On Matsui’s knees and free agency

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.

Root, root, root for their old team

When the Yanks won the World Series against the Phillies a mere 10 days ago, Yankee fans all over breathed a collective sigh of relief. The team had finally beaten down the ghosts of 2001, 2003 and 2004 and the lack of pitching depth in the years after.

In a sense, this year’s victory let Joe Torre off the hook for his lack of postseason success over his final years as a Yankee. Our lasting postseason images wouldn’t be Jeff Weaver pitching in Florida before Mariano Rivera, A-Rod‘s batting eighth in a playoff game or midges swarming Joba Chamberlain in Cleveland as Torre stood idly by. Rather, we can toast Hideki Matsui, A-Rod, CC, Andy Pettitte and, of course, Mo. We could feel confidence in Joe Girardi and look back fondly on the Joe Torre Era while recognizing that it probably had to end when it did, if not sooner.

The divorce, though, between Torre and the Yanks was an ugly one, and it followed a decade-long tradition of ugly divorces between the Yanks and their coaches. Don Zimmer had a public split with George Steinbrenner; Mel Stottlemyre continually felt undermined by the Yankee brass and left on bad terms. Torre and the Yanks engaged in public battle over their one-year offer following 2007, and no one felt too good about it.

But time — and World Series wins — heals all wounds. Speaking yesterday at the annual Safe at Home gala, both Torre and Zimmer revealed that they were rooting for the Yanks to beat the Phillies. Torre called it “surreal” to watch his Yankee friends playing in the Fall Classic. “To watch what they’ve done with Joe Girardi at the helm really made me feel good, even though I’m supposed to be a National League fan and all that stuff,” he said. “When you’re as close to these guys as I’ve been for all these years, I was just really pleased for them.”

Torre spoke at length about his trepidation at facing the Yankees. He and Derek Jeter have a tight bond, and it would have been weird, to say the least, to see Torre managing to get Jeter out. Still, the Yanks head to Los Angeles next June, and those games should make for compelling baseball.

Zimmer, who has known Joe Girardi since the Yanks’ manager was a rookie with the Cubs in 1989, was even more emotional in his support for the Yanks. “I was pulling so hard,” the Rays’ adviser said. “I spent the first 10 years he was in the big leagues, we were together. Joe’s quite a man and a very good friend of mine. I was happy for him and I was happy for the Yankees.”

In a way, now, the ball is in the Yankees’ court. The team should retire Joe Torre’s number 6, and they should have Zimmer — and all of the rest of the dynasty-era Yankees — at the ceremony. It sounds to me as though Torre is more than willing to thaw out this relationship, and it’s only a matter of time before the Yankees do too.

When all of the Yanks hits were home runs

The Yankees hit a lot of home runs. They led the league this year, and have been near the top of the league for most of this decade. Some have even said that they’re too reliant on the home run, and that it doesn’t compensate for a lack of hitting with RISP. Even so, it’s tough to argue against the home run, the single best outcome of any at bat.

At the Baseball Reference Blog, Andy takes a look at games wherein all of a team’s hits were home runs. There are 39 such incidences, though the parameters are set so the minimum number of hits/home runs is two. The Yankees, as you might imagine, inhabit a few spots near the top of the list. The top is Cleveland, beating Texas 7-3 on the power of six hits. The Yankees show up directly afterward.

On July 15, 2004, the Yankees beat the Tigers 5-1, smashing five solo home runs. Alex Rodriguez hit two of them, and was supported by Derek Jeter, Hideki Matsui, and Kenny Lofton. Four of the five came off Tigers starter Jeremy Bonderman, who pitched seven innings. That seems odd for a guy who gave up four home runs, but remember that they were the only four hits he surrendered, and they were all solo homers. Jose Contreras started that game for the Yankees, pitching eight innings and allowing one run on four hits, striking out eight.

(The Yanks would trade Contreras 16 days later.He pitched well in his next start, on July 20, but bot bombed in his two after that. I wonder if he hadn’t gotten killed by Boston and Baltimore if the Yanks would have traded him at all.)

The only other time the Yankees did this was on July 3, 1975, when Bobby Bonds hit two home runs off Cleveland’s Don Hood in a 3-2 loss. It has also happened three times to the Yankees, in 2001, 1987, and 2002. The Yanks won only one of those games.

Late-night reading: Aroldis Chapman, profiled

The winter sports team in New York are making it hard to forget about baseball season. After tonight, the Knicks and Nets are a combined 1-18, and the Giants and Jets are mediocre at best right now. So for those of you jonesing for a late-night baseball fix, check out Ronald Blum’s interview with Aroldis Chapman. The New York-based AP sports writer sat down with the latest Cuban defector to talk about baseball. Chapman discusses walking away from his life in Cuban by simply exiting a hotel in Rotterdam and his experiences watching Game 6 of the ALCS at Yankee Stadium.

With the Hot Stove still to warm up this winter, we haven’t heard much about Chapman. We know what he can throw, and we know that he has visited with a good number of teams. We don’t, however, have a sense of the dollars or years it will take to sign him, and rumors have ranged from $15-$50 million. I don’t expect the Chapman talks to heat up until the Winter Meetings next month in Indianapolis, but when they do, you can bet that the Yanks will be right there in the thick of things.

Laird & Curtis help Surprise to a win

AzFL Surprise (5-4 win over Peoria Javelinas)
Brandon Laird: 1 for 5, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 2 K, 1 E (fielding) – .313-.374-.614 in 83 at-bats
Colin Curtis: 1 for 3, 1 3B, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 SB – .388-.453-.687 in 67 at-bats

Open Thread: You have the Red Sox

You have the Red Sox

How awesome is that? Big thanks to Stephen (the artist formerly known as “sic”), Greg, and Christian for photoshopping that puppy. Here’s the original Nike ad if you missed it.

Now that there’s a smile on your face, feel free to use this as your open thread. The Nets, Knicks, and Islanders are all in action tonight, but I suspect you’d rather watch linoleum curl than those three disasters (combined record: 7-28).  Anything goes, just be civil.

Jeter hard up for the dough

111209 Derek Jeter on setPM

Just a few hours ago, we were talking about low-level rumors concerning a Derek Jeter contract extension. Later in the day, pictures emerged that showed Jeter could really use the dough. As you can see, he’s been reduced to begging for money on the streets of Coney Island. And his hair grew out since last week.

Nah, I’m just kidding you. Derek’s filming a movie. The film, called The Other Guys, stars Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell as two cops who, in the words of The Post, “are permanently benched after Wahlberg’s character wrongly shoots Jeter in the leg after seeing him walking around with a bat.” Jeter plays a future washed-up version of himself.

Click here for a rather amusing photogallery of scenes from the movie shoot. With that scraggly long hair and oversized puffy coat, Derek has never looked better.