[SPORTS] Yankees Signs Japan's Matsui
- Matsui Agrees to 3-Year Contract With Yankees
By TYLER KEPNER
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
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
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."