As Hideki Matsui looks toward his impending free agency, he's got to feel good about things. He's proven to the baseball world once again that he is one of the premier hitters in the American League and despite all the talk of injuries, age, and decline; Matsui can still rake with the best of them and should be in line for a nice contract.
How will Matsui's tremendous 2009 season translate on the free-agent market? Let's take a look:
The Case for Matsui
When Matsui is healthy and able to play, there's no doubt that he can hit.
This season, Matsui has put up some big numbers in the heart of the Yankees lineup: .280, 25 HR, 85 RBI, .370 OBP, .886 OPS. And those numbers don't even tell just how good Matsui has been this season: he's been equally productive against lefties and righties (.276 v. .281) and has been great with runners in scoring position (.313, 8 HR).
Sure Matsui is getting up their in age (he's 35), but his numbers at the dish have not taken a drastic decline even though his health has been shaky.
That has to be a positive for American League teams looking to add some power to the middle of their lineup.
The Case against Matsui
He can't play defense
Because of injuries and age, the Yankees have not counted on Matsui to do anything other than DH this season. It remains to be seen if Matsui can actually play the outfield in the future, but whatever team signs him will have to deal with the limited flexibility that comes with him.
In both 2006 and 2008, Matsui failed to play at least 100 games because of injuries. Even though Matsui has been productive this season, there has been constant chatter about the health of Matsui's knee and as we mentioned before, Matsui has not played the outfield at all this season.
At this point in his career, Matsui might be relegated to being a full-time DH just to keep him on the field and away from the disabled list.
At this point in his career, I don't think we can count on Matsui to play the outfield in the near future. So for argument's sake, we'll assume that teams will view Matsui solely as a DH. His chief competition this offseason will be other aging players who can still be productive hitters: Vladimir Guerrero, Jim Thome, Aubrey Huff, etc.
Elias Ranking: Type B
There is absolutely no way that the Yankees offer Matsui arbitration. Paying $15 million+ is way too much for a guy who can't play the outfield and limits their flexibility.
(2 years/$16 million)
Here are some comparable contracts:
Pat Burrell (2 years/$16 million)
Raul Ibanez (3 years/$31.5 million)
Adam Dunn (2 years/$20 million)
If Matsui stays healthy, I have no doubt that he can remain a productive power hitter. But with that said, I'd be very hesitant to give Matsui anything more than a two-year deal at this point given his age and injury history.