Matsui had been a free-agent and will report to extended spring training at the team's plush facility in Port Charlotte, Florida. Once ready to face big league pitching, the outfielder is expected to bolster the team's bench and improve Tampa Bay's options for the designated hitter spot, especially against right-handed pitching.
Matsui last competed for the Oakland A's during the 2011 season, where the 37 year-old averaged .251 in 141 games, while belting 12 HR and 72 RBI.
Apart from 2 injury-plagued campaigns during his tenure with the New York Yankees, those numbers represented career lows for the Japanese player. After making his mark as a superstar in Japan for a decade, Matsui was a high-profile addition to the Yankees in 2003. He spent 7 seasons in New York, blasting 140 home runs and serving as the team's regular left fielder.
Earning the nickname "Godzilla," Matsui has long been associated with clutch hitting. In fact, during 56 post-season contests with the Yankees, the Japanese native averaged .312 and smacked 10 homers. Additionally, in leading his club to the championship in 2009, he was named the World Series MVP for hitting a sizzling .615 with 3 HR and 8 RBI during a classic match-up against the Philadelphia Phillies.
Following his time in New York, the left-handed hitter spent a season with the Los Angeles Angels, before ending up in Oakland for 2011.
Hideki Matsui now becomes the fourth import from Japan to sign with the Rays, adding to a list that includes Akinori Iwamura, Hideo Nomo and Shinji Mori. In particular, infielder "Aki" Iwamura was a popular presence on the squad for 3 years, including the magical season of 2008, when the Rays captured the American League pennant and made their sole appearance in a World Series.
The Japanese player can also remove his name from the list of major leaguers that frustratingly found themselves without a job for 2012. Similar to former Rays' outfielder Johnny Damon, who only recently signed with the Cleveland Indians, and pitcher Roy Oswalt, teams have shown a reluctance to take chances on injury-prone veterans that are accustomed to far higher compensation.
Yet, the signing of Matsui to a minor league deal appears to carry little risk. With the Rays currently sitting in 1st place in the AL East, there is not a pressing need to change the composition of the club, so the outfielder will likely receive an extended chance to prove readiness to compete.
Since a spring training injury to Sam Fuld left the Rays' depth chart thin at outfield, Matsui may prove a useful addition. Furthermore, with a middle-of-the-pack team batting average of .255, the opportunity to add a quality bat off the bench makes sense.
After all, manager Joe Maddon has a knack for inserting pinch-hitters in big spots, as witnessed last week by Brandon Allen's game-winner home run and famously demonstrated last September by Dan Johnson's 9th inning bomb in "Game 162."
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