NEW YORK (AP) – Hideki Matsui sat behind a table in Yankee Stadium, happy to know he will be back with New York for the next four seasons. Whether he remains in left field or is moved to center remains to be determined.

“He says, “Whatever you want me to do,’ but he did allow me the fact that center field is probably his most comfortable position,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said Wednesday, a day after Matsui agreed to a $52 million, four-year contract. “He gets a jump even though he’s not overly fast.”

New York knows poor center-field defense by Bernie Williams was a glaring weakness the last few years. With Williams now a free agent, the Yankees say they intend to add an outfielder.

Brian Giles, a free agent who will be 35 next season, is among the players the Yankees are interested in – for center or left. “The little I saw of Giles was when he was with Cleveland,” Torre said, going back to the late 1990s. “He was an extra player there and looked like a guy who could do some things. I’m talking about added dimension to your ballclub, the fact that he can run, the fact that he’s one of those hard-nosed type players.”

Joe Bick, Giles’ agent, said his client could play a corner outfield spot or center. Giles hasn’t played more than 17 games in one season in center since 2001.

“I don’t even know what the Yankees’ plans are. That’s for them to determine. It’s not for us to dictate,” Bick said.

“Brian doesn’t care where in the outfield he plays.”

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said that Williams’ agent, Scott Boras, called him Tuesday but that the Yankees weren’t ready to talk about Williams until later in the offseason. Torre wouldn’t mind having the 37-year-old Williams back in a secondary role.

“I still think that he’s got baseball left, but a lot of it depends on the makeup of this club, if there’s a fit for him,” Torre said.

Another option is Bubba Crosby, who had six RBIs in 98 at-bats.

“Bubba showed some signs,” Torre said. “It took a little time for Donnie (Mattingly) to convince me that he was a different hitter. Again, he’s not a world-beater but the fact he’s made some adjustments offensively certainly made him an option in postseason play and in important games down the stretch, which never would have been an option before.”

Matsui is to earn $13 million in each of the next four seasons and gets a no-trade clause. He was coming off a $21 million, three-year contract in which he earned an additional $1.5 million in performance bonuses.

“I’m most very happy to be able to come back again and wear the pinstripes again and play in that uniform,” he said through a translator. “My first desire was to play here.”

He was among the Yankees’ hitters who flopped in the playoffs against the Los Angeles Angels, hitting .200 (4-for-20) with one RBI and making the final out with the potential tying run on base. Torre remembers talking to Matsui the following day when the team got back to Yankee Stadium.

“His words to me were that, “I’m sorry. It’s all my fault.’ That’s who he is,” the manager said. “He takes on a great deal of responsibility. With players today, to have someone do that, especially with the big stage like this, is very important.”

Matsui also praised Torre.

“Certainly the fact that Joe was coming back to manage again for me was a big factor in my decision,” Matsui said.

His agreement topped outfielder Ichiro Suzuki’s $44 million, four-year contract with Seattle in December 2003.

“I had no intention to compete with Ichiro or anything like that,” Matsui said. “It certainly is an honor, but beyond that honor comes the responsibility to fulfill that contract.”

Cashman said that Matsui is one of the few players who helps sell tickets.

“Finding players that can perform on the big stage in New York, it makes it that much more important to retain those players,” Cashman said. “Hideki’s a rare individual where he produces on the field, contributes to the bottom line in winning, but he also provides some extra intangibles because of the severe interest coming over from Japan.”

Notes: Cashman said the Yankees were interested in re-signing setup man Tom Gordon. “He’s certainly exploring the market. … The market is probably going to drive his decision.” … Cashman also thinks C Jorge Posada benefited from being off at least once every five days, when John Flaherty caught Randy Johnson. “He seemed a lot fresher,” Cashman said. If Posada starts 81 games at catcher next year, the $12 million 2007 option in his contract becomes guaranteed.

AP-ES-11-16-05 2052EST


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