The Future of Hideki Matsui
Sunday April 8, 2012
Bryan Sheehan (MLB Reports Intern): The MLB season has already officially kicked off, and yet there are still some veteran players looking for a place to play. The list is occupied mainly by former outfielders that may not have enough left in the tank defensively, including Johnny Damon, Vladimir Guerrero and, maybe most notably, Hideki Matsui. The 37-year-old, who played just 27 of his 141 games in left field hasn’t been a regular in the outfield since his 2007 campaign with the Yankees. Last season for the Oakland A’s, Godzilla hit a career low .251 with 72 RBIs and 12 home runs, and was not brought back by the club for 2012. The Yankees seemed to show interest in the 37-year-old slugger, but ultimately decided to sign Raul Ibanez instead.
But this doesn’t mean Matsui’s career is over. Still open to playing professional baseball, Matsui’s best move might be to return to the NPB, Japan’s baseball league. Before coming to America in 2003, he played ten seasons with the Yomiuri Giants. In this time he led the club to three Japan Series titles, made nine All Star teams, hit .293 and drove in 100+ RBIs in five different seasons. Since his arrival in 2003, Godzilla has made two All Star teams, hit 173 home runs and gained 1239 hits, bringing his career total between Japan and America to 2622.
On February 8th, Matsui told the Kyodo news service that returning to Japan was, “probably out of the question,” as he was confident he’d be signed by an MLB team before Spring Training ended. Well, that didn’t happen. He may not be wanted in the Majors anymore, but he sure has a following in Japan. When the New York Yankees opened their 2004 series in Japan, Matsui was greeted by a frenzy of supporters who came to see him, not Derek Jeter or Alex Rodriguez, play in the series. When Godzilla won the World Series MVP in 2009 (he is the only Japanese-born MLB player to do this), people in Japan went absolutely nuts. After that season, when his contract with the Yankees expired, there was already talk that he might return, with Japanese papers suggesting a move by the Hanshin Tigers, the rival of Matsui’s former team.
It isn’t a question of if Matsui has enough in the tank. The NPB is full of players that cannot perform at the Major League level, like John Bowker of the Yomiuri Giants (hit .133 in the MLB last year) and Kaz Matsui of the Rakuten Eagles, no relation, who hit .141 in his final MLB season, 2010. Yes, Matsui is a ripe 37 years old, but he did play 141 games for the A’s in 2011, whereas most transfers to the NPB are bench players that often get shifted to and from the Minors. A .251 batting average isn’t brilliant, but his trend in batting average hasn’t declined too steeply. He’s no longer a home run threat, with a career low 12 bombs last year, but could be serviceable to a Japanese team. If nothing else, having him return to his homeland would bring fans to the ballpark, the ultimate goal of any baseball team.
Today’s feature was prepared by our Intern, Bryan Sheehan. You can follow Bryan on Twitter (@BaseballHipster), read his interviews with Phillies’ minor league prospects at PhightingOn.com, and catch him writing the occasional article for ThroughTheFenceBaseball.com. Tweet him about this article and give him a follow and he will follow you back!
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