Matsui hits the ground swinging
DH introduced by Angels, wants to bring title to Anaheim
ANAHEIM -- After playing for only the storied Yomiuri Giants and New York Yankees over his illustrious 17-year career, Hideki Matsui said joining the Los Angeles Angels will be "the beginning of a new journey."
The designated hitter was officially introduced as a member of the Angels organization on Wednesday at a news conference at Angel Stadium. He was joined by manager Mike Scioscia, general manager Tony Reagins and his agent, Arn Tellum.
Fresh off winning the World Series Most Valuable Player Award with the Yankees in November, Matsui maintained his goal is to bring a World Series title to the Angels after winning three Japanese Series titles with the Giants and a World Series with Yankees.
"I would just like to do my best to help this team get another championship as they won it in 2002," Matsui said through translator Roger Kahlon. "I'm just honored to be a part of this prestigious organization."
The Angels were able to secure Matsui with a one-year deal reportedly worth $6.5 million after starting talks with Tellum about 10 days ago. The talks began to heat up over the weekend, according to the agent, before a deal was in place on Monday.
The only worry was whether Matsui would want to play on the West Coast, but he expressed his desire to play with the Angels to both Reagins and Scioscia in conversations on Sunday.
"Immediately, Hideki told us that he'd be both delighted and thrilled to a part of the Angels organization," Reagins said. "We're excited because we think he will enhance our lineup, our organization on the field and in the community, and so we're excited to have him."
Scioscia also expressed excitement about what Matsui will bring to the lineup as a left-handed-hitting designated hitter.
The 35-year-old has enjoyed a prosperous career in the United States with a .292 batting average with 140 home runs and 597 RBIs over seven Major League seasons with the Yankees. And he's coming off a season in which he had .274 batting average, 28 home runs and 90 RBIs while also posting a .367 on-base percentage and .509 slugging percentage.
"We like that can he handle different things," Scioscia said. "He has the ability to hit in the clutch, drive in runs, hit against lefties even statistically better than righties and be in the lineup every day. He can be incredibly productive and bat anywhere from third to fifth in our lineup."
Both Angels management and Matsui expressed that he might see playing time in the outfield next season depending on how his knees hold up.
Currently, the Angels would start Juan Rivera in left field, Torii Hunter in center field and Bobby Abreu in right field with Matsui serving as the designated hitter. But if Matsui's knees are in good shape, he could see time in the outfield when Rivera or Abreu needs a day off.
"We have four bats we want out there every day with Juan, Torii, Bobby and Hideki," Scioscia said. "That's a pretty big quartet in the middle of our lineup. Our outfield is set with depth and so what we don't want is Hideki playing left field and sacrificing his time in the batter's box if he's not healthy. So we'll assess it in Spring Training."
The news conference itself was well-attended by members of the Japanese media, as Matsui is still a very popular figure in his native country. Matsui is just the second Japanese-born player to play with the Angels, joining former reliever Shigetoshi Hasegawa, who played with the club from 1997-2001 and was present at the news conference.
"We'll have to accommodate for the attention Hideki is going to receive," said Scioscia, who was Hasegawa's manager in 2000 and 2001. Vice president of communications "Tim Mead is already working on some logistical things to make it easier for Hideki and the media so that we don't have any distractions."
But even though the Angels will see more attention from the Japanese market, Reagins insisted it wasn't a major factor in signing Matsui, who will wear No. 55 next season.
"From my side of the business, the baseball side, I didn't really look at the marketing or business side," Reagins said. "I looked at the baseball side and saw that Matsui is a great player and a fit for our organization. He'll add a great deal to our lineup."
Matsui's signing also marked the end of Vladimir Guerrero's six-year run with the Angels as both Scioscia and Reagins said the free agent won't be back with the club next season.
Guerrero hit a combined .319 with 173 home runs and 616 RBIs in 846 games in his time with the Angels. The right-handed-hitting slugger also won the 2004 American League Most Valuable Player Award and was a four-time All-Star while with the team.
"What Vlad has done for our organization, you really can't quantify it," Scioscia said. "He's going to go out and continue his career and it'll be Hall of Fame caliber by the time it's done."
Matsui, like Guerrero, is nearing the end of a storied career and, combining Japan and the United States, is 133 hits shy of 2,500, 28 home runs shy of 500 and 14 RBIs shy of 1,500. And in the Majors, he's 23 hits shy of 1,000, 84 games shy of 1,000 and two doubles shy of 200. He's also the first player since former closer John Wetteland in 1996 to switch teams after being named World Series MVP.
Matsui's signing, however, will likely not be the last move of the offseason for the Angels as both Reagins and Scioscia expressed a desire to add pitching depth, especially after the club's former ace, free agent John Lackey, was introduced as a member of the Red Sox organization on Wednesday.
"We still have work to do this offseason as we continue to try to get better," Reagins said. "But for our organization, today is about Hideki Matsui and getting him started as an Angel. We're excited to have him."
Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.