Tampa Bay Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman has been interested in Hideki Matsui for the past several off-seasons.
"We've always had a tremendous amount of respect for him in what he does in the batter's box, the type of person he is, the type of teammate, the success that he's enjoyed, so he's always been someone who's been on our radar," Friedman said.
Now the two-time All-Star, who also was MVP of the 2009 World Series, is part of the Rays' organization.
Matsui signed a minor league deal with the Rays and will join the organization's extended spring program Wednesday in Port Charlotte. He will then move to the Triple-A Durham Bulls with the idea of joining the Rays at some point this season as a designated hitter, part-time outfielder and left-handed bat with some pop off the bench.
"Physically I feel really good. I feel I'm in pretty good condition, so hopefully it shouldn't take too long," Matsui said this morning through his interpreter Roger Kaholm during a packed press conference made up largely of members of the Japanese media.
Friedman would not put a timetable on when Matsui will arrive at Tropicana Field. Much of that, Friedman said, will be determined by Matsui's progress.
Friedman said the minor league deal does not include a formal opt-out clause.
"But we're going to treat Matsui with the respect he deserves," Friedman said.
He added that Matsui will be looked upon "as a member of the Rays and we'll see what happens."
Matsui, who turns 38 in June, hit .285 with 173 home runs, 753 RBIs and 248 doubles in nine big league seasons, seven with the New York Yankees. The home runs and RBIs are the most by a Japanese player in major league history.
He played for the Los Angeles Angels in 2010 and spent last season with the Oakland A's, where he hit .251 with 12 home runs and 72 RBIs in 141 games.
He said he appreciates the chance to once again wear a major league uniform. He said he signed with the Rays because they were the only team to make a formal offer. When asked why he drew so little interest, Matsui said, "Perhaps last year's results may have played into the situation. Also perhaps it might be the age factor, so that may have played into this all as well."
When asked for his expectations, Matsui said, "really it's to hopefully join the team and be some kind of force for the team at the major league level."
When asked why he settled for a minor league deal, Matsui said, "I think that really resembles where I'm at as far as myself as a baseball player."
Matsui wore No. 55 during his years with the Yankees, Angels and A's. Rays rookie Matt Moore wears that number.
"I don't really have any attachment toward the number 55," Matsui said.
When asked if he still has something to prove as a major league baseball player, Matsui said, "My honest answer is I just want to play. I just want to play baseball. There's really nothing for me to prove to anyone, and I've always felt that way."
He did not miss a game in his first three seasons with the Yankees, a streak of 518 games played that set the record for longest streak of consecutive games to start a major league career. Prior to that stretch, he played in 1,250 consecutive games with Japan's Yomiuri Giants for a total streak of 1,768 straight games as a professional.