Second baseman Kaz Matsui finalized a $16.5 million, three-year contract with the Houston Astros on Sunday, a little more than a month after helping the Colorado Rockies to their first World Series appearance.
The 32-year-old switch-hitter batted .288 with four homers and 37 RBIs, stealing 32 bases and scoring 84 runs - his best totals in the majors. Houston swiped only 65 bases this year, the third-lowest in the NL.
General manager Ed Wade said Matsui will likely bat second, behind speedy center fielder Michael Bourn, acquired last month from Philadelphia.
"Kaz is an ideal fit for our club," Wade said. "Kaz runs extremely well. He steals bases, moves runners and takes the extra base. He plays the game the right way."
Matsui gets a $1.5 million signing bonus, payable upon approval, and yearly salaries of $5 million. Houston will provide a translator and a physical therapist.
In addition, Matsui has a limited no-trade provision.
"After I became a free agent, the Houston Astros very strongly pursued me," Matsui said through a translator, "I feel I am needed by the Houston Astros."
The Astros committed 103 errors in 2007 and Wade said Matsui will upgrade Houston's fielding.
"Kaz's defensive ability is outstanding," Wade said. "Being as strong as we can be up the middle defensively is very important to us. The addition of Kaz was very important to us."
Matsui has a .272 average in four seasons with the New York Mets (2004-06) and Colorado (2006-07). He hit .304 with a home run in the playoffs, including his first career grand slam in the second game of the first-round series against the Phillies.
Matsui signed with the Mets in 2003 after nine seasons with the Seibu Lions in Japan's Pacific League. Matsui hit .309 with 150 homers, 569 RBIs and 306 stolen bases in Japan.
In Colorado, Matsui was a teammate of former Astro Willy Taveras, who was traded to the Rockies before last season.
"Willy Taveras told me a lot of good things about the Houston Astros organization, the fans and the Houston media," he said.
The acquisition of Matsui would seem to mark the end of Chris Burke's career in Houston. The 27-year-old Burke made his major-league debut with the Astros in 2004, but he was mostly relegated to backup duty at second base behind Craig Biggio last season. Biggio is now retired, but the addition of Matsui probably makes Burke expendable.
Wade said he hasn't spoken to Burke about his future.
"We'll have to wait and see what exactly Chris' role is going forward," Wade said. "If there's an opportunity to do something involving him in a trade that helps our club, we'd certainly try to see what's out there as well."
The loss of Matsui leaves a hole at second for the Rockies. The club may give top prospect Ian Stewart, normally a third baseman, a chance at second in spring training. Veteran Jamey Carroll is another possibility.
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