Padres and Japanese Reliever Yuki Matsui Agree to $28 Million, 5-year Contract

AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko, File
Japan relief pitcher Yuki Matsui throws during the eighth inning of the first round Pool B game between South Korea and Japan at the World Baseball Classic at Tokyo Dome in Tokyo on March 10, 2023. Matsui agreed Saturday, Dec. 23, to a five-year contract with the San Diego Padres.

At 5-foot-8, Yuki Matsui figures to be among the shortest pitchers in the major leagues.

“It’s a very a clean delivery. Good mechanics. I think pitchers come in all shape and sizes,” San Diego general manager A.J. Preller said Saturday after the 28-year-old left-hander agreed to a $28 million, five-year contract with the Padres. “He’s left-handed. He does things very efficiently. Obviously, there’s been some some great pitchers that have been sub-6-footers and he’s been one of them so far in Japan.”

Matsui made his Japanese big league debut at age 18 and became a five-time All-Star for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, leading the Pacific League in saves in 2019, 2022 and this year. He had a career-best 39 saves with a 1.57 ERA and 2-3 record this season, striking out 72 and walking 13 in 57 1/3 innings.

He has a 2.40 career ERA, 236 saves and a 1.11 WHIP in Nippon Professional Baseball. Matsui became the youngest pitcher in the Japanese major leagues to reach 200 saves.

“He’s got a great track record in Japan really dating back to amateur days, somebody that was a highly acclaimed amateur player and then for him to do what he did really right out of the gate, that’s something that is very unique,” Preller said. “It’s been a 10-year run of just consistent performance and excellence.”

Because Matsui had nine years of service time, he was a free agent and no posting fee is involved in his acquisition. The deal includes opt-outs.

Matsui struck out one in a perfect inning for Japan in the World Baseball Classic against South Korea in the group stage. He threw 15 fastballs averaging 91.7 mph among 23 pitches, mixing in five changeups, two sliders and one curveball.

“We know he can pitch in back of the bullpen,” Preller said. “So whether that’s pitching somewhere seven, eight, nine, he’s been at that back of the bullpen where he’s shook hands as a closer, so we know he can pitch in those big pressure spots.”