- Jayson Stark, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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The Los Angeles Angels are in serious discussions with Hideki Matsui about supplanting Vladimir Guerrero as their designated hitter, a source familiar with the team's thinking told ESPN.com on Monday.
A league source told ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney that the Angels and Matsui were closing in on a one-year deal for about $6.5 million.
The Associated Press reported later Monday that the two sides had reached a preliminary agreement.
In an e-mail to 1050 ESPN New York's Andrew Marchand, Matsui's agent, Arn Tellem, wrote: "I can confirm that we are in serious discussions with the Angels. I have no further comment."
Matsui's father, Masao, told Japanese television in an interview that his son and the Angels had agreed on a deal.
"I feel relieved," Masao Matsui said. "I didn't think it
would be decided so quickly. I'm eager to see his play in a new
environment and can't wait to see the new Matsui."
The 35-year-old Matsui had hoped to return to the Yankees after a season in which he hit 28 home runs and eventually became the World Series MVP. However, the Yankees appear to be prioritizing left field and starting pitching, leaving Matsui as a Plan C option. So the talks with the Angels indicate he wasn't prepared to wait any longer for the Yankees to determine whether to pursue him.
If the Angels sign Matsui, it would close the door on Guerrero's six-year run as an Angel, where he won an MVP award in 2004 and had two other top-three MVP finishes. Guerrero, who turns 34 next February, also is a free agent. But lower-leg injuries limited him to just 383 at-bats, 15 homers and only two games in the outfield last season.
Matsui has spent all seven years of his career on this side of the Pacific with the Yankees. He initially signed a three-year, $21 million deal in December of 2002. The Yankees then signed him to a four-year, $52 million extension that ran through 2009.
In those seven seasons, Matsui backed up his international reputation as a guy who loved to hit with men on base. He drove in at least 100 runs four times and hit .292 or better with runners in scoring position five times.
The Yankees were reluctant to bring him back, however, because they no longer felt he could play the field. This was the first season of Matsui's career in which he played no games in the outfield.
The Angels hadn't been linked to Matsui because previous indications were that pitching was their No. 1 priority this winter. They spoke with the agent for free agent Jason Bay at the winter meetings. But one source indicated afterward that Bay wasn't on their radar screen "at all" despite that conversation.
Matsui would be the second Yankee in the last two offseasons to sign a one-year free-agent deal with the Angels. They signed Bobby Abreu last winter, then extended him for two years after this season.
Jayson Stark covers Major League Baseball for ESPN.com. Information from Reuters and The Associated Press was used in this report.