Matsui Almost At Shea

According to several reports, the Mets will sign Japanese free-agent shortstop Kazuo Matsui before the weekend.

Initial reports _ barring any last-minute moves by the Angels, Dodgers or the suddenly intrigued San Francisco Giants _ have Matsui signing a three-year, 19 million dollar contract with a one-year club option for 5.5 million.

Apparently, the deal was contignent upon the 28-year old playing shortstop, which New York general manager Jim Duquette had wanted to avoid. So the news that JD is on his way to the Dominican Republic, apparently to discuss with Reyes that he'll be playing second in 2004, indicates Matsui is on his way to Flushing.

Matsui _ who hit .305 with 33 homers and 84 RBIs for the Lions in 2003 _ has been described by former Met manager Bobby Valentine as a "superb defensive player" and says his offensive skills are major-league quality.

"He's the one player in Japan that has power to the opposite field," Valentine said in a radio interview on WFAN in New York on Wednesday. "Most of the guys here are dead-pull hitters. Not him, he can really drive it (the other way)."

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