Sankei Sports reported on Thursday that the Giants have inquired about Matsui's availability, interested in upgrading their offense by adding the 33-year-old outfielder.
The San Jose Mercury News reported that a Giants official has characterized the talks as preliminary, but substansive enough that discussions would continue in the near future.
But interest alone would not create a match. Matsui has a full no-trade clause and would need to approve any deal. It was not immediately clear if the Yankees have interest in moving Matsui, who has two years and $26 million remaining on his contract.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said on Thursday that the club's priority remains with improving its pitching staff, and he said that the Yankees are willing to add to their bullpen via trade or free agency.
Coming on the heels of New York's aborted pursuit of Twins ace Johan Santana, the Giants could offer starting pitching in a potential swap -- Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum would not figure to be moved in a Matsui deal, but it is believed the Giants would consider trading others.
Noah Lowry could be one potential target for New York. The 27-year-old Lowry is coming off a 14-8 season for San Francisco in which he posted a 3.92 ERA, but his walks and strikeouts were even, 87, and he allowed 155 hits in 156 innings.
Still, Lowry would provide a veteran presence to help soak up innings. That is a concern for the Yankees, who are still sticking to unknown innings totals for youngsters Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy.
Of the three pitchers, Hughes has compiled the highest professional innings total -- 146, in 2006 -- and Cashman said this week that none of the three will be permitted to go well over 200 innings. Andy Pettitte's return helps that cause, but Mike Mussina wore down midseason, and another healthy arm would only help.
New York could also have interest in left-handed reliever Jonathan Sanchez, who went 1-5 with a 5.88 ERA in 33 appearances for San Francisco this past season. The Yankees have some internal candidates to serve as a left-hander out of the bullpen -- including Sean Henn, Kei Igawa and Chase Wright -- but they have found the free-agent market prohibitive in contacting southpaws like Ron Mahay. New York did not carry a left-hander when it opened its American League Division Series against Cleveland in October, a telling sign of its needs.
Giants general manager Brian Sabean said that Sanchez, one in a group of promising young relievers, has been mentioned in trade talks.
"We can't move any of these guys unless it makes good baseball sense [with] a good position player coming back," Sabean said. "We're not interested in prospects or people who are a year or two away. They're going to have to show their face and contribute next year."
Matsui batted .285 with 25 home runs and 103 RBIs for New York in 2007, his fifth Major League season after a standout career in Japan. A .295 hitter since joining the Yankees, Matsui made 111 starts in left field and 32 more as a designated hitter this past year, undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his troubled right knee in November.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.