White Sox remain in pursuit of Matsui
Club plays it close to the vest as Meetings wind down
INDIANAPOLIS -- Aside from the close to 40 members of the Japanese media waiting to talk to general manager Ken Williams at the Marriott on Wednesday, nothing has truly changed in regard to the White Sox pursuit of free agent Hideki Matsui since the start of the 2009 Winter Meetings.
Don't take the lack of contact between Williams and Tellem as a drop in interest where the White Sox are concerned. The White Sox would like to add Matsui to their lineup and address the missing component of a left-handed power bat, but as has been talked about during the past few days in Indianapolis, it's a waiting game possibly not playing out until the start of 2010.
One intangible for Matsui's side is his desire to stay with the Yankees or his loyalty to the team where he has played for the past seven years. Matsui's return to New York could be predicated on the decision the team makes with Johnny Damon.
In a meeting with a group of Japanese media on Wednesday, Tellem said talks continue with the Yankees.
"I don't see anything happening in the next few days," Tellem said. "I've talked with some teams, but because of my policy, I can't say how many teams I've met or what we talked about. Hideki is working out in California and he feels good about his health."
Matsui's health, specifically his surgically repaired knees, would serve as another prime concern in getting a deal done with the White Sox. Manager Ozzie Guillen already has stated his preference for a designated hitter who can play the field from time to time.
During the course of the 2009 campaign, in which he hit .274 with 28 home runs and 90 RBIs, Matsui served exclusively as the Yankees designated hitter. But Matsui has a desire to get back in the outfield and would be willing to allow interested teams watch his workouts in California over the next couple of weeks.
Williams was asked if he had plans to attend or send a representative from the White Sox. He smiled and spoke about his familiarity with Matsui's work.
"Unfortunately, I've seen Hideki work out at Yankee Stadium and it didn't work out for us," said Williams with a laugh.
When pressed on the question, Williams talked about his affinity for California and posed a tongue-in-cheek response as to whether the workout would be in a good vacation spot such as Los Angeles or Palm Springs.
"You know where he is," the Japanese reporter said to Williams.
And the truth is Williams doesn't need to see Matsui in action to know what he's getting. Williams has not asked for Matsui's medical records, but mentioned how he quickly gains thorough knowledge of a targeted player, joking about knowing what that player had for breakfast.
Then, Williams downplayed the team's interest in Matsui, but that move really represents the White Sox way. As they did with the signing of Omar Vizquel and Andruw Jones or the Mark Teahen and Jake Peavy trades, Williams wants the news to become public when the deal is officially announced.
"All I've said is [Matsui] is a great player and he's been a great player his entire career," Williams said. "I never said that we were pursuing him. I'm not going to say that we are not. I don't know how the rest of the offseason is going to develop.
"In recent times, I certainly haven't had any discussions. More interest has been written and spoken about that than we have pursued recently. I'm focused on some other things right now. With all due respect, I have to cross off some other things on our list first."
Adding a bullpen arm seems to be one of those priorities for Williams, with free agent J.J. Putz serving as a target. MLB.com previously reported Putz as a possible White Sox reliever of interest, and the Chicago Sun Times mentioned Wednesday that Matt Thornton, a close friend of Putz, was being used to recruit the hard-throwing right-hander who is recovering from surgery to remove bone spurs from his right elbow.
Although Williams didn't mention Putz by name, he seemed to using the Putz pursuit as an example of how the under-the-radar mentality works better for the White Sox.
"We thought we had something going on," said Williams, when asked about work for a bullpen upgrade. "As I told you guys many times before, when things become public, to a large degree, the entire game changes and more times than not, you are not going to get a deal.
"Something we thought we were close on becomes public. Now, it's not so close."
So, the White Sox plan for Matsui is to stay under the radar as much as possible, trying to figure out where he fits on the roster and financially, with Williams again stressing how the club is pretty much at budget. But when Williams gets completely "serious" on a player, expect a decision shortly thereafter.
"Things move quickly one way or the other when I'm serious about something," Williams said. "We are in or we are out. You can't read into anything, whether we contact him or not contact him or whether we talk to an agent or not talk to an agent. All that means is we are not ready, one way or the other."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.