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Hideki Matsui’s Future in Oakland

August 15, 2011

In an article in yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle John Shea wrote this,

“ESPN’s Buster Olney reported Hideki Matsui cleared waivers, meaning he could be traded, and a Japanese newspaper speculated the Giants could be a fit (we’re hearing no). Bob Melvin said if he manages in 2012, he’d like Matsui back.”

I’m not entirely surprised that Matsui cleared waivers (one team I thought might have claimed him would be Cleveland, given his low price tag and their desperate outfield situation – Matsui has proven adept at playing left field this year). I also was not entirely surprised that Melvin would want Matsui back as Matsui has had a renaissance so to speak since Melvin took over as skipper of the A’s. That all said, it is Billy Beane who makes the personnel decisions, not Melvin, so let’s take a moment to take stock of Matsui’s future in the East Bay.

Re-Signing Matsui for 2012

It would presumably not cost much to re-sign Godzilla and bring him back for another year in Oakland. According to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, Matsui signed a $4.25M contract w/ performance bonuses to be in Oakland this year (the contract bonuses aren’t entirely clear so it isn’t clear if he has met them or projects to). There is no reason to believe that Matsui, who ought to finish his year below his production in 2010 which earned him the $4.25M for 2011, will be worth more than $4.25M in a market full of DH types. The question is how much further will his production deteriorate and while he still is a bargain this year having upped his value on 1.1 WAR to a roughly $4.8M level, can the same be said of next year when he will be 38 years old. The other problem is that the A’s have a potential logjam with similarly talented players. It is unclear what the future of Daric Barton is with this franchise but he will be back next year in some capacity it’d seem, furthermore the A’s acquired Brandon Allen a true power threat at first base. These two players could prompt Chris Carter to move to designated hitter – admittedly even without their presence at first, his exceedingly shaky play at first likely would have prompted a move to DH anyhow. Carter mind you has yet to prove himself, owning an atrocious .170/.236/.270 career slash line in 110 plate appearances with an equally disappointing .233 wOBA and 41 wRC+. Yet he has raked in Triple-A, so the question for Carter is will he be a 4-A player or will he emerge and get it together and contribute at the MLB level. While I am not ready to write him off after 110 career plate appearances, I also am not ready to just hand him a job either. The other big question is Josh Willingham who has indicated a willingness to re-sign in Oakland. If Oakland feels the same way his defense in left-field is a liability and he may ultimately be best used as a designated hitter as well, meaning a potential first base platoon, coupled with a DH/LF platoon. Could you find enough at-bats for everyone if then you added Matsui to the mix as well? It’d take a lot of juggling.

Saying Sayonara to Godzilla

The alternative is much simpler and is simply letting Godzilla go at the end of the season and parting ways, or even trading him before hand. As Shea noted above, Matsui has cleared waivers meaning he can be dealt in August. His salary is minimal so it is an easy deal for Oakland to presumably make without having to pick up salary, etc. ZIPS projects Matsui to put up a .263/.341/.421 line going forward while smacking four home runs. While far from Ruthian numbers, for a  club such as Cleveland looking to add offense desperately, or perhaps even a team like the Diamondbacks looking to add a veteran pinch-hitter off the bench, he could be a good pick up. This move would also allow the A’s to get more of a look at Carter and see if he can adjust to the role of DH and also get more at-bats for Brandon Allen potentially while improving outfield defense by cycling Willingham through the DH role as well (which could perhaps free up playing time for Michael Taylor once rosters expand).

The wait until the end of the season then part ways option does add one additional potential question. In their reverse engineering of the Elias rankings which was last updated on August 2nd, MLBTradeRumors had Matsui on the outside looking in at Type-B status, behind (in order, and in a very tight “race’) Jeff Francoeur, Adam Lind, Kosuke Fukudome, B.J. Upton, Juan Pierre and Travis Hafner. If Matsui can continue with a strong finish he could potentially reach Type B status (of note, the last player with Type B status presently is Coco Crisp another Athletic potential free-agent). Currently, this is of course just a theoretical argument, since Matsui is on the outside looking in, but should he be eligible, do the A’s offer him arbitration? I know oftentimes teams and players reach a gentlemen’s agreement and the player agrees not to accept, and so on, but if that is not in place, why would Matsui not accept? That could really hamstring the A’s, or they could just elect to keep him around as insurance and then cut him or deal him and consider it a gamble that they lost trying to acquire a sandwich pick?

If I had to endorse a plan it’d be simple, I do not think Matsui will reach Type-B status. While there are those ahead of him whom I can see him passing, there are a lot of guys to pass and its an iffy proposition. The best course of action is to try dealing Matsui to a contender sometime this month. His contract is minimal so any team regardless of payroll considerations could easily add him. Let’s get something from someone who needs veteran hitting down the stretch. Matsui in Oakland in 2012 just doesn’t make much sense to me, Melvin might like him, but A’s fans should be looking for players for the future, not players from the past.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Ken Arneson permalink
    August 15, 2011 7:52 pm

    Matsui’s a little different; the A’s may have given a verbal promise to let him approve any trades. After all, trading him doesn’t just displace him alone, it displaces his translator, his PR guy, and 40+ media people who follow his every move.

    • August 15, 2011 7:59 pm

      That is a great point. I like Matsui, but wouldn’t be surprised if he was fine with being traded to a contender. I wouldn’t be shocked with him having a pseudo no-trade clause at all, and you probably are right that it exists. It’ll be interesting to see what happens, I just don’t see there are being too many teams that’d clearly benefit from his playing with them at this point which is a bigger problem for trying to trade him before even entering in the other logistical issues.

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