Every time I think Hideki Matsui is done, he comes back to life. Last week, Matsui went 0 for 5 and left five runners on base as the Yanks fell to the Phillies in extras. At that point, he was hitting an anemic .241/.325/.429, and I was looking forward to the return of Xavier Nady as a way to eliminate some of the Matsui at-bats.
But since then, Matsui, the streakiest of streakiest hitters, has turned it back on. In 19 at-bats spanning five games and 22 plate appearances, Matsui has hit .421/.500/.895 with two home runs and three doubles. He has raised his season numbers to .263/.347/.487 and is outperforming the AL DH average OPS by .057 points.
Despite this recent uptick in performance, it’s highly doubtful that Hideki Matsui, a free agent this winter, will return to the Yankees, and I have to wonder whether his overall future in Major League Baseball is in doubt. Today, MLBTR points us to a Joel Sherman column on Matsui. While we are often skeptical of Sherman’s work, I think he’s onto something here:
The Yanks have long been concerned about the inflexibility of their roster due to having too many DH types, such as exists this year with Matsui, Jorge Posada Jorge Posada and Xavier Nady (if he returns from his elbow injury). Yankee officials envision a 2010 in which Posada takes more at-bats as the DH, and in which Joe Girardi could better rest everyday players such as Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira without losing their bats.
In spring training, Matsui told me that he prefers to stay a Yankee, but is not wedded to the Yanks and would consider other teams here if he decided to keep playing. He is a total pro and – when healthy – a clutch, productive hitter. But with his lingering knee issues that guarantee he cannot play left field with any regularity – if at all — I wonder if any team would be willing to invest even a few million on Matsui. That is part of the death of the traditional DH.
Poorly constructed sentences aside, Sherman raises some valid concerns the Yankees have for next season. In Jeter, Posada and A-Rod, they have three key players under contract and over 35 next year, and to keep them healthy, the team will have to make use of a rotating DH spot. Meanwhile, the Yankees are rather publicly committed to getting younger and more athletic. Resigning Hideki Matsui isn’t part of that equation.
If Matsui and the Yanks are destined for a post-season divorce, will another Major League team pick him up? When he’s on, he can hit with the best of them, but he will be an old 36 next June. With the market as depressed as it currently is, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Matsui jobless or back in Japan come April 2010. His will have been a good run, and while it’s not over yet, 2009 is in all likelihood his Yankee swan song.