'Mets made me feel most wanted'

Updated: December 9, 2003, 2:07 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

NEW YORK -- Kazuo Matsui arrived in New York on Monday to take a physical and complete his $20.1 million, three-year contract with New York Mets.

The Japanese star shortstop announced his decision to accept the Mets' offer during a news conference at Narita International Airport, then boarded a plane for the trip to New York.

"Last night, I thought about a lot of things and I narrowed it down to one team, and that team is the New York Mets," he said at the news conference.

He was welcomed at John F. Kennedy International Airport by Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon and New York general manager Jim Duquette.

Matsui
Matsui

While New York hasn't formally acknowledged the signing, Mets spokesman Jay Horwitz said Matsui will have a physical Tuesday and the team will have a news conference Wednesday.

In addition to his salary, Matsui's contract includes a full no-trade clause and gives him the right to become a free agent again after the 2006 season, a baseball source told The Associated Press, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

The contract includes performance and award bonuses, and the Mets will make payments for housing, transportation, plane tickets and two translators.

Matsui, protected by Port Authority police, was given flowers by the Mets upon his arrival. Accompanied by his wife and daughter, he spoke briefly outside the airport terminal, then left in a stretch limo.

"We're naturally thrilled that he's in New York, and we're looking forward to finalizing things in the next couple of days," Duquette told Matsui, according to Horwitz.

Earlier in Japan, Matsui said he also was pursued by the Anaheim Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees.

"The Mets made me feel most wanted," he said. "I'm very excited to be going to New York and am looking forward to my first year as a major leaguer."

Nicknamed "Little Matsui," the shortstop is not related to New York Yankees outfielder Hideki Matsui. Matsui is a seven-time All-Star and a three-time Golde Glove winner in Japan, hitting .305 with 33 home runs and 84 RBI last season for the Seibu Lions.

"I'm not thinking about the numbers. My first priority is to play in every game," he said. "I've got a lot of work to do. I'll be facing all new pitchers, and I have a lot of learning, but I'm looking forward to seeing how far I can go. I know there are a lot of expectations for me, and I'll just have to do my best."

The 28-year-old Matsui is a switch-hitter who led the Pacific League in stolen bases twice and was the league Most Valuable Player in 1998.

Matsui will become the first Japanese infielder to be signed by a major league team, although St. Louis outfielder So Taguchi played several games in the infield last season for the Cardinals.

He'll be joining a team that went 66-95 and finished last in the NL East for the second straight season. New York plans to move Jose Reyes, coming off his rookie season, from shortstop to second to make way for Matsui.

"I haven't been told by the team where I'll be playing," Matsui said. "I know he's a very exciting player. The most important thing is for the team to win, and I'm looking forward to working with him, regardless of where we play."

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 Florida.

Matsui's defensive skill is so highly regarded that Mets general manager Jim Duquette went to the Dominican Republic to talk to Reyes about moving to second to make room for Matsui. The Mets said Reyes was agreeable to such a shift.

Many of Japan's top players have left for the majors in recent years. Ichiro Suzuki was the 2001 AL MVP, and Hideo Nomo was the 1995 NL Rookie of the Year.

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."

Meanwhile in New York, the Mets offered salary arbitration to their captain, 43-year-old left-hander John Franco. Coming back from reconstructive elbow surgery in May 2002, Franco went 0-3 with a 2.62 ERA and two saves in 38 games.

By offering arbitration, New York extended the period to re-sign Franco through Jan. 8.

"We made enough progress in the negotiations to offer John salary arbitration," Duquette said in a statement. "We are close to finding the parameters for the structure of a deal."

In other news, the Mets agreed to a $715,000, one-year contract with Vance Wilson, their starting catcher for much of last season while Mike Piazza was injured. Wilson hit .242 with eight homers and 39 RBIs in 269 at-bats.

He made $315,000 last season and was eligible for salary arbitration for the first time.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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