NEW YORK -- Japanese star Kazuo Matsui has decided to join
the New York Mets, with the deal already done, ESPN's Peter Gammons reports.
The deal, according to Gammons, is for three years worth $6.7 million annually.
Media outlets in Japan also are reporting that Matsui will sign with the Mets. The shortstop was expected to announce his decision at a news conference Monday (1:30 a.m. ET), Japan's Kyodo news agency reported. Public
broadcaster NHK also reported that Matsui was headed to the Mets.
Neither cited any sources.
Arn Tellem, declined comment.
A baseball official with knowledge of the Mets negotiations,
speaking to The Associated Press on the condition he not be
identified, said the team had not been notified of Matsui's
"It's a fact that I'm negotiating with the Mets," Matsui said
earlier Sunday. "I'm in the process of selecting a team from the
four I'm talking to."
A high-ranking Mets official told the Newark Star-Ledger on Friday, "We're very close" to signing Matsui to a reported three-year contract for a guaranteed $20 million. The New York Post reported that the Mets have offered Matsui a $23 million deal.
While insistiing he's still considering four teams, Matsui declined to name the other three besides the Mets. Reports, however, are that the Yankees, Dodgers and Angels are in the running.
The Dodgers had been the Mets' chief rival for Matsui -- but Los Angeles general manager Dan Evans confirmed to the New York Post on Friday that Matsui was not a top priority and that "there are other things we're exploring."
L.A. and Anaheim reportedly aren't ready to offer near the kind of money the Mets are, and the Yankees can't offer Matsui the shortstop job. The Mets, meanwhile, are prepared to move young shortstop Jose Reyes to second base to clear space for Matsui.
The Mets didn't think they were likely to hear an answer until
Sunday or Monday, the official said, adding that the time
difference between the United States and Japan complicated the
Nicknamed "Little Matsui," Kaz Matsui is a seven-time
All-Star and a three-time Golden Glove winner in Japan, hitting
.305 with 33 home runs and 84 RBI last season for the Seibu Lions.
New York is being extremely careful about the closing stages of
the deal after its experience last year with Norihiro Nakamura. The
Mets had an agreement in principle with the third baseman, and he
even took a physical and passed it. But the free agent then changed
his mind and stayed with the Kintetsu Buffaloes of Japan's Pacific
Kaz Matsui became a free agent after last season and said he
wanted to play in the majors. He traveled to New York and watched a
playoff game between Boston and New York at Yankee Stadium.
The Mets were so eager to get him that they did not seem too
concerned when free-agent second baseman Luis Castillo -- whom they
had pursued -- decided to re-sign with World Series champion
Matsui's defensive skill is so highly regarded that Mets general
manager Jim Duquette went to the Dominican Republic to talk to
young shortstop Jose Reyes about moving to second base to make room
for Matsui. The Mets said Reyes was agreeable to such a shift.
The 28-year-old Matsui is a switch-hitter who led the Pacific
League in stolen bases twice and was the league MVP in 1998.
Matsui is a rare talent with power, speed and great defense up the middle. Suzuki has even said that Matsui is faster than he is.
"It's hard to believe, but I would agree," Royals hurler Darrell May, who faced Little Matsui in Japan back in 2000, told the New York Post. "The thing I remember liking about him is he was a smaller guy who had some pop, but he didn't try to swing as hard as he could every time. He just put the ball on the ground and used his speed."
In other news, Duquette said the Mets had declined to offer
salary arbitration to right-hander Pedro Astacio, second baseman
Jay Bell and first baseman Tony Clark. The three, who filed for
free agency, can't re-sign with New York until May 1.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.