On Matsui and the designated hitterBy
With his 4 for 5 performance last night that featured two home runs and five RBIs, Hideki Matsui improved to a very respectable .269/.365/.516 on the season. His .881 OPS places him in the upper echelon of both American League designated hitters and all AL hitters as a whole.
As Joe detailed earlier today, Matsui’s bounce-back season is one of the driving forces behind the Yanks’ offensive resurgence this year. In fact, Matsui has really turned it on of late. Over his last 36 games, dating back to June 30, he is hitting .310/.402/.611 with 9 HR and 30 RBI.
Every Matsui hot streak leads to the same question surrounding his future: What will the Yankees do with their free agent-to-be and long-time veteran? The team, as we all know, loves Hideki Matsui the person, and when he’s hot, they also seem to love Hideki Matsui the hitter. Yet, Matsui’s presence on the team is antithetical to the team’s recent foray into the world of roster construction. With balky knees, he is a full-time DH. In fact, Matsui has played no innings in the outfield this year and seems unlikely to do so during 2009. Because of his limitations, roster flexibility is lacking.
As such, as MLB Trade Rumors notes and as we’ve heard all along this year, the Yankees will probably not bring Matsui back. While bringing back Johnny Damon seems to be an option, they don’t want to clog up the team’s DH spot with Matsui, his bat aside.
I’m not sure how I feel about this move. As David Pinto said today, Matsui is “a designated hitter who can actually hit well.” He’s not just some fill-in has-been who can’t hit and was never good in the field. (David Ortiz, I’m lookin’ at you.) Matsui might not be able to withstand the pounding of the outfield, but he can still hit with the best of ‘em.
So then what do I do if I am in Brian Cashman‘s shoes? Personally, I don’t like the idea of keeping the DH spot open in order to give aging veterans a rest. It’s a nice luxury to spell Derek Jeter or Jorge Posada or Johnny Damon or A-Rod on a rotating DH basis, but that weakens the rest of the team. By necessity, a Ramiro Pena/Jose Molina type would play nearly every day. The presence of Jerry Hairston, Jr., lessens the impact of the rotation DH, but it’s far from ideal.
I’d like the Yanks to keep a hitter of Matsui’s caliber around to fill the DH role. Maybe it’s not going to be 36-year-old Matsui, but maybe it will be. He’s at the age where he can still hit but perhaps could play four out of seven games with the rotating DH used for the other three games. After all, the Yankees have the resources on hand. Otherwise, the team sacrifices too much in the name of roster flexibility.