2318EST

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