YAKYU BY THE NUMBERS: World Series MVP Matsui Might Still Have Future with Yankees


In films, the flame-throwing Godzilla never went quietly into the night. He went out swinging — and, many think, so has his namesake Hideki Matsui. In what many believe might be his last game in the Yankee pinstripes, Matsui went 3-for-4 with six RBIs in the clinching game of the World Series. He hit .618 overall with three HRs and eight RBIs. His performance earned him the World Series MVP and made him the darling of both New York City and Tokyo.

Then, on Monday, he filed for free agency. This means the 35-year-old is free to sign with any major league team — and for that matter any team in Japan (early rumors have linked him to the Seattle Mariners, Chicago White Sox and the Hanshin Tigers).

So where will he end up?

Try the Yankees.

When the season began virtually everyone on both sides of the Pacific believed that this would be Matsui’s last year in the Bronx. Although he didn’t miss a game in his first three years with the Yankees, Matsui was becoming increasingly susceptible to injuries. In 2006 he broke his wrist and missed 111 games, then in 2008 he missed another 69 because of his gimpy knees. In addition, he was in his final year of a four-year, $52 million contract.

MONSTER SWING — New York Yankees designated hitter Hideki Matsui follows through after hitting one of his three homers against the Philadephia Phillies in this year’s World Series. After the Yankees took the title in six games and Matsui took series MVP, the veteran slugger filed for free agency this week. Kyodo News photo

Indeed, just getting playing time in 2009 looked bad for Matsui, who was limited to DH’ing. Alex Rodriguez, who was coming off hip surgery, would need some at-bats at DH at least initially. And, the Yankees had a glut of outfielders that included Johnny Damon, Nick Swisher, Melky Cabrera, Brett Gardner and Xavier Nady — all of whom would be taking away at-bats from Matsui.

Yes, it was a pretty good time for the Yankees to say sayonara to an overpriced, aging ballplayer with gimpy knees and reduced playing time.

Then all the cosmic tumblers seemed to fall into place for Godzilla. Nady, Cabrera and Gardner suffered injuries — Nady’s was season ending — and Godzilla got hot. Hot to the tune of 18 HRs and 57 RBIs in the second half.

To top it off, Matsui hit .348 in the postseason with four HRs and 13 RBIs and became the first Japanese-born player to win the World Series MVP.

And suddenly, it makes sense for the Yankees to re-sign him.

The biggest free-agent outfielders on the market in the offseason are Matt Holliday and Jason Bay. Holliday hit 24 HRs with 99 RBIs between playing for the Cardinals and A’s and Bay hit 36 HRs with 119 RBIs for the Red Sox. Both are impact players who are in their prime. The only problem is that they’re going to want multiyear deals that would approach $75 million.

The Yankees, who have the biggest payroll in baseball by far, are already paying the gross national product of Romania to Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, C.C. Sabathia and others. It’s unlikely they’ll want to take on an additional $75 million, especially since they just won the World Series.

It makes sense for the Yankees to go after lesser-priced free-agent outfielders. And which lesser-priced free-agent outfielder just won the World Series MVP?

Don’t expect Matsui to get the $13 million he got in 2009, but he’s said he wants to finish out his U.S. career playing in New York and would probably take a pay cut. A one-year deal with an option or a two-year deal would also give the Yankees time to develop top outfield prospect Austin Jackson.

Matsui, who should be healthy enough to play the outfield at least part-time, also brings revenues to the table. All those Japanese ads in Yankee Stadium aren’t because of Jorge Posada now are they?

The only stumbling blocks are teammate Johnny Damon and the hated Boston Red Sox. Damon, who is in virtually the same situation as Matsui, also filed for free agency but wants to return to the Yankees. It might come down to an either/or situation between Damon and Matsui for the Yankees. If the Yankees go with Damon then Matsui is probably out in the cold as far as the pinstripes go.

And don’t forget the Yankees and Red Sox have taken “keeping up with Joneses” to ridiculous heights. If the Red Sox make a couple of big signings then the Yankees just might decide they “must” spend $75 million to keep up. If that’s the case then Matsui is probably gone.

A lot of things must fall into place for Godzilla to return to Gotham, but if his improbable 2009 season is any indication, Matsui might not want to hang up those pinstripes quite yet. He might need them in 2010.

Looking for work: Yasuhiko Yabuta’s days with the Royals are apparently over. Kansas City declined to exercise a $4 million option on the reliever, making him a free agent. The 36-year-old Yabuta was 3-4 with a 7.14 ERA with the Royals in parts of two seasons.

Kerwin Berk is the former assistant sports editor of the San Francisco Chronicle. He can be reached at kerwin@nichibeiweekly.org.

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