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Nobuhiro Matsuda’s pursuit of a big league career could hinge on whether his fielding prowess outweighs his offensive question mark.

Matsuda, a four-time Golden Glove winner for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks is hoping to move to the majors this winter as a third baseman, but will not be deterred if asked to try other positions, agent Peter Greenberg said Wednesday at the baseball winter meetings.

“The teams that know about him have all told us how much they like his defense,” Greenberg said. “I think the question is his offense. He hit 35 home runs this year, but they know they (the Hawks) moved the fences in this year and power is not necessarily a big part of his game. He’s an all-around player. He’s got a good arm, he’s got some speed, and he’s got some power, but the teams love his defense. Several teams have mentioned that maybe he could play some second and short if necessary and maybe even the outfield.

“He’s a Gold Glove third baseman, so he probably takes some pride in playing his position and that would be his preference. But by far, the teams have expressed that they think his strength is his defense and there’s no question he could help a team in the major leagues (with his glove).”

Greenberg, who only recently began representing the 32-year-old, said he has spoken to half of the 30 major league clubs currently in Nashville for the meetings and that five or six have shown interest. Greenberg said one team compared the Hawks captain to utility man Ben Zobrist, who earlier in the day signed a four-year, $56 million deal with the Chicago Cubs.

“He was flattered when one team thought of him as a Ben Zobrist type,” Greenberg said. “There wasn’t a time too long ago that utility players didn’t make that much money. But now we’re trying to explain to him that there are super utility players, and they can make money and the new trend is that major league managers love versatility. In Japan, they’ve liked that for a long time.

“Here in the States there are lot of clubs that put a high value on that, and Ben Zobrist is a good example of that.”

Matsuda, who like Hanshin Tigers shortstop Takashi Toritani a year ago, said he will return to SoftBank if a big league opportunity fails to materialize and he would like to get something on paper before the Hawks prepare for the start of spring training on Feb. 1.

According to Greenberg, neither the Hawks nor Matsuda have set a deadline for a decision.

The San Diego Padres, who a year ago were rumored to be interested in Toritani as a utility player, have been the team most often named in connection with Matsuda. Their rookie manager, Andy Green, played for the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters in 2007 and raved about Matsuda’s defense.

“I’ve seen video of him, and obviously he had over 30 home runs last year, brings an enormous amount of energy, plays sensational defense at third base,” said Green. “I’ve heard nothing but tremendous things about him and who he is.”

But Greenberg emphasized that things were still in the preliminary stages and that much will depend on how far Matsuda wants to go to realize his dream of playing in the majors.

“If an opportunity presents itself that makes sense for Matsuda and he feels comfortable with it than we may move quickly,” Greenberg said. “Or things may take a little while longer. It’s too early to tell.”

“But he’s told us he’d like an opportunity to come to major league baseball, show what he can do, and he feels that this is the time in his career that if he doesn’t do it, he may have some regrets.”

Meanwhile, Arizona Diamondbacks general manager Dave Stewart said his club would tone down its pursuit of Hiroshima Carp ace Kenta Maeda. After signing former Cy Young Award-winner Zack Greinke just prior to the winter meetings in a $206 million deal, the Diamondbacks traded for another big starter, Shelby Miller on Tuesday.

“I don’t believe we are going to be as aggressive (in pursuing Maeda),” Stewart said.

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