SweetSpot: Hideki Matsui

Have you recovered from the epic Keith Law-Kevin Goldstein prospect podcast from Wednesday? If so, join Keith and myself as we return to the majors for Thursday's Baseball Today.

1. Was Wednesday's Angels-Rangers game the best game of the season? We discuss Yu Darvish's struggles and potential problems with the Angels' bullpen.

2. The Rangers called up Mike Olt but is there a place for him to play?

3. Bobby Abreu, Hideki Matsui and Derek Lowe have been cut loose by their teams. Have we seen the last of them in a big league uniform?

4. Hey, the Mariners have won seven in a row. They just called up relievers Carter Capps and Stephen Pryor. Do these two really throw 100 mph?

5. User emails bring up Eric Hosmer's struggles, Todd Frazier's rookie season and Desmond Jennings' sophomore slump.

All that and more on Thursday's big show!
It's not in Nolan Ryan's nature to give in.

Throw a 3-2 fastball down the middle of the plate? No way. Let up on his fastball -- just a little -- to throw a few more strikes? Are you kidding? He was not going to give in to a hitter. Ever. It's why he walked more batters than any pitcher in the history of the game, as many as 204 in a season.

Surrender to the ravages of time? No way. Keep firing fastballs, riding the exercise bike, lifting weights, staying strong ... and lead the National League in ERA at age 40, throw a no-hitter at 43, another at 44 and pitch until you're 46.

When Rangers manager Ron Washington admitted to cocaine use? Stand by the guy you believe in, not giving in to the pressure to fire him.

And this is why the Texas Rangers will win the right to negotiate with Japanese right-hander Yu Darvish.

The Los Angeles Angels have signed Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson. The Rangers have a countermove to make. It's Nolan Ryan, after all. He's not going to let the Angels dig in and get that final pitch down the middle.

Now, of course, there's no guarantee the Rangers will get Darvish. The bidding process -- which ends Wednesday night at 5 p.m. ET -- allows teams to submit bids to negotiate with Darvish. The highest bidder then has 30 days to sign him. When the Red Sox won the rights to negotiate with Daisuke Matsuzaka after the 2006 season, they paid $51.1 million to win the bid and then signed Matsuzaka to a six-year, $52 million contract. The same winter, the Yankees paid $26 million to negotiate with Kei Igawa.

Estimates to win the rights to the 25-year-old Darvish have ranged from $30 million to $70 million, according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo. The performances of Matsuzaka (mediocre, nibbled too much, couldn't go deep into games) and Igawa (horrible) will perhaps make some teams hesitant to pay a small fortune just to negotiate with a player who may have a preference to sign with a West Coast team -- if he signs at all. There is no guarantee that will even happen, as Darvish apparently doesn't have a burning desire to prove himself in America like Hideki Matsui or Ichiro Suzuki did. Darvish is already the highest-paid player in Japan.

Those who have seen Darvish say he can be a No. 1 pitcher over here. Mets manager Terry Collins, who managed against Darvish in Japan, raved about him at the winter meetings. Davey Johnson has also managed against him and called him a "big, strong hard-thrower. Throws a lot like Americans. ... That guy is going to be expensive," he said at the winter meetings.

In his final two years in Japan, Matsuzaka's numbers read 401.1 innings, 310 hits, 83 walks and 426 strikeouts. If anything, Darvish has been even more dominant; in the past two seasons, he's pitched 434 innings with 314 hits, 83 walks and 498 strikeouts. But Matsuzaka's fastball never seemed to have the same life that he displayed in the 2006 World Baseball Classic, and he often appeared afraid to challenge hitters over here, leading to high walk rates and inconsistent performance.

If there is a concern about Darvish, it's that he's pitched a lot of innings at a young age. He turned 25 in August but has already compiled four seasons of 200-plus innings in Japan, the first coming when he was 20. Former Royals manager Trey Hillman, who managed Darvish in Japan, says Darvish would be able to handle the pressure of coming to America better than Matsuzaka. "He's a totally different person," Hillman told USA Today's Paul White. "He gets it, and it doesn't faze him in the least."

That circles us back to the Rangers. They've lost Wilson, their best starter the past two seasons, to their division rival. The signing of Joe Nathan likely prompts a move of Neftali Feliz to the rotation -- giving the club five starters in Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, Alexi Ogando and Feliz, with Scott Feldman also hanging around. It's a good rotation. Solid.

But Nolan Ryan wants more than solid. The Rangers came within a strike of winning the World Series in 2011, even though their starters pitched into the seventh inning just four times in 17 postseason games. He needs a No. 1. They can sign Darvish and move Ogando back to the bullpen, where he profiles as a dominant setup man to Nathan.

Maybe Ryan will fool us. Maybe he and general manager Jon Daniels are happy with their current rotation. Maybe the Rangers really won't spend any big money this offseason, letting Wilson go and passing on Prince Fielder, whose left-handed bat profiles perfectly in the middle of the righty-heavy Rangers lineup.

Maybe. But that's not the way Nolan Ryan usually pitches.

Extra pitching in Oakland?

February, 7, 2011
As the A's have been wheeling-and-dealing throughout the offseason, I've been closely tracking how it affects both the 25- and 40-man rosters. By my count, there could be as many as eight new Athletics on the Opening Day roster.

The additions of Josh Willingham, David DeJesus and Hideki Matsui have just about set the position player side of the equation, but the 12-man pitching staff is still up-in-the-air (for those not as familiar with the A's, it's a lock that they break camp with 12 pitchers; Bob Geren would have it no other way).

Assuming that Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Dallas Braden all take rotation spots, there are as many as 13 candidates for the remaining eight spots. At minimum, the A's have the following pitchers available for bullpen spots: Andrew Bailey, Grant Balfour, Jerry Blevins, Craig Breslow, Joey Devine, Brian Fuentes, Michael Wuertz, and Brad Ziegler.

That's not including Rich Harden, if he's not the fifth starter, or other potential fifth-starter candidates Brandon McCarthy, Josh Outman, Tyson Ross and Bobby Cramer.

There are injury questions with many of these guys, including Bailey, a shutdown closer through two seasons with a 1.70 ERA (and just-as-spiffy 2.70 FIP) in 132 major-league innings, Devine, coming off Tommy John surgery that cost him the last two seasons, and the perennially injured Harden, whose role still has yet to be determined.

The A's are sitting on at least eight average major-league relief pitchers right now, possibly more. "Average major-league relief pitchers" might not sound that great, but this bullpen stacks up with any in baseball, in terms of both peak talent and depth.

While teams might not have wanted to pay for Balfour or Fuentes during the offseason, some of them (all of them?) will need relief help come July. As we've seen recently, teams will do silly things in the thick of a playoff race when time is running out.

The A's, with extra money to spend after failing to come up with Adrian Beltre or Hisashi Iwakuma, smartly added assets at close to their market value. The contracts for Balfour and Fuentes could allow them to be moved for decent young talent, given their salaries. While not quite as talented, pitchers like Wuertz or Ziegler could be moved for the same talent given their short (one-year) contracts and lower salaries.

This all assumes that everything goes according to plan. Which, for the A's, it almost always does. Even if it doesn't, the A's depth will be a major strength in 2011.

-- Dan Hennessey writes Baseballin' on a Budget, a blog about the Oakland Athletics. Follow him on Twitter @DanHennessey31.

A's blog joins SweetSpot Network

December, 15, 2010
This is a good day.

Of course, I don't generally have much to complain about, so most of them are good days.

This is a particularly good day, though, because today I'm pleased to introduce the latest addition to the SweetSpot Network ... Baseballin' on a Budget, covering the Oakland Athletics.

It's actually somewhat shocking that it's taken this long to find an A's blog, considering how many really smart people follow the team. Finally, though, I met Dan Hennessey at the PITCHf/x Summit in San Francisco last summer, and after reading a few entries from his Knuckleballs blog, I figured I might have my man.

I was right, and we've since been blessed by the addition of Chris Martinez, who will cover (among other things) the Athetics' farm system, to the team.

Enough with the introductions. Here's Dan on the A's new designated hitter:
    As I wrote Sunday, I’m ok with acquiring Hideki Matsui, so long as the first item of business is to steal any glove he tries to bring with him. If he’s allowed to play any outfield, expect to see Bob Geren crushed in these here (electronic) pages. He will give back everything he earns at the plate. Even if they find another DH-only type player, he’s probably better than Matsui in the outfield (if they want both in the lineup). I can’t stress this enough; I will flip out if I see Matsui in the outfield. With Coco Crisp, David DeJesus, and Ryan Sweeney, there’s no reason he should ever be out there.

    Enough ranting, back to rationality. The deal is reportedly for about $4.5 million and some incentives, which is fine. I’m a little surprised it’s that low, since I think he’s a 1.5 to 2 WAR player if he plays 140+ games. Given the number of DH options available though, everyone’s price comes down. Seemingly, the A’s are betting on Matsui’s ability to play a lot, passing on older (but possibly better) players like Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez, as well as injury-prone players like Nick Johnson.

I think that's probably right. Matsui missed a big chunk of 2008 with an injury. Otherwise, in the three seasons since 2006 he's played 143, 142, and 145 games, and posted adjusted OPS's of 123, 123, and 124. If he does those things for the A's, he's a bargain. As long as he doesn't play more than a tiny smattering of games in the field.

Again, I want to welcome Dan and Chris to the SweetSpot fold. The network just got a little better.

If Godzilla's benched in an empty forest ...

August, 9, 2010
Just another thing that's gone wrong for the Angels this season. Bill Plunkett:
    Angels manager Mike Scioscia's defense of Hideki Matsui has been far more consistent this season than Matsui's production.

With Matsui in the depths of yet another slump (1 for his past 14), Scioscia benched Matsui for the third time in the past seven games, the first time against a right-handed starter. But Scioscia continued to express confidence that Matsui's next good streak is just around the corner.


Scioscia insists he has seen no loss of bat speed with Matsui, a sure sign of aging in a hitter. While the legion of reporters who document Matsui's every move – even on a day spent on the Angels' bench – worry that the Angels might release him (signed to a one-year, $6 million contract), Scioscia assured them Sunday was not a signal that his confidence in Matsui had evaporated and the veteran's playing time would disappear in the final third of the season.And the point is what, exactly?

None of this matters to anyone except Matsui and those Angels fans who live and die with every pitch.

In less than two months, Matsui's contract and the Angels' season will expire.

Matsui doesn't make a great deal of money. They have to pay him whether he's on the roster or not, and anyway it's not like he's blocking some hot prospect. Matsui's got the sixth-highest OPS among Angels with at least a dozen plate appearances this season. All the guys ahead of him are already playing.

Well, sort of. Mark Trumbo, 24, has been tearing up the Pacific Coast League pretty good this season. He's probably a future DH, and might even take his place in the lineup next spring. But there's little difference between promoting him tomorrow and promoting him on the 1st of September when the active rosters are expanded.

Little difference, because [Hank] Conger's not great and because the Angels' fate has been determined already. They're nine games out of first place and a dozen games behind Tampa Bay.

Yes, it's time to start thinking about the future. But that can wait for another week or three while management comes to terms with reality.


I suppose there's a larger point to be made here, about spending real money on non-elite older players. I'll bet you can find columns last winter complaining that the Yankees should have kept Matsui and Johnny Damon, because by golly they were still pretty good hitters and what's a few more million dollars to the Yankees, anyway?

It was never about the money. It was about getting younger and (perhaps) better. Granted, Damon's and Matsui's replacements -- Curtis Granderson and Nick Johnson -- haven't exactly hit their projections, and the Yankees might have won about as many games if they had kept the older guys. But the get-younger impulse will serve the organization well in coming years.

Will Matsui join Angels in the outfield?

March, 5, 2010
Care to guess how many innings Hideki Matsui played in the field last year?

If you answered "zero" you win the kewpie doll.

Nevertheless, he's got a new team and the Angels haven't give up on him. Sure, he's going to be the club's primary DH. But according to the manager, he's not locked in:
    Hideki Matsui is making better-than-expected progress in early spring-training fielding drills but it's still unclear how much the Angels' new designated hitter might play in the outfield this season, Manager Mike Scioscia said Tuesday.

    "He's not in all of the outfield drills, he's been kind of weaned in, but he's doing much more than we had anticipated," Scioscia said of Matsui, the former New York Yankees slugger and last year's World Series most valuable player who signed a one-year, $6-million deal with the Angels.

    "We knew that he might be taking it slow in the spring, but from day one he was able to get into drills, start to step them up," Scioscia added. "But he still has a ways to go."

    Matsui, 35, has two arthritic knees that prevented him from playing in the outfield last year. But he and the Angels hope he can see some defensive action this season, if only to occasionally relieve the starting outfielders — Juan Rivera, Torii Hunter and Bobby Abreu — should they need some rest.

    "We are hopeful that he's going to be able to go out there a couple of days a week and be an option to play the outfield if somebody needs to get off their feet for a day," Scioscia said.

As The Ghost of Moonlight Graham points out, playing Matsui in left field will cost the Angels some runs; he was a pretty lousy outfielder before his knees met Old Man Arthritis.

Two things about this, though:

First, Matsui hasn't played a single inning in the outfield yet, and apparently won't for some time. If he does at all. It's probably too early to panic.

And second, even if Matsui does occasionally start in left field, it'll cost the Angels runs only if he gives away more in the field than he gets at the plate. Sure, if the benefit is just giving the regular outfielder an occasional day off, it's probably not worth the trade-off. But what if one of those guys gets hurt, and can hit but can't field (well)? Dear Angels fans: Do you really want Reggie Willits or Chris Pettit in the lineup in a non-emergency situation?

As long as there's no serious risk, the Angels should at least see if Godzilla can play in the outfield without demolishing a bunch of miniature buildings.

Angels paying Matsui what he's worth

December, 14, 2009
With Vladimir Guerrero gone, the Angels need a new designated hitter. And according to Tyler Kepner, they've (almost) got one:

    According to an official involved in the negotiations, Matsui agreed with the Angels on Monday. The official was granted anonymity because the deal will not be announced until Matsui passes a physical exam.

    Matsui decided to take the Angels’ offer rather than wait and see if the Yankees would bring him back. It was probably a wise move by Matsui, because while the Yankees never closed the door to his return, they have been very wary of making a commitment. Matsui will receive $6.5 million from the Angels, according to ESPN’s Buster Olney.

    The Yankees managed Matsui’s knee problems last season, limiting him to the same designated hitter role he will fill in Anaheim. Matsui, 35, held up for 142 games and hit .272 with 28 homers and 90 runs batted in last season.

It's worth mentioning that Matsui is taking a huge pay cut. His last contract payed him $52 million over four seasons; his new contract is paying him $6.5 million for one season. It's also worth mentioning that Matsui was actually worth only $27 million over the last four seasons ... so $6.5 million in 2010 seems almost exactly right.

Which just goes to a point that I (and others) have been making lately: Teams are doing a better job of properly valuing players, and particularly older players. Matsui's certainly good enough to play in the major leagues. But he's not good enough to earn a (relatively) huge salary, and so he's not going to.

Monday Mendozas

December, 14, 2009
With the Winter Meetings just a memory and Santa Season upon us, do you really have time to be reading about baseball? If not, please let me know so I can do some shopping ...

* Are you like me? Do you wonder how Rafael Soriano can possibly be worth something like $8 million to a poor franchise like the Rays? It's all about marginal value of a win, my friends.

* Why does Brian Cashman seem so unconcerned about who's going to replace Hideki Matsui in the lineup? Because of Juan Miranda, of course. And yes, Miranda might be good enough, particularly in a platoon.

* Joe Posnanski's right: the signing of Jason Kendall won't make a material difference to the Royals. But as Posnanski writes, it sure does tell us something large about the men who run the Royals.

* Everyone's wondering -- for example, here -- why the Pirates non-tendered Matt Capps. According to GM Neal Huntington, it's because of that pesky media.

* Do No. 1 starters, over the course of the season, tend to face a disproportionate share of No. 1 starters? For the hundredth time, no.

* Three things I think we all adore: Baseball, movies, and on-line polls. And when you can combine those adorable things? Nirvana. (If you're interested in which three movies got my votes, check the comments here).

* ESPN's Dan Shulman has picked up a wonderful honor. And I'm happy to report that in addition to being an outstanding broadcaster, Shulman is also a wonderfully nice man.

* It won't be out for a while yet, but Keith Olbermann really, really likes reliever Dirk Hayhurst's upcoming memoir (for the record, so do I). More when the book is actually available.

Mets kicking Matsui's tires

December, 3, 2009
Uh-oh. This would scare me a little, were I a Mets fan. From LoHud:
    According to NPBtracker’s twitter, the Mets have asked to see the results of a Hideki Matsui physical. That could be Omar Minaya simply kicking the tires and turning over every rock, or it could be legitimate interest in putting Matsui in the outfield.In a lot of ways, Matsui would make sense for the Mets. They certainly need a bat, especially in the outfield and especially one that hits for power. If Matsui can legitimately play left field, he could give that lineup a boost, and Matsui wouldn’t have to leave New York, which might be appealing to him and make him more likely to sign.

    It makes no sense in one very obvious way. Matsui has played a total of 23 games in the outfield the past two seasons. Using a medical report to decide he can play there again would be a giant leap of faith.

    That said, when MLB.com’s depth chart lists your starting left fielder as Angel Pagan, I guess any and every option is on the table.

What do you think, Mets fans? Would you like to see the club take a flyer on a 36-year-old outfielder with bum knees? Or should the Mets spend the next year or so trying to get their house in order for a run at perennial success?

Signing Matsui to anything more than a one-year contract would be a pitiful cry for a help from a franchise that has no excuse for not winning 85-95 games almost every year. Then again, when you're supposed to win 85-95 games every year, you can wind up doing some pretty silly things.

Is Matsui's Yankee career almost over?

November, 3, 2009
What's in store for the Yankees this winter? If we know anything, we know they won't stand pat. Brian Cashman has mentioned his desire for a veteran starting pitcher, but the lineup probably won't be the same, either. As Tyler Kepner wrote last week, there just isn't room on the roster in 2010 for Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui. So which one goes? That may depend on their agents, but Matsui looks like the obvious choice:
    Matsui will be a free agent after the World Series, and the Yankees are eager to open up designated hitter as a place to rest veterans like third baseman Alex Rodriguez, catcher Jorge Posada, Jeter and perhaps left fielder Johnny Damon, who is also a free agent. Damon turns 36 on Thursday, and Matsui turns 36 next June.


    The concern about bringing back Matsui is not his production. There is no question that he can still hit, and he remains the epitome of professionalism, working diligently without complaint.

    It is strictly about roster flexibility. The Yankees have Rodriguez, Posada and Jeter under contract for next season, with a new deal for Jeter, who also turns 36 next June, looming. The designated hitter spot could be vital to keeping them all healthy and maximizing their effectiveness.

Well, yes ... but there's something else, too, that Kepner touches on just tangentially: the Yankees are old. Now it seems that their American League pennant was inevitable, but was it really? Three of their best players were 35, and Jorge Posada was 37. All of them were better in 2009 than they'd been in 2008, and Posada was the only one who missed significant time because of injuries.

That's not typically a recipe for success. Last winter, Brian Cashman's No. 1 mission was adding strikeout pitchers to his rotation (his No. 2 mission was signing the best-hitting free agent). This winter, I'll bet you a box of Cracker Jack that his No. 1 million will be getting younger in the lineup, however slightly. The Yankees will not be a young team in 2010. But they won't be quite as old, either, and that means one of the old-timers has to go.