Kaz Matsui Set To Take Swing At Big Apple Baseball

Mayor Michael Bloomberg welcomed him with lofty praise. General manager Jim Duquette delivered his lengthy file of individual achievements. And then the man himself stepped to the podium with a smile that was followed by a chuckle: "Hello everyone, my name is Kazuo Matsui. I love New York."

Talk about breaking the ice.

The New York Mets formally introduced their new shortstop on Wednesday inside the Times Square Sheraton, this after he finalized a three-year, $20.1 million contract to play for the team in Flushing.

The move is the first off-season splash for the cost cutting, last-place Mets, just days before management travels to New Orleans for Major League Baseball's annual winter meetings.

The 28-year-old switch-hitter batted .305 last season with 33 homers, 36 doubles, and 84 RBIs while with the Seibu Lions in Japan. He captured his fourth Gold Glove on Wednesday morning.

Then, holding his right hand up and using the index finger of his left to express the point clearly, he made his declaration.

"Earlier today, I borrowed this ring from one of the Mets owners and it's a 1986 Mets World Series ring," Matsui said through a translator. "I am going to do my best to bring another one to this city for the New York Mets."

Discontented fans, certainly growing old of the team's sorrowful play, can only dream.

Though no one refutes the fact that Kazuo Matsui has the potential to be an exceptional player, many wonder if moving a possible franchise cornerstone, Jose Reyes, out of his natural position is an intelligent move on the part of a organization desperate to reestablish a winning identity.

Mr. Wilpon, what's your take on the move of your phenom?

"All of our people believed that Jose is young enough, has the right attitude, athletic enough, and will be an All-Star second basemen," he said in a WFAN interview. "And the conversion will be very quick"

It's a risky proposition, but it is for a man that many around baseball feel is worth it. The front office has stated publicly that it doesn't expect homers from Kazuo, but rather views him as the perfect leadoff hitter who can drive the ball into the gaps for extra-base hits, utilize his speed, and perform flawless defense up the middle.

In other words, someone who they feel is the ideal player for the dimensions that Shea Stadium presents eighty-one times a year.

General manager Jim Duquette, how would you categorize his glove?

"All of the people that have seen him believe that he is as good as Jose and he's as good as Rey Ordonez was defensively," said Duquette on WFAN. "He has that flair defensively. I don't think he's as flashy as Rey, but the reports back from our people and from other executives from other teams is that this guy has the flair of a Latin shortstop."

In the youthful days of the Mets off-season, right when Duquette first took over the reigns as GM, he isolated, openly and accurately, his priorities: a second basemen, two outfielders, a closer, and a starting pitcher.

By signing Matsui, and shifting Reyes to second, he's 1-for-5 and hitting a meager .200. Something that's not going to completely rectify the team's woeful play. It's a positive stride, one larger than Mo Vaughn will take on a playing surface in April, but those other four concerns must be addressed.

An offer has been made to Mike Cameron. The team is set to pursue Ugueth Urbina. Duquette has talked about Miguel Batista.

Kazuo Matsui was a fine first step, but a 66-95 campaign isn't impractical if more talent efficient decisions aren't delivered by the franchise.

You can e-mail baseball analyst Christopher Guy at CGGuy86@Yahoo.com


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