At The Trop, Matsui expresses excitement
Veteran outfielder, Rays demonstrate mutual respect after signing
ST. PETERSBURG -- Approximately 100 media members crowded in a room at Tropicana Field on Tuesday morning to see Hideki Matsui, the newest member of the Rays' organization.
"Fortunately, I've been given an opportunity to wear a Major League uniform again, so I'm just very thankful for the Rays," said Matsui through an interpreter. "My focus is just to work and hopefully get up to the Majors as soon as possible."
Tampa Bay signed the outfielder/designated hitter to a Minor League contract on Monday. The left-handed hitter will report to extended spring camp in Charlotte County, Fla., on Wednesday.
Matsui noted that the Rays "have been a very strong team, especially over the last several years."
"My impression is this is an excellent team," Matsuit said.
As for the reason he chose to sign with Tampa Bay, Matsui offered: "Really, the Rays have been the team that really seriously made an offer, and I think that was the main decision point for me."
Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman addressed the club's interest in Matsui.
"The last couple offseasons, we talked to Hideki's reps," Friedman said. "We've always had a tremendous amount of respect for him and what he does in the batter's box, the type of person he is, the type of teammate he is, the success that he's enjoyed.
"So he's always been someone that's been on our radar. We had some conversations this past offseason, and as is often the case, things kind of go in different directions. So when the dust settled, we had our roster set, and Hideki was still going through the process. Near the end of Spring Training, we spoke again, kind of agreed to stay in touch at that point."
Matsui continued his pursuit to play in the Major Leagues this season, even though he went unsigned through Spring Training.
"I was really focused on just staying in shape and getting ready -- really nothing else on my mind," Matsui said. "As far as the details of what kind of practice I was doing, it was pretty much your regular basic baseball training -- nothing in particular."
The veteran did not appear fazed in the least about signing a Minor League deal.
"As far as the Minor League offer, I think that really resembles where I'm at as far as myself as a baseball player," Matsui said. "As far as the expectations from the Rays, really it's to hopefully join the team and be some kind of force for the team at the Major League level."
Matsui, who turns 38 in June, has played nine seasons in the Major Leagues -- with the New York Yankees (2003-09), Los Angeles Angels ('10) and Oakland Athletics ('11) -- following a 10-year career with the Yomiuri Giants of Japan's Central League. He owns a career .285 batting average with 173 home runs, 753 RBIs and 248 doubles in 1,202 games after hitting .304 with 332 home runs, 889 RBIs and 245 doubles in 1,268 games in Japan.
Friedman said there is not a formal out clause in place within the deal in the event Matsui doesn't reach the Major Leagues by a certain point of the season.
"We're going to treat Hideki with the respect that he deserves," Friedman said. "So we'll go through the process. It's difficult to put any hard and fast rules on anything. We're just going to operate each day like he's a member of the Rays, and he's getting ready and prepared to play baseball every day, and we'll see what happens."
Friedman said they expect for Matsui to get game ready at extended spring camp, then move on the Triple-A Durham when he's ready.
"Physically, I feel really good," Matsui said. "I feel I'm in pretty good condition, so hopefully it shouldn't take too long."
When asked for his opinion about why it took so long for him to get an offer, Matsui offered an assessment.
"Perhaps last year's results may have played into the situation," Matsui said. "Also, perhaps it might be the age factor, so that may have played into this all as well."
Friedman noted that when the Rays have a chance to add a player of Matsui's stature, they are going to be aggressive.
"Sometimes things take a little bit of time, but we were focused on adding some depth, and then when it lined up to be able to add someone of his caliber, we were very excited to do so," Friedman said.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.