Matsui will be at Spring Training as a special instructor

Via NYP: Hideki Matsui will be with the Yankees at Spring Training as a guest instructor this year. The team invited him to camp last year, but he declined because his wife was due to give birth to their first child. Matsui was working with the Yomiuri Giants during their pre-season workouts recently and he spent time with various minor league teams last year, so it seems like he really enjoys helping out younger players. Maybe he’s heading for a coaching career.

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Photo: Masahiro Tanaka meets Hideki Matsui at Yankee Stadium in 2006

With a hat tip to Reddit, here’s a photo of a young Masahiro Tanaka meeting Hideki Matsui at the old Yankee Stadium (click for larger). It’s from 2006, when the Japanese high school All-Star team was touring the United States. There are some other (non-Yankees-related) photos in this stream.

Masahiro Tanaka Hideki Matsui

Now the Yankees just have to figure out how to get Tanaka to take their many millions of dollars to pitch in the new Yankee Stadium.

Update: Yankees to honor Hideki Matsui on July 28th

May 30th: The Yankees will indeed honor Matsui on July 28th, his bobblehead day. It’s also the 55th home game of the season. Godzilla will sign the one-day contract that day, then they’ll have an on-field ceremony before the game.

April 29th: … to a one-day contract so he can retire in pinstripes, reports George King. Matsui officially announced the end of his career over the winter, but King says “plans are in the works” for the one-day contract so he can have a ceremonious retirement. The Yankees are giving away Matsui bobbleheads on July 28th, so that seems like as good a day as any for all of this go down. I have no doubt it will awesome.

Yankees invited Hideki Matsui to Spring Training…

…as a guest instructor according to Dan Barbarisi. Matsui, who retired in December, declined the invitation because Mrs. Godzilla is due to give birth to Baby Godzilla in the not too distant future. I’m guessing we won’t have to wait very long to see Hideki back with the team though, there’s Spring Training and an Old Timers’ Day every year.

Sayonara Kid: Hideki Matsui calls it a career

(Jed Jacobsohn/Getty)

Ten years and eight days after leaving the Yomiuri Giants and officially coming over to MLB, former Yankee Hideki Matsui has decided to call it a career. Daigo Fujikawa reports that Godzilla has retired from baseball and will make the announcement at a press conference in New York. He last played for the Rays this past season.

“Hideki is proof that baseball is an international attraction that brings people from all over the world together in their passion for the game,” said Brian Cashman in a statement. “He was the type of player and person you want young fans of this game to emulate. He played with pride, discipline and of course talent, and flourished when the lights were at their brightest. People naturally gravitated towards him, and that’s a direct reflection of his character. He was a true professional in every sense of the word and it feels good knowing he was able to raise the championship trophy as a member of the Yankees.”

Matsui, 38, spent seven massively productive years in New York. They started with a grand slam in his first Yankee Stadium game (video!) and ended with a thorough beatdown of Pedro Martinez in Game Six of the 2009 World Series. That game almost single-handedly earned him World Series MVP honors. Matsui hit .292/.370/.482 (124 wRC+) with 140 total homers in pinstripes, and his best season came back in 2004, when he produced a .298/.390/.522 (140 wRC+) line with 31 homers.

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a player more reliable than Matsui. He played in 538 consecutive games to open his career with the Yankees before suffering a fluke wrist injury sliding for a ball in the outfield in 2006, and even then he still managed 140+ games played in five of his seven years in the Bronx. Godzilla produced a .312/.391/.541 (143 wRC+) batting line in the postseason and was, without question, someone everyone wanted at the plate in a big spot.

In addition to his on-field production, Matsui was also a total professional and as classy as they get off the field. He was a True Yankee™ in every way and it was a thrill to watch him during his time in New York. The news of his retirement is bittersweet because no one wants to see their favorite players hang the spikes up, but I’m also very happy Hideki is walking away from the game on his own terms (sorta). He was a global star who had a brilliant career and deserves all the praise he gets. So long Godzilla, and thanks for the memories.

Not Mike Mussina

(Reuters)

Who do you think of first when you think of the New York Yankees, #24?

Recency, a penchant for the dramatic, a great glove and a power bat would of course lead one to what might seem like the obvious choice: Robinson Cano. And it’s a pretty good answer, too, in my opinion. Robbie’s grown up into a core member of the team and is, quite frankly, a really good baseball player. He’s expected to hit third in the lineup this year, which means that there will be many men-on dingers and RBIs this year, plus lots of stellar plays he makes look easy and, of course, thousands of giant gum bubbles.

But Cano isn’t the only answer. Here’s some hints: he played first base for the Yankees from 1996-2001 (really knew how to pick his years, didn’t he?), hitting .279 with an OPS+ of 114 and 175 home runs. The answer, to anyone who was around during those years, should be obvious: the wonderful and amazing Tino Martinez. As a kid, I loved Tino only slightly less than I loved Paul O’Neill, and even four years after Tino left, I was still a little sore over this obnoxious second-baseman taking his number, which I believed should have been retired. I was a little insensible as a kid, but the point still stands. In sports and especially on the Yankees, where there are no names on the jerseys, the numbers become associated quite strongly with the player.

(While we’re on the subject of Paul O’Neill and #21, I seem to recall LaTroy Hawkins begin given a lot of crap for taking that number and then changing it, which filled me with more joy than you can ever imagine.)

As the Spring Training pictures roll in, the one thing that keeps throwing me off is Michael Pineda wearing #35. Like every other sensible Yankees fan, I loved Moose and felt it was really depressing that he never got a ring, and while I don’t think retiring his number is in the cards, it’s really strange to see someone else wearing it. Pineda’s a good choice to carry on his legacy of really good pitchers I wouldn’t want to meet in a back alley at night, but that doesn’t change that he isn’t Mike Mussina. Of course, people taking the numbers of old players is just another part of growing up with baseball. Pretty sure no one else is ever going to wear 2, though.

Let’s switch gears a little bit. I had this argument with a friend while I was in New York last year, so I’ll ask all of you: my friend had purchased a Hideki Matsui jersey some years ago while he was still a Yankee. Like a sensible person with disposable income, he had no name of the back. These days, Russell Martin, who is a pretty valuable piece of the team in his own right, now wears #55. Does your jersey magically become a Russell Martin jersey? Is it still a Matsui jersey in your brain, and that’s all that matters? Is the jersey meaningless without the player you bought it for? If no one ever wears #55 again, do you never wear the jersey? What if the number’s retired?

And because this is an article about Yankees jersey numbers: between 6, 46 and 20, which ones get retired?

Who's next? (photo by flickr user 2Eklectik, used under Creative Commons.)

The Vlad Guerrero Option

(Jim Rogash/Getty Images))

The Yankees’ search for a part-time DH has essentially come down to three finalists: Raul Ibanez, who remains the front-runner; Johnny Damon, whose quest for 3,000 hits might be hindering his play, and Hideki Matsui, whose 2011 season looked like the end of the road. Chances are the Yankees will move on one of these players once they’ve shed A.J. Burnett and a portion of his salary. But none of that has happened yet. That leaves other suitors a chance to make a case. One has already spoken up.

According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, Vladimir Guerrero “has made it known to the Yankees that he wants their DH spot.” We’ve been over many possible DH candidates, but to date we haven’t discussed Guerrero. He just didn’t seem to fit, based on a surface judgment. Instead of simply accepting this, though, let’s look a bit deeper into what Vlad can bring to the team. Might he be a better DH option than the current suitors?

The first strike against Vlad appears to be his handedness. All of the prominent suitors for the Yankees’ DH role, including minor league signee Russ Branyan, hit from the left side of the plate. Given the current roster construction, a lefty does make sense for that part-time DH spot. Since Andruw Jones will take reps against left-handers, the Yanks could use someone who can handle right-handers.

Yet that obscures the issue a bit. First, some of Jones’ at-bats will be at the expense of Brett Gardner. While Gardner can hold his own against lefties, he has absolutely no pop against them. Using Jones in left adds power to the lineup, while at the same time keeping Gardner’s legs fresh. The DH spot, then, can remain open against LHP at times.

The other issue: not every lefty hits righties better than every righty. This comes at the top of the scale — Jose Bautista and Miguel Cabrera, both righties, have hit right-handed pitching better than anyone in the last two seasons — and the bottom. That is, just because someone hits left handed doesn’t mean that he’s necessarily good against them. We can see this when comparing the DH candidates.

In terms of overall numbers, Damon and Vlad have been the best hitters in the last two seasons, producing 109 and 108 wRC+ numbers. Ibanez trails them by a bit, producing average numbers. Matsui, on the strength of his 2010 season, actually ranks just behind Vlad and Damon, with a 107 wRC+.

When we turn to production against RHP, Matsui actually comes out ahead with a 110 wRC+. From there Ibanez, Vlad, and Damon are all close, with slightly above average numbers. That is, there’s not a huge difference among them in terms of production against right-handed pitching. That is, Vlad can hang with them, even though he bats right-handed.

In terms of age, Vlad also holds the advantage. He’s 37 this season. Ibanez is 40, and Damon and Matsui are both 38. There might not be much to this, since they’re all past their primes and could fall off a cliff at any moment. There’s also the issue of their current declines. Here’s how much each one dropped off, in terms of wRC+, from 2010 to 2011.

Guerrero: -24
Damon: even
Ibanez: -19
Matsui: -30

Of course, the dips from Matsui and Guerrero are greater, because they had far better 2010 seasons than both Damon and Ibanez. At the same time, Damon is the only one to finish with above-average numbers in 2011. This makes the situation a bit murkier.

If one thing becomes clear when breaking down the situation, it’s that Ibanez’s status as front-runner makes little sense. He’s the oldest in the group, saw a pretty steep decline from 2010 to 2011, and overall produced the worst numbers in the past two years. While Matsui’s stark decline from 2010 to 2011 might disqualify him as a serious candidate, the same could, and probably should, be said of Ibanez. It’s hard to see where the optimism comes from.

Guerrero, it appears, isn’t at all the worst candidate for the Yankees’ DH gig. He might hit right-handed, but hey, so did the guy who was originally supposed to fill the DH role in 2012. The only big red flag is that he realized a marked drop-off in 2011, though part of that involves his quality 2010 season. His case is definitely stronger than I had originally envisioned.

Chances are the Yankees won’t seriously consider Guerrero for DH, and in a way that’s a shame. Maybe he doesn’t hit left-handed, but he looks like a better option than Ibanez right now. If the Yankees are having trouble working out something with Ibanez or Damon, perhaps Vlad does become a dark horse. It’s hard to make a case that the other guys are much, if any, better.