The Padres are close to signing a deal with free agent left-hander Yuki Matsui, reports Mark Feinsand of MLB.com. Earlier, Jon Morosi of MLB.com (X links) reported that the Friars had offered Matsui a contract and also relayed a Japanese-language report from Sankei Sports. The Google translation of that report says that the southpaw has already undergone a medical check, though it seems nothing is official quite yet. Morosi relays that it will be a multi-year deal, though the financial are not yet known at this time.
Matsui, 28, is a left-handed reliever that has 10 years of experience in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball, having debuted back in 2014. He has an earned run average of 2.40 in his 501 career games, tossing 659 2/3 innings. He has 236 saves in that time, including at least 24 in each of the past three campaigns. He’s coming off a strong 2023 season as well, with a tiny ERA of 1.57 while recording 39 saves. He struck out 32.4% of batters faced this year while walking just 5.9%.
In addition to his excellent results, Matsui is notable for his size, listed at just 5’8″ and 167 pounds. That unusual frame didn’t stop MLB clubs from having interest, with the Cardinals having recently hosted Matsui in St. Louis, though the Padres will apparently be the one to seal the deal.
Beyond his skills, Matsui surely intrigued clubs due to the fact that he reached proper free agency by reaching nine years of service time. Unlike some other pitchers coming over from Japan, such as Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Matsui isn’t currently connected to any NPB club. That means the MLB club that signs him won’t be subject to a posting fee on top of the contract itself.
Matsui has consistently featured on MLBTR’s NPB Players to Watch series this year, with Dai Takegami Podziewski reporting on Matsui’s four-pitch mix, featuring a fastball, splitter, slider and curveball. The southpaw reportedly had some trouble adapting to the ball in the World Baseball Classic, which is closer to the one used in MLB. There’s always some uncertainty with foreign players since they are unproven in North America, and while Matsui’s size and issues with the WBC ball perhaps add to that, clubs are often intrigued by the possibility of unearthing a hidden gem.
That’s especially true of the Padres, for whom the budget has been a focus all year. Due to the ongoing bankruptcy of Diamond Sports Group, the club’s broadcast rights reverted to MLB during the year. It was later reported that the Friars took out a loan to cover expenses and all recent reporting has pointed to a drop in payroll relative to recent years, likely resulting in them staying under the competitive balance tax in 2024.
Their offseason moves to this point have mostly been about clearing out payroll space. The Padres sent outfielders Juan Soto and Trent Grisham to the Yankees for five players, then sent lefty Ray Kerr to Atlanta as a means to get some of Matt Carpenter’s contract off the books.
Roster Resource currently pegs the club CBT number at $205MM for next year, with the base threshold to be $237MM. That gives the club a bit of room to work with but they still have some things to do. They likely want to find two outfielders to replace Soto and Grisham while also perhaps looking for a designated hitter and some more starting pitching.
But the bullpen is also an issue, with Josh Hader, Nick Martinez, Luis García and Tim Hill now free agents. That means the club will have work to do just to get back to 2023 levels, when their relievers posted a collective ERA of 3.80, the tenth-best mark in the league.
No one is going to expect Matsui to replace Hader as one of the best relievers in the league, but he can certainly bolster the club’s southpaw relief mix, which currently consists of Tom Cosgrove and Adrián Morejón. The former had a solid season in 2023 but still has less than a year of major league experience, while the latter has had ongoing injury issues and is coming off a poor showing this year. Perhaps this is the first of many moves as the Padres pivot from subtracting salary to adding it, looking to fill out the roster for 2024.