Last Updated on October 15, 2023 at 8:41 am by Sara Molnick
While on their mission to scout Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Yankees GM Brian Cashman and his team also took a closer look at another Japanese pitcher Yuki Matsui. According to a report on Yahoo Japan, the highly regarded closing pitcher has activated his international free-agent privileges and the right to talk to teams outside Nippon Professional Baseball.
Yuki Matsui has drawn the attention of numerous MLB teams, with at least nine clubs, including the Padres, Red Sox, Cubs, and Yankees, sending scouts to evaluate his talents. The high level of interest is understandable given his relatively young age and remarkable track record in Nippon Professional Baseball and international competitions.
Who is Yuki Matsui
Yuki Matsui is a regular on MLBTR’s NPB Players To Watch throughout the 2023 season. The Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles’ closer has maintained an impressive 2.40 ERA and recorded 236 saves in 501 games. This five-time NPB All-Star holds the distinction of being the youngest player in Nippon Professional Baseball history to reach the 200-save milestone. While Yuki Matsui has primarily served as a reliever during his career, except for his debut season in 2014 and a brief return to starting pitching in the COVID-affected 2020 NPB season, the Eagles’ underperformance has also influenced his usage.
Although he has a 10.9% walk rate in his Japanese career, his 31.85% strikeout rate highlights his ability to consistently miss bats. Yuki Matsui had a remarkable 1.57 ERA over 57 1/3 innings with the Eagles in the 2023 season.
Despite being just 27 years old, Yuki Matsui has completed 10 seasons with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. Consequently, he now holds full free-agent status, allowing MLB teams to sign him without incurring an extra posting fee to the Eagles. Yuki Matsui’s age and extensive experience also exempt him from MLB’s international bonus pool regulations.
Yuki Matsui’s move to North America is not yet guaranteed, as the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles have reportedly extended a four-year contract offer worth 1.6 billion yen (approximately $10.7 million USD) to keep him in their ranks. However, Matsui’s hiring of Bryan Minniti from WME as his agent suggests a potential interest in exploring opportunities with MLB teams. Minniti, with a background in front-office roles, including serving as an assistant GM with the Phillies, Diamondbacks, and Nationals, has recently entered the field of player representation.
Yuki Matsui was part of Japan’s championship-winning squad at the 2023 World Baseball Classic, although he made just one appearance during the tournament, pitching a scoreless inning.
His limited role in the WBC might have been influenced by reported challenges he faced when throwing the WBC ball, which was larger than the standard ball used in NPB play and more akin to the baseballs used in the MLB. Additionally, given Yuki Matsui’s relatively small stature at 5-foot-8 and 167 pounds, scouts could have reservations about his long-term durability, despite his track record of being quite resilient during his tenure with the Eagles.
However, Yuki Matsui has significantly incorporated the splitter into his pitching repertoire, a key attraction for many MLB scouts.
The upcoming offseason’s left-handed reliever market features several notable names, with standout closer Josh Hader leading the way. Yuki Matsui now emerges as a compelling addition to this mix, potentially fitting into a role handling high-leverage situations, even if he may not be exclusively a specialist for closing out games.
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