As free agents go this winter, Hideki Matsui could be a valuable one for a team in need of a DH. At his age, he won’t demand a long-term deal, and as we saw this year, when healthy, he can still hit. But make no mistake about it: Matsui is a DH.
In an excellent piece about Matsui’s medical history, David Waldstein talks with Scott Rodeo, the doctor behind Matsui’s knees. Although Hideki and his agent Arn Tellem say he could still play the outfield, Dr. Rodeo isn’t so sure about that.
Basically, Matsui’s knees are ticking time bombs. He has to be monitored continually and could need another procedure to remove loose cartilage from his knee. To rehab, Matsui must strengthen the surrounding leg muscles, and he will probably get microfracture surgery after he retires. According to the doctor, to do so now would cost him a full season of rehab. With this medical history in mind, Rodeo would not be too comfortable with his patient roaming the outfield:
Rodeo operated on Matsui’s arthritic knees a year ago. With careful supervision by the trainer Gene Monahan, he monitored Matsui’s progress throughout the season, helping him to be at optimal health for the postseason.
Now a free agent, Matsui is scheduled to see Rodeo again soon. A magnetic resonance imaging test will probably determine whether Matsui needs to have the procedure repeated. Either way, Rodeo said, Matsui could play some outfield next year.
“I think that he will probably be able to do it up to a point,” Rodeo said. “If he plays four or five games a week out there, it might start to bother him. There’s probably some level he can establish where he can play two or three days a week, but not four or five. My sense is that if you put him out there every single day, he might get into trouble.”
Meanwhile, last night at the Joe Torre Safe at Home gala, Matsui again reiterated his desire to stay with the Yankees. For the Bombers, it’s a nearly perfect situation. Matsui wants to stay and would probably be willing to settle for a reasonable amount of money. The team could sign Matsui to a short deal, and he wouldn’t need to play the outfield. Coming off of a 131 OPS+ season in which he only DH’d, Matsui can just hit and also rest those knees.
Even if the Yanks opt to let Matsui walk, he should still be viewed as a DH. Any team planning to place Matsui in the outfield would be incurring a significant amount of medical risk. He was the third most productive AL DH last year and could extend his career by giving up those dreams of returning to the outfield. I know the Yanks want to get younger and more versatile with their roster construction, but letting Matsui walk would be a mistake this winter.