Free Agent Stock Watch: Hideki Matsui

After seven seasons in pinstripes, Hideki Matsui imitated his former teammate Bobby Abreu and headed west on a one-year deal with the Angels. At one year and $6MM, the Angels figured to be getting a solid designated hitter to complement Abreu, Torii Hunter, and Kendry Morales as the big bats in the middle of the order.

Matsui trudged through a slow first half though, slugging under .400 and posting just a .732 OPS. Since the All-Star break, however, Godzilla has roared back to life. Hitting .306/.405/.567, Matsui has raised his stock for this offseason considerably. He's matched his first-half home run total of 10 in just 185 plate appearances (as opposed to 335 in the first half) while lowering his K% and increasing his BB%.

Still, Matsui's value in the coming offseason will suffer as a result of his inability to play defense. Plagued by knee injuries, he's been reduced to nearly full-time DHing. He's seen just 122 innings in left field this season, and while that's too small of a sample size to judge from, Matsui has never posted a positive UZR over the course of his eight major league seasons.

Matsui's numbers against left-handed pitching have taken a hit this season as well. While he holds a career OPS of .809 versus southpaws, his .679 mark this season isn't going to appeal to many teams.

There aren't many DHs already under contract for 2011, though the Red Sox and Twins hold options for David Ortiz and Jason Kubel. Vladimir Guerrero has a mutual option in Texas and Travis Hafner is set in Cleveland, but there could be a number of open destinations for Matsui. He'll join the likes of Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome, and his bat could be one of the more attractive DH options on the market thanks to his second-half surge.

At age 36 and unable to be counted on for defense, it's hard to see Matsui commanding multiple years on the free agent market. If a team believes his struggles against left-handed pitching are a fluke, his scorching second half could be enough to earn him a contract similar to the one he signed this past offseason.


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