What’s Next for Matsui?
Hideki Matsui saw the ball well in this year’s World Series. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him look more locked in at the plate than he did against Pedro Martinez, and his MVP performance brought former manager Shigeo Nagashima to tears.
But his contract is up, and the discussion about where he’ll play next season was well underway by the time the Yankees crossed the finish line of their victory parade. For his part, Matsui has been consistently saying that he wants to remain in New York. It makes sense; Matsui has that elusive “True Yankee” pedigree that others find so elusive. He knows his role on the team, performs to expectations, handles the pressure of playing for the Yankees well, and knows how to deal with both the New York and Tokyo media. In a world without knee injuries, a return engagement would be a no-brainer.
A return to Japan isn’t on the cards at this point. The Hanshin Tigers and Yomiuri Giants made overtures to Matsui during the summer, and although he initially seemed receptive, he quickly brushed them off and recently ruled out the idea completely. Maybe he will return to Japan for a farewell tour at some point, but Hanshin and Yomiuri, the two most obvious teams for him, both play in the DH-less Central League. And judging by the response the idea got on discussion sites, Japanese fans would largely rather see Matsui continue to perform in MLB.
So, if the Yankees don’t bring Matsui back, where does he go? The Seattle rumors have some logic to them, as the Mariners have Japanese ownership and could have an opening at DH if Ken Griffey Jr decides to retire. Aside from Seattle, I would suggest the White Sox, who could use a left-handed power hitter to take over for Jim Thome, and the Orioles, who were interested in Matsui way back in 2002, as possible destinations.
My guess that Matsui finds a way to remain a Yankee. If he doesn’t, at least he went out in style.