"Just didn't want to create any unrealistic expectations, thought it was respectful to tell them," said Indians manager Terry Francona, who gave the same news to reliever Matt Capps, among others, as the team pared down its roster.
Matsuzaka was told he can stay in spring training with the Indians, but won't join the team in Cleveland when camp breaks.
Harsh reality: The illustrious Dice-K will be a two-time World Baseball Classic MVP and Japanese hero pitching for the Triple-A Columbus Clippers of the International League.
"I had expected most of what's happened over the last day or two," Matsuzaka said Monday afternoon through his interpreter Jeff Cutler. "There's no surprises there. I've been able to come to terms with what we spoke about this morning."
He said later: "This is not the end. This is definitely not the end."
The 32-year-old won 15 games in 2007 and 18 in 2008 after signing a six-year, $52 million contract that followed a $51 million posting fee. Last season, however, Dice-K was only 1-7 with a 8.28 ERA coming off Tommy John surgery. He signed a minor-league contract with the Indians in February worth $1.5 million and potentially $4 million with incentives. By joining the Indians, he was reunited with Francona, his ex-Red Sox manager.
Under baseball's collective bargaining agreement, a player with six years of service time who signs a minor-league contract is eligible for an additional $100,000 retention bonus if sent down. He's also able to opt out of his contract on June 1 if still in the minors. Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said the team will now "talk logistics" with Dice K's agent Scott Boras. The pitcher could have elected to skip the $100,000 retention bonus (and Triple-A) and become a free agent again on March 26.
Asked if he had thought about returning to Japan or trying to find another MLB team, Matsuzaka said, "Not at all."
"It's not realistic that he's ready," Francona said, continuing that the team is not "seeing yet what we want to see, what we think we can see, as a pitcher. Or what he thinks he can show as pitcher."
Added Dice-K: "Having Tito here is big. In speaking with Tito and Chris this morning, they told me that they want me on this club and they see me on this club. Having heard that directly from them, definitely made me feel comfortable staying here."
The Indians have a fight for the fifth spot in the pitching rotation that Matsuzaka obviously wasn't going to win. Scott Kazmir, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer and Corey Kluber are all in the mix, with Kazmir the favorite at this point.
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Francona leaned on an old manager's adage: You can never have too much pitching.
"When you think you have enough pitching, go get more," Francona said. "That's the one way you can derail your season by not having enough pitching. You never know when you're going to need more."
And that is why it never hurts to have a guy like Dice-K waiting in Triple-A.
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