Sadaharu Oh is leaving the door unlocked for Hideki Matsui.
Oh announced all but one of Japan’s players for the World Baseball Classic on Friday at Tokyo Dome Hotel, making it no secret that he wants the 30th roster spot to belong to the popular New York Yankees outfielder.
“He hasn’t joined yet, but I am 100-percent sure (he will),” Oh said. “That is why we left the one roster spot open.”
Final roster decisions won’t have to be made until February, and Matsui could be added as late as “one to five days” before Asian pool play begins March 3 at Tokyo Dome, Major League Baseball Japan Managing Director Jim Small said.
Japan, China, Chinese Taipei and South Korea will play in Group A of the WBC, with the top two teams advancing to the second round in Anaheim, Calif.
“If he says no, we’ll put someone else on the roster,” Oh said. “Personally, I am willing to wait as long as it takes.”
Oh said he had spoken with Matsui, who would be the fourth major leaguer on the roster along with Seattle Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, Chicago White Sox second baseman Tadahito Iguchi and San Diego Padres pitcher Akinori Otsuka.
Small said that major league teams could not prohibit their players from participating in the WBC, adding that fellow Yankees Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez all would be playing in the WBC.
The Japan Series champion Chiba Lotte Marines received strong representation among Oh’s selections.
Oh, who manages the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, chose eight Marines and four from his own squad, which finished atop the Pacific League regular season standings and lost to Lotte in the second-stage playoffs.
Among the Marines is starting pitcher Shunsuke Watanabe, a submarine pitcher who was named most outstanding pitcher at the Japan Series for his complete-game shutout in Game 2.
Oh said that Watanabe, like the rest of the team, is a prototypical Japanese baseball player.
“I picked players who could play typical Japanese baseball,” Oh said. “We think we can win by playing Japanese style baseball. There will be teams there who want to beat us.”
Other notables on the roster are Japan Series Most Valuable Player Toshiaki Imae, Giants catcher Shinnosuke Abe, Hawks infielder Nobuhiko Matsunaka and Yakult Swallows outfielder Norichika Aoki.
A rules committee headed by San Diego Padres Chief Executive Officer Sandy Alderson will determine the regulations about pitch counts as well as addressing other procedural issues. Along with representatives from MLB and the MLB Players Association, Nippon Professional Baseball will have a spot on the committee.
Because the tournament takes place so close to the beginning of the season, many have expressed concerns about potential injuries for the players. Whatever the committee — which will be formed in the next few days — decides about pitch counts will be a hard, fast limit and not merely a guideline, Small said.
The WBC second round in Anaheim will be played March 12-15 at Angel Stadium. The semifinals and championship will be March 18 and 20, respectively, at San Diego’s Petco Park.