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[SPORTS] Yankees Signs Japan's Matsui

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  • madchinaman
    Matsui Agrees to 3-Year Contract With Yankees By TYLER KEPNER http://www.nytimes.com/2002/12/20/sports/baseball/20YANK.html Long before the message flashed
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 19, 2002
      Matsui Agrees to 3-Year Contract With Yankees
      By TYLER KEPNER
      http://www.nytimes.com/2002/12/20/sports/baseball/20YANK.html

      Long before the message flashed across the screen, the Yankees were
      very interested in Matsui. As the most famous player in Japan, he
      needed no introduction. The Yankees wanted him badly, for his skills
      on the field and his appeal off it. Yesterday, they got him.

      Matsui agreed to a three-year, $21 million contract, contingent on
      his passing a physical next month. Matsui, a 28-year-old outfielder
      known as Godzilla, will be paid $6 million next season, $7 million in
      2004 and $8 million in 2005.

      In choosing the Yankees over the Baltimore Orioles and the Mets,
      Matsui leaves the most storied Japanese franchise, the Yomiuri
      Giants, for its American equivalent. The Yankees were his first
      choice all along, but he had conditions.

      According to a person familiar with the negotiations, Matsui insisted
      on having the contract be for only three years. The Yankees wanted to
      include an option year but abandoned the idea late in the talks
      because of Matsui's desire to be a free agent after three years.
      Matsui was even willing to give up potential bonuses in return for
      the Yankees' allowing him to be a free agent after three years.


      For Matsui to do that — instead of waiting six years, as the rules
      require — the Yankees could take other steps, including not tendering
      him a contract after the third season.

      Matsui is not the first elite Japanese hitter to sign with a major
      league team, but he is the first power hitter to make the jump. The
      Yankees believe he can do it.

      "From our viewpoint, he's one of the few people over there that
      swings the bat similar to what we teach over here, and what we're
      looking for," said John Cox, the Yankees' coordinator of Pacific Rim
      scouting. "He uses his hands, keeps his right shoulder in, and he's
      not flying off the ball like you see Ichiro do. He's not that type of
      hitter."

      Those who have seen Matsui stress how different he is from Ichiro
      Suzuki, who has had great success with a more traditional Japanese
      hitting technique. In 2001, his first season with the Seattle
      Mariners, Suzuki won the American League Most Valuable Player award,
      slashing singles and doubles and almost stepping out of the batter's
      box when swinging the bat while dashing to first.

      Matsui is a far more disciplined hitter. At 6 feet 1 inch and 209
      pounds, he is a thick masher who led Japan's Central League in on-
      base percentage (.461) and slugging percentage (.692).

      "He's definitely more of a U.S. hitter," said Mark Johnson, the
      former Mets first baseman who played against Matsui in Japan. "He
      doesn't drift. He stays back and rotates, a lot like Barry Bonds. He
      really lets the ball come to him. He's not like Ichiro, who glides
      into the ball and slaps it around."

      Shortly after leading the Giants to the Japan Series championship,
      Matsui declared his free agency and said he wanted to play for an
      American team. He might have earned $10 million a year in Japan, but
      his Yankees contract does give him a raise from last season, when he
      made $5 million.

      It is an expensive commitment for the Yankees, who were burned by
      their last foray into Japan — the overweight, underachieving pitcher
      Hideki Irabu — and are trying to cut payroll. Matsui will displace
      Rondell White in left field or Raul Mondesi in right, and the Yankees
      were comfortable making the deal before trading those players.

      The Yankees owe $5 million to White, $7 million to Mondesi. They
      would gladly trade either, but it may make more sense to keep Mondesi
      than White. Mondesi has a strong arm and could stay in right while
      Matsui, whose arm is only average, plays left.

      Cox said Matsui has excellent instincts in the field and a quick
      release when he throws. But offense is his strength.

      "He makes contact," Cox said. "He's got plus power and he can take a
      pitch. He's got a good idea of the strike zone. He's just a very good
      hitter."

      The deal goes beyond baseball. The Yankees and the Giants have a new
      working agreement, an informal arrangement in which the teams
      exchange ideas and scouting information and share facilities.

      The Yankees maintained that their association with the Giants would
      not give them an edge in negotiations with Matsui, and yesterday they
      emphasized that there were no inherent financial gains by signing him.

      Lonn Trost, the Yankees' chief operating officer, said that the
      Yankees and the YES Network could not make side deals to broadcast
      games in Japan, and that any revenues from the sales of Yankees
      merchandise would go into a central fund split by all teams. But the
      Yankees clearly expect Matsui to broaden their fan base and
      attractiveness to advertisers.

      "When you look at how small the world has become, you look at
      Atlantic City and Las Vegas and you see a substantial number of
      people from foreign countries," Trost said.

      "I would hope that we would be a destination for more people, and our
      ticket sales would go up. When ticket sales go up, I would hope that
      companies dedicated to Japanese customers would have advertising here
      that we'd be able to benefit from."
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