- Jon Greenberg, Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Kenny Williams strode through the hall on Wednesday with a determined look on his face.
That's nothing new. The White Sox general manager would look determined doing a People Magazine crossword puzzle.
Because he was 10 minutes late, for which he apologized, Williams aroused suspicions that he was close to a deal. The 20 Japanese reporters decamped to grill Williams on his interest in Hideki Matsui.
"So," a Chicago reporter asked Williams jokingly, "Are you re-signing [former Sox reliever] Shingo [Takatsu]?"
The Godzilla in the room had been broached. Matsui to the White Sox? Stranger things have been rumored, but Williams likes to make his moves in private. As of early Wednesday evening, no deal had been announced, and Williams wasn't particularly happy. While he said he didn't come to Indianapolis to fill a big grocery list, Williams likes shopping.
"All I've said is he's a great player," Williams said. "I never said we're pursuing him. But I never said we're not pursuing him. I don't know how the rest of the offseason will develop. There has been more interest reported than we have pursued recently."
Williams, who said he wishes more deals were done at another sluggish winter meetings, folded his arms and glowered at the table during his Chicago-only presser, possibly upset at a reporter for making the White Sox's interest in free-agent reliever J.J. Putz public knowledge. His first three answers were "yes."
"We thought we had something going on, but like I've told you guys a million times before, when things become public, to a large degree, the entire game changes and more times than not, you're not going to get a deal,'' Williams said. "So, something we thought we might be a little closer on becomes public, and now it's not so close.''
After he was done with his Chicago reporters, Williams patiently met with the Japanese contingent, giving them ample time to question him on his interest in Matsui. He gave the same answers, but he played a little more to the cameras.
When a reporter asked him about going to Matsui's workout in California, Williams joked, "Is it in Palm Springs? Is it in L.A.?
Do I get a vacation out of it?"
The reporter, to his credit, replied, "I think you know where it is."
At least one reporter wondered if Williams' friendliness with a large group of unfamiliar reporters hinted at his willingness to sign Matsui as well as his organization's fiscal desire to appeal to the Japanese market, where Matsui is beloved.
"It would be lots and lots of money," said Naoko Sato, a Chicago-based reporter for Nikkan Sports News. "Mucho dinero."
What she's referring to are the marketing and advertising opportunities available when your games are broadcast in Japan. Matsui is one of the most popular players in Japan and his games get major air time. If Godzilla signed with the White Sox, the marketing opportunities would pay for a good portion of his annual contract.
Since the White Sox were worried last season about the upcoming cessation of several big advertising deals, expanding the Sox's reach to Japan would seem like a no-brainer.
But the tail doesn't wag the dog, so Williams and Matsui's agent, Arn Tellem, would have to agree on terms, and the Yankees would have to pass on Matsui, who told Japanese reporters that he would give the World Series champs the first crack at re-signing him. But at the same time, he still wants an opportunity to be in the lineup every day and to play the field some.
Matsui told the Japanese reporters that he wanted to play for the White Sox, though, and if reports are accurate that his balky knee could hold up under stress while playing the outfield a couple times a week.
According to Japanese reporters, Matsui claims his left knee has been checked out and is healthy enough to play the outfield as well as DH.
Williams said he hasn't asked for Matsui's medical records, of course, because he never said he's interested. But if he were interested, he's not uninformed.
"I understand what I'm dealing with," Williams said, noting that when he's serious about signing a guy, "I know what he had for a breakfast."
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com
7hEthan Sherwood Strauss