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Astros sign speedy 2B Matsui to three-year, $16.5M deal

HOUSTON -- Second baseman Kaz Matsui finalized a $16.5
million, three-year contract with the Houston Astros on Sunday, a
little more than a month after helping the Colorado Rockies to
their first World Series appearance.

The 32-year-old switch-hitter batted .288 with four homers and
37 RBIs for Colorado, stealing 32 bases and scoring 84 runs -- his
best totals in the majors. Houston swiped only 65 bases this year,
the third-lowest in the NL.

General manager Ed Wade said Matsui will likely bat second,
behind speedy center fielder Michael Bourn, acquired last month
from Philadelphia.

"Kaz is an ideal fit for our club," Wade said. "Kaz runs
extremely well. He steals bases, moves runners and takes the extra
base. He plays the game the right way."

Matsui gets a $1.5 million signing bonus, payable upon approval,
and yearly salaries of $5 million. Houston will provide a
translator and a physical therapist.

In addition, Matsui has a limited no-trade provision.

"After I became a free agent, the Houston Astros very strongly
pursued me," Matsui said through a translator, "and I feel I am
needed by the Houston Astros."

The Astros committed 103 errors in 2007 and Wade said Matsui
will upgrade Houston's fielding.

"Kaz's defensive ability is outstanding," Wade said. "Being
as strong as we can be up the middle defensively is very important
to us. The addition of Kaz was very important to us."

Matsui has a .272 average in four seasons with the New York Mets
(2004-06) and Colorado (2006-07). He hit .304 with a home run in
the playoffs, including his first career grand slam in the second
game of the first-round series against the Phillies.

Matsui signed with the Mets in 2003 after nine seasons with the
Seibu Lions in Japan's Pacific League. Matsui hit .309 with 150
homers, 569 RBIs and 306 stolen bases in Japan.

In Colorado, Matsui was a teammate of former Astro
Willy Taveras, who was traded to the Rockies before last season.

"Willy Taveras told me a lot of good things about the Houston
Astros organization, the fans and the Houston media," he said.

The acquisition of Matsui would seem to mark the end of Chris Burke's career in Houston. The 27-year-old Burke made his
major-league debut with the Astros in 2004, but he was mostly
relegated to backup duty at second base behind Craig Biggio last
season. Biggio is now retired, but the addition of Matsui probably
makes Burke expendable.

Wade said he hasn't spoken to Burke about his future.

"We'll have to wait and see what exactly Chris' role is going
forward," Wade said, "or if there's an opportunity to do
something involving him in a trade that helps our club, we'd
certainly try to see what's out there as well."