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Thursday, December 19
Updated: March 13, 5:36 PM ET
Godzilla deal pending on team physical news services

NEW YORK -- Japanese star Hideki Matsui and the New York Yankees reached a preliminary agreement Thursday on a $21 million, three-year contract.

Thur., Dec. 19
My gut reaction to the Hideki Matsui signing is "Who knows?"

We know he hit 50 home runs in Japan last season, but we also know he batted just .161 with no homers in 31 at-bats against major league pitchers last month.

But we also know, don't we, that 1) he won't hit 50 home runs for the Yankees, but that 2) he won't hit .161, either. Clay Davenport's research suggests that Japanese baseball is somewhere between Triple-A and the major leagues. Davenport even came up with a number: .948 (through the 2001 season), which means that a player moving from Japan to "our" major leaguers would typically perform approximately 95 percent as well here as he had in Japan.

Of course, that seems high, doesn't it? But let's say .948 doesn't work with Godzilla. Let's say the number is .748 instead. Well, ignoring the differences between the ballparks, that would still give the Yankees something like a corner outfielder with a .344 OBP and .517 slugging percentage. Which would make 1) Matsui a bargain, and 2) a lot better than what they had last year.

"I was nervous for a while because it hadn't been decided what team I would play for,'' Matsui said Friday at a news conference in Tokyo. "Now, I'm relieved and ready to give my best.

"The Yankees have a great baseball tradition and great players. It's the ballclub that would most challenge me. That's where I wanted to show my abilities.''

Matsui must pass a physical for the deal to be finalized.

"The Yankees are very fortunate to come to an understanding with one of the world's premier players," general manager Brian Cashman said. "This demonstrates our organization's commitment to identify and secure talent on a global scale."

The three-time MVP of Japan's Central League will get salaries of $6 million in 2003, $7 million in 2004 and $8 million in 2005, a baseball executive said on the condition of anonymity.

"He really wants to show he's one of the world's great players,'' said Matsui's agent, Arn Tellem. "When I first met him, he said he wanted to be on the greatest team here, he wanted to be on the team with the richest history.''

The 28-year-old Matsui becomes the second Japanese player to join the Yankees in the past several years, following Hideki Irabu, who pitched for New York from 1997-99.

Cashman spent much of Wednesday night negotiating with Matsui's agent, Arn Tellem, who was in contact with his player in Japan.

Matsui, whose nickname is "Godzilla," would be a corner outfielder for the Yankees. He has a .304 career average in Japan with 332 homers and 889 RBI in 1,268 games. He led the Central League last season with 50 homers and 107 RBI, and had the second-highest average at .334.

The three-time MVP struggled last month during an All-Star series in Japan against major leaguers, hitting just .161 (5-for-31) with no homers and two RBI.

Yomiuri executives offered Matsui a four-year, $32 million contract to stay in the Japan, but Matsui elected to follow the path of Ichiro Suzuki, who was the American League Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player with the Seattle Mariners in 2001.

Right fielder Raul Mondesi and left fielder Rondell White both struggled last season and have been mentioned in trade rumors. However, both are difficult to trade due to the size of their contracts.

With Matsui on board, it's possible the Yankees will pursue a trade that would send designated hitter/first baseman Nick Johnson to Atlanta for pitcher Kevin Millwood. The Yankees signed infielder Todd Zeile to a one-year contract and he could DH along with White or Mondesi could then take over the DH role.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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