Swag is not a problem for the woeful Mets, who covet Matsui and are willing to move their top young player, shortstop Jose Reyes, to second. The Mariners are flush with cash and short at short, but seem more intrigued by free-agent pivotman Miguel Tejada, the 2002 American League MVP.
Anaheim is perhaps not as attractive a setting to a young Asian family as L.A., New York or Seattle. Baltimore is an even harder sell: Of the 4.8 million people in the Baltimore-Washington area in the 2000 census, just 6,360 were Japanese. The Orioles would like Matsui to visit Camden Yards, but Matsui isn't big on touring. "I don't plan to travel much," he says.
He has already visited Yankee Stadium. He traveled to New York City in October to watch a playoff game against the Red Sox, buying three-year-old daughter Haruna a miniature Yankees bat and a pinstripes-clad panda. "The Yankees were so big," he says, "that they made the field look small."
Of course, the Yankees already have Derek Jeter and the Red Sox have Nomar Garciaparra, All-Star shortstops who aren't going to change positions. Assuming Boston doesn't trade Garciaparra, who's in the final year of his contract, it would switch Matsui to second; New York would put him either at second (trading Alfonso Soriano or setting him to graze in the outfield) or third (replacing Aaron Boone).
Matsui prefers to stay at his current position. "My feeling is that I am a shortstop," he says. "I could learn a lot by playing beside Jeter, but I would want the chance to someday compete for his spot. It would not be easy to knock him off, but if I became a Yankee, I would like to be given the chance."
The irony is absolutely Steinbrennian: By all accounts Matsui is an all-around better defensive shortstop than Jeter. Moving the Japanese star to another position would be like buying a plush convertible and driving with the top up. "You'd eliminate most of his talents as a shortstop—his hands, his quickness, his arm," says Heid. "I don't suggest having any player make a position change, let alone one while making a country and culture change."
Some scouts wonder if Matsui can adapt to the tricky hops and nuances of the natural grass infields in the U.S. In Japan's Pacific League, where he plays, every ballpark but one has artificial turf. "American grass looks really high," says Matsui.
As high as his ambitions.