The San Diego Padres have made a huge free agent splash, agreeing to terms with star Japanese relief pitcher Yuki Matsui on a 5-year, $28 million contract. The rare commitment of 5 years to a reliever signals the Padres’ faith in Matsui’s ability to anchor their bullpen for years to come.
Matsui Brings Electric Stuff From Japan
The 28-year-old Matsui has spent the past 5 seasons pitching for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB), Japan’s top league. He has established himself as one of NPB’s most dominant relievers, using an electric fastball-splitter combination to baffle hitters.
In 2022, Matsui posted a 1.75 ERA with 40 saves and allowed just 29 hits over 56 innings. For his NPB career, he has a 2.18 ERA with 224 saves in 259 opportunities along with 341 strikeouts in 247 innings.
Several MLB executives raved about Matsui’s “wipeout stuff” including a fastball that reaches 100 mph as well as a nasty splitter with late diving action. His athletic 6’1″ frame, clean mechanics, and ability to attack hitters have drawn comparisons to Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman.
Matsui Keys Padres Bullpen Rebuild
Matsui will step into the closer role left uncertain after former Padres All-Star reliever Josh Hader was traded to the Orioles at the 2022 deadline.
San Diego’s bullpen struggled mightily down the stretch last season without a proven arm to close out games. Matsui will finally give manager Bob Melvin that dominant option for high-leverage situations late in games.
The 5-year commitment reflects the Padres’ long-term belief in Matsui as well as their win-now approach around budding superstars like Juan Soto and Fernando Tatis Jr.
General Manager A.J. Preller continues his aggressive style, locking up one of the hottest names on the international market to address his bullpen needs rather than the free agent market.
What’s Next for the Padres
The splashy Matsui signing is likely just the first major move in a pivotal offseason for the Padres. After a disappointing 2023 season and with pressure mounting, the front office is in “go-for-it mode” to support their star-studded lineup.
|2023 Padres Bullpen
|No Established Closer
|Yuki Matsui (Closer)
|Significant Question Marks
|Matsui Anchors Relief Corps
|Bullpen Jeopardized Playoff Hopes
|Bullpen Looks Like Strength
More moves are expected to supplement Matsui and strengthen the relief corps around him. The team has been linked to free agent right-hander Robert Suarez and could also add another veteran late inning arm.
On offense, A.J Preller is exploring upgrades at second base where Ha-Seong Kim struggled in 2023. The Padres have engaged with Kolten Wong before he signed with Seattle and also checked in on Jean Segura before he returned to Philadelphia. Signing a second baseman and further bolstering their bullpen could complete an excellent offseason.
With a revamped relief corps anchored by Matsui and a potential upgrade offensively, the Padres will look to dethrone the 111-win Dodgers atop the NL West in 2024. The 5-year pact reflects San Diego’s long championship window and World Series aspirations with superstars Fernando Tatis Jr. and Juan Soto in the fold.
Matsui Brings Risk Despite Dominant NPB Numbers
The Padres are betting heavily on Matsui’s dominance in Japan translating to MLB. While his stuff draws rave reviews, it’s no guarantee that it will play the same against bigger, stronger MLB hitters.
Several high-profile Japanese pitchers have struggled to adjust to facing MLB lineups multiple times through the order as relievers. There’s a risk Matsui’s electric but limited arsenal proves too predictable with overexposure.
Still, the Padres believe Matsui has the pure stuff to miss bats and lock down the late innings regardless. The 5 years committed to Matsui despite just 259 NPB saves shows tremendous confidence that he is not an ordinary import.
Ultimately, it’s impossible to know how he will handle transitioning to a new league and culture across the Pacific. But the Padres are willing to stake their bullpen and World Series hopes on Matsui’s dominant splitter playing in the major leagues.
This is a franchise-altering swing for A.J. Preller and the front office. If Matsui adapts seamlessly, he could anchor playoff runs for years as San Diego chases their first championship. If not, $28 million for a setup man could severely hamper improving the roster down the road. It’s a risky but necessary move the Padres hope pays off with banner number one.
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