Padres sign Japanese closer Matsui to 5-year deal

December 23rd, 2023

The Padres signed Japanese reliever Yuki Matsui to a five-year deal, the team announced on Saturday. San Diego has prioritized adding pitching this offseason, bringing in four young arms in the blockbuster deal with the Yankees for Juan Soto, and Matsui joins that list of acquisitions.

The deal is expected to be worth $28 million and includes opt-outs after 2026 and 2027, as well as an injury clause that can convert the fifth year of the contract into a club option, a source told's Mark Feinsand. The club did not disclose the terms of the deal.

Matsui represents the first free-agent signing for the Padres this winter. They’ve made it clear that adding to their bullpen is a priority, with Josh Hader, Nick Martinez, Luis García and Tim Hill having reached free agency and Scott Barlow traded to Cleveland. As things stand, Robert Suarez would slot into the closer role vacated by Hader. It’s unclear how Matsui will fit into the picture, but he’ll likely be given high-leverage innings.

Matsui arrives in the Majors following nearly a decade as an elite closer for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. He recorded a 2.40 ERA across 659 2/3 innings in 10 seasons, but if you omit his age-18 debut season in 2014, which contained Matsui’s first and only 17 starts to date, his ERA drops to 2.10.

Matsui, 28, was a multi-inning reliever for the majority of his NPB career, but he operated as a one-inning pitcher for the past three seasons. That change coincided with an extremely dominant stretch as he registered a 1.42 ERA and 214 strikeouts across 152 innings pitched. Matsui notched a career-high 39 saves last season, his sixth since 2015 with at least 30 saves.

An undersized left-hander at just 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds, Matsui misses bats mostly with his plus splitter. His fastball sits between 92-94 mph and tops out at 96, and Matsui also offers a slider. He struck out 32.4% of the batters he faced last season and owns a 31.9% career K rate.

One point of concern, however, may be Matsui’s penchant for walks. Even with his solid 5.9% walk rate in 2023, his career walk rate is 10.9%. For reference, the MLB-average walk rate this past season was 8.3%.

Matsui was a member of Team Japan in the 2017 and 2023 World Baseball Classics. He tossed 3 2/3 scoreless innings with six K’s across those two tournaments.