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Sunday, December 07, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Major League Baseball
Notebook: Mets, Matsui appear close to a deal

By Newsday and The Associated Press

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The Mets are on the verge of landing their biggest acquisition of the winter.

As early as today, sources indicate, the Mets could announce that they have signed Japanese shortstop Kazuo Matsui to a three-year, $20 million contract. The signing would move promising young shortstop Jose Reyes to second base.

The Associated Press reported that the Mets are awaiting an answer from Matsui on their offer, but all indications are that the 28-year-old will be reporting to Shea Stadium in 2004. The shortstop's first choice has been the Mets, and vice versa. Indications were that the other suitors for Matsui's services have dropped out.

The Mets formally began negotiations with Matsui last month when he declared his intention to play in the United States. Even before then, owner Fred Wilpon's younger son, Bruce, served as an unofficial emissary to Matsui.

While other Mets officials had interest in going after Florida second baseman Luis Castillo, Wilpon envisioned Matsui at shortstop — bringing some buzz to his cellar-dwelling club — and Reyes at second.

When Castillo's agents, Seth and Sam Levinson, brought their client to the Mets and informed them of the short timetable, the Mets responded with a halfhearted offer, one that didn't come close to matching the deal Castillo accepted to re-sign with Florida.

Once Castillo came off the board, the Mets had no doubts about their game plan.

Much to the Mets' delight, their competitors dropped out.

The Los Angeles Dodgers felt their current shortstop, Cesar Izturis, was superior defensively to Matsui, so they wanted Matsui to play second base. The Anaheim Angels are focused on trying to trade for Nomar Garciaparra.

The Mariners have made an offer to free-agent shortstop Miguel Tejada. Plus, as Matsui didn't want to sign with the Yankees because of the presence of Hideki Matsui, he likely felt the same way about the Mariners with Ichiro. Kaz Matsui enjoys media attention and didn't want to be overshadowed by a Japanese player more popular than him.

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Notes

Rod Beck, 35, will be back with the San Diego Padres, this time as Trevor Hoffman's setup man, after agreeing to a one-year deal for $1.75 million, with the team holding an option for the 2005 season for the same amount or a $100,000 buyout. Hoffman is fifth all-time with 352 saves.

• Texas shortstop Alex Rodriguez, the subject of trade rumors, met with Red Sox owner John Henry, the Boston Herald reported. The Red Sox would not confirm or deny the report.

• Padres GM Kevin Towers also said he expects to complete a deal with Japanese reliever Akinori Otsuka within a few days.

• Outfielder Gerald Williams, a 12-year veteran, agreed to a minor-league contract with the Florida Marlins.

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company

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