Matsui in Red, Varitek's 'C'

Yankee's Hideki Matsui bats during game 5 of the world series in Philadelphia
Hideki Matsui as a Red Sock? (Left: While not the best "action shot" out there on Matsui, it would offend our sense of decency to have pictures of Yankees high-fiving or trotting around the bases on our site. Therefore, we felt a picture of Matsui being brushed back by a fastball was much more appropriate.) Yesterday, the Red Sox official website announced a rumor linking the team to Hideki Matsui. According to sources at nikkansports.com (don’t even bother with the link, unless you can read Japanese), the Japanese website expects the Red Sox to tender Matsui a contract at some point this offseason. Though Matsui proved this season that he is still a force at the plate, the real question is whether or not he can effectively man left field.
Yankee's Hideki Matsui bats during game 5 of the world series in Philadelphia

Hideki Matsui as a Red Sock?

(Left: While not the best “action shot” out there on Matsui, it would offend our sense of decency to have pictures of Yankees high-fiving or trotting around the bases on our site. Therefore, we felt a picture of Matsui being brushed back by a fastball was much more appropriate.)

Yesterday, the Red Sox official website announced a rumor linking the team to Hideki Matsui. According to sources at nikkansports.com (don’t even bother with the link, unless you can read Japanese),  the website expects the Red Sox to tender Matsui a contract at some point this offseason.

Though Matsui proved this season that he is still a force at the plate, the real question is whether or not he can effectively man left field.

Since arriving from across the Pacific in 2003, Matsui has consistently been among the lesser defensive left fielders in the league – having never posted a positive UZR, including a -21.7 and -25.4 total in 2003 and 2004, respectively. Fortunately for the Yankees, they found a way to keep him off the field in the last two seasons, allowing him to man DH all year in 2009.

Though his hitting still makes him a valuable major leaguer, Matsui’s defense takes a considerable chunk out of his overall value. If we expect his hitting to tail off somewhat after his resurgent 2009, he is still likely to be just a 2-3 win player in left field. Given that he will likely garner in excess of $11 million, his free agent contract will be at best a financial wash.

Therefore, it’s a good thing for Matsui that he rediscovered his swing last season. After a very poor 2008, where he hit 9 home runs in 337 at-bats, he enjoyed perhaps the best power output of his career, with 28 long balls in 456 at-bats – good for a career high 17.4% HR/FB rate.

And the gains weren’t a Yankee Stadium mirage. In fact, Matsui hit considerably better on the road than at home, with a .286/.383/.567 line away from New York, versus a .265/.354/.462 line in the Big Apple. He showed considerable power away from home as well, slugging 15 homers in 203 at-bats.

However, there are some downward trends that suggest Matsui’s bat is aging.

First, his contact percentage is beginning to wane, as his 83.4 percent rate was his lowest since 2004 – down 2.5% from 2008.

Second, his IFFB% has been trending upward for the past four seasons, sitting at 13.0% in ’09 – up 4% from ’08.

These declining indicators are likely to pick up steam next year and another significant drop in Matsui’s contact percentage could really hinder his production at the plate. As Matsui’s contact rate declines, his strikeout rate will rise, meaning a lower batting average, fewer home runs, and a lower OPS. In addition, Matsui will find himself in more pitcher’s counts, making it more difficult to sit on pitches, reducing his power and causing pitchers to challenge him more in the zone – which will deplete his walk rates.

Sure, this pattern is not unique to Matsui, as many hitters age this way. However, when investing in a low-upside, aging slugger with poor defense, the team may be better off looking elsewhere.

Still, the left field market gets very shallow after Holliday and Bay, so offering a short-term contract – two years at most – to Matsui is certainly an option worth considering. Marlon Byrd, anyone? Too bad Mike Cameron wants to stay in center field.

‘C’ for Contract

As mentioned earlier, Jason Varitek exercised his $3 million player option and will return to the team for 2009. The contract includes four $400,00o escalators  for each landmark achieved at 80, 90, 100, and 110 games started.

More interesting that Varitek’s salary is the reference the Red Sox team site makes to Varitek’s ‘C’, that it is now threatened by his status as a backup and could be removed. Writes Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com,

So, now the question is whether the veteran backstop – now a 37-year-old backup – will keep the heralded “C” he has sported on the top left of his Red Sox jersey for five seasons.

While the suggestion carries added weight for being published on the official Red Sox website, it would certainly be surprising if the team forced Varitek to relinquish his captain status. Since Varitek’s contract expired at the end of the 2008 season, the team has been very cognizant of treating the veteran with respect. At this point, it seems unlikely that they would insult him in such a manner. Should Varitek lose his captain’s status, it would more likely be the result of him giving it up of his own accord than of any coercion on the part of the front office.

Though Gonzalez makes a good point in assessing the catcher’s value to the team, he has earned the ‘C’ through years of hard work and service to the team, and is under no obligation or moral imperative to give up his position. This is hopefully the last time that such a suggestion will be brought up in Red Sox Nation. Sure, Varitek is not the player he once was, but this kind of indignity is below our beloved Boston club.

Categories: Boston Red Sox Hideki Matsui Jason Varitek

14 Responses to “Matsui in Red, Varitek's 'C'” Subscribe

  1. Sean_O November 12, 2009 at 10:17 AM #

    Matsui: no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no.

    No Yankees polluting this club.

  2. donna November 12, 2009 at 10:32 AM #

    unless the Red Sox really covet any increase in marketing in Japan thru a signing of Matsui… what real piece could he play …and what would his knees make Ells do in center???
    if we are looking to take a Yankee i would rather see Damon in LF, with his beard.
    i guess i do not understand why FO would want to pay Matsui's salary now.

  3. _Marcos_ November 12, 2009 at 3:14 PM #

    It looks like the reports of Boston’s interest in Hideki Matsui drew quite a bit of attention the other day, possibly getting blown just a wee bit out of proportion. All the reports in the Japanese media, which idolizes Matsui, are saying that Godzilla is shaping up to a plan b to Jason Bay.

    When asked by the Japanese press, Theo Epstein played down the idea of signing Matsui. Quoted in Sponichi: “Our DH next season is [David] Ortiz. His last four months of this season were good, and I think next year will be a good season for him”; and Daily Sports, commenting more specifically on Matsui: “we aren’t thinking about it that deeply. Right now we have our hands full with our own free agents.” Incidentally, Epstein has been quoted as saying he wants to keep Takashi Saito around.

    In other news, Sponichi has a report that the Rays would consider Matsui if they can move Pat Burell, reports persist that the Angels could turn to Matsui if negotiations with Vlad Guererro stall, and the Mets are looking into whether Matsui can play in the field on a regular basis.

    http://www.npbtracker.com/2009/11/more-on-matsui/

    If you people don't have anything to write about, just don't write anything

  4. Dale Sams November 12, 2009 at 12:21 PM #

    "If you people don't have anything to write about, just don't write anything "

    I agree with the sentiment, but not the tone.

    It shouldn't be difficult gold pan out ridiculous ideas that will never happen like Votto getting traded in a salary dump idea, or Matsui coming to the Sox.

    • _Marcos_ November 12, 2009 at 4:05 PM #

      yeah that was a little harsh

  5. M.A.G. November 12, 2009 at 1:32 PM #

    Zero chances of this to happen.

    The japanese press is not a reliable source in this cases. And evidently Matsui makes no sense at all for Boston. We need a LF not a DH.

  6. Corey November 12, 2009 at 4:00 PM #

    We need to hang on to Bay unless he is too expensive.

    • Corey November 12, 2009 at 4:14 PM #

      I also think Tek keeps the C until he leaves the club. The man is still a leader in the clubhouse. I'm glad we've hung on to him.

      • tecramer November 13, 2009 at 2:53 PM #

        The only reason to allow him to retain captain title is the signal it gives throughout the club house. As for retaining Varitek – he more or less becomes a player-catchers coach to aid in the development of Martinez. He is – and has been for a few years – a total liability at the plate and now with his arm this is extended to the field. Additionally, teams have learned his love for calling the fastball and not making in-game adjustment choosing to stay with the game plan even when not working. They say no one works harder in preparation, but a bit more flexibility or scenario planning is warranted.

        On another note, I'm hoping we can get Stephen Drew. great glove and an impact power bat that while lacks consistency is an upgrade over both Lowrie (who I like a lot) and other current options.

  7. evanbrunell November 12, 2009 at 4:15 PM #

    I would be extremely concerned if the Sox thought it a good idea to remove Tek's C.

    • Shane November 12, 2009 at 9:08 PM #

      I highly doubt they'd remove it, there is absolutely no need. He didn't get it for being the best player on the field, he got it for being the team leader.

    • _Marcos_ November 12, 2009 at 5:54 PM #

      Well Bernie Williams was a Yankee Captain and the Yankees named Jeter their new captain while they were still teammates. They played together for like 4 years after the switch.

      • Shane November 13, 2009 at 9:34 AM #

        What are you talking about? Jeter was the fist Yankee Captain since Don Mattingly.

  8. _Marcos_ November 12, 2009 at 5:59 PM #

    And cares about his feeling anyways. They shouldn't care about his feeling because this is a business and he will be a part time player. They should worry about the feelings of everyday players. The emotional state of everyday players matters more because since play more often, their emotional state could impact their game.