Kaz Matsui Rumors

Rakuten Eagles Sign Kaz Matsui

Kaz Matsui has returned to Japan to join the Rakuten Eagles, according to the Associated Press (via the Denver Post). The Eagles were one of four teams that expressed interest in the switch-hitting infielder, according to reports passed along by Jason Coskrey of the Japan Times (on Twitter).

The 35-year-old finished the season in the Rockies' minor league system after the Astros released him. In seven major league seasons, Matsui posted a .267/.321/.380 line and stole 102 bases (120 attempts). His finest seasons came in 2007-08 when he batted .290/.348/.415. While with the Mets, the light-hitting Matsui homered in his first plate appearance of the 2004, 2005 and 2006 seasons.

Odds & Ends: Pirates, Royals, Sizemore, Matsui

Links for Saturday…

Kaz Matsui Clears Waivers

MONDAY, 2:09pm: Matsui has cleared waivers and is now a free agent, tweets Alyson Footer.  The Astros will be on the hook for his $5MM salary, minus the pro-rated league minimum.

WEDNESDAY, 11:02pm: The Astros have asked waivers on Kaz Matsui and intend to release the infielder, GM Ed Wade said in a team press release. If no team claims Matsui by Monday, he will become a free agent, though the Astros will be responsible for his $5MM salary. The Astros called Oswaldo Navarro up from Triple A in a corresponding move.

The Astros signed Matsui to a three-year $16.5MM deal in 2007 and were rewarded a promising initial season. Matsui hit .293/.354/.427 with 20 steals in 25 attempts in 2008, though he played in just 96 games. The 34-year-old hasn't been as productive since and his batting line has fallen off to .141/.197/.155 this year. The Astros, whose offense ranks last in the NL, had to move on.

Matsui's batting line won't have suitors lining up and his fielding has been below average since joining the Astros (according to UZR). Last fall, Richard Justice of the Houston Chronicle reported that the Astros could consider the possibility of Matsui returning to Japan. Zachary Levine of the Houston Chronicle reports today that Matsui did not say whether he would consider a return to his native country.

Odds & Ends: Dodgers, Bruney, Conrad, McLouth

Links for Friday, as interleague play begins…

The Rockies And Kaz Matsui

The Rockies would like to improve upon Melvin Mora, which is understandable, given Mora's age and bat. But that doesn't mean bringing Kazuo Matsui back is the answer for the Rockies, who are interested in the infielder.

Matsui was fantastic during his first stint with Colorado, hitting .300/.353/.426 on his way to a $16.5MM deal with Houston. But two and a half years later, the Astros are about to release him because he's a different player. Matsui remains an efficient base stealer and UZR suggests his recent defense has been average, but his .141/.197/.155 line would not represent an upgrade from the Rockies' current option.

At 38, Mora is not likely to rediscover 25-homer power, but his .250/.308/.350 line is tolerable for a utility player. Mora's value comes from his defense; UZR rates him as an average defender, and he is versatile enough to play around the infield.

Replacing Mora with Matsui would leave the Rockies without much defensive flexibility. Matsui hasn't played a position other than second base in the major leagues since 2006 and he has never played either corner infield position at the highest level. The Rockies, who have used Mora at first, second and third already this year, rely on his versatility, since their bench includes pinch hitter Jason Giambi.

If the Rockies could carry a 26th man, then adding Matsui in the the hopes that he can recapture his batting stroke wouldn't hurt. But in reality, adding Matsui means removing someone else from the team. They aren't about to go to a six-man bullpen, so Mora or Giambi would have to go. Giambi hasn't hit like he did last year, but the Rockies seem to like his clubhouse presence and power bat.

Matsui does not seem to fit in Colorado, but let's not overstate the Rockies' interest. Just because they have some interest in bringing him back doesn't mean that they're actually going to sign Matsui and give up on either Giambi or Mora.

Castillo, Matsui Possible Options For Colorado?

Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports writes that the Rockies are looking to upgrade from utilityman Melvin Mora as their best backup option at second base.  To that end, the Mets have contacted Colorado about a possible deal for Luis Castillo.  The veteran infielder has a .256/.341/.299 line heading into Thursday's action and has improved his defense (a 2.5 UZR/150) this season after his horrendous -12.7 UZR/150 in 2009.

As Rosenthal mentions, the Rockies wouldn't have to worry about the $12MM owed to Castillo for 2010 and 2011 given that the Mets would be picking up the large majority of that tab to clear the way for Daniel Murphy to get some reps at second base.

If the Rockies aren't interested in working out a deal with New York, another possible answer to their depth problem could be a former Rockie. MLB.com's Thomas Harding proposes that if Kazuo Matsui clears waivers on Monday and is officially released by Houston, Colorado might be a logical landing spot for the second baseman.  Matsui has just a .352 OPS in 78 plate appearances with the Astros this season, but Harding sees Matsui as a minor-league signing that would provide cover for regular second baseman Clint Barmes (who himself is struggling this season with just a .612 OPS heading into today's action).  

Matsui's greatest success in the majors came with the Rockies, where he hit .300/.353/.426 in 579 plate appearances from 2006-07.  Harding mentions that Matsui was popular in the clubhouse and apparently left no hard feelings with management when he left Colorado to sign a three-year, $16.5MM contract with Houston after the Rockies' pennant-winning 2007 campaign. 

Given that the Astros would still be paying the $5MM that Matsui is owed for 2010, this would be a low to no-risk signing for the Rockies to make.  The club would've liked to have been prospect Eric Young make a play for the second base job, but with Young looking at a lengthy stay on the DL with a leg injury, a veteran option like Matsui or Castillo could make sense.

Discussion: Kaz Matsui

Astros second baseman Kaz Matsui is in the final season of a three-year, $16.5MM pact signed in December of 2007.  Matsui's flat start combined with the strong play of Jeff Keppinger has led to the two men splitting time at second.  One has to imagine that Matsui will find himself relegated to the bench if he cannot boost his .214 OPS in the near future.

Of course, putting a player set to earn $5MM on the pine is rather wasteful.  However, drumming up a market for the native of Japan may prove to be difficult.  After a solid campaign in  2008, Matsui hit just.250/.302/.357 in '09.  Fangraphs estimates that his play last season was barely worth more than half of what he earned as his defense was also pedestrian.

If Matsui can get back to his 2008 form, could the Astros find a taker for him without absorbing the majority of the money he is owed?

Odds & Ends: Matsui, Braves, Bumgarner, Benson

Sunday night linkage..

Ed Wade On Biggio, Bagwell, Matsui, ‘Pen

Astros GM Ed Wade told Houston Chronicle readers that he doesn't expect Craig Biggio or Jeff Bagwell to become the team's next manager. Here are the details from Wade's online chat with fans:

  • The Astros are looking for an experienced manager who relates well with players.
  • Wade expects Kaz Matsui to be the team's everyday second baseman next year. 
  • Expect the Astros to be younger next year.
  • Wade says he'd "love" to have LaTroy Hawkins and Jose Valverde back next year, but doesn't say whether he thinks the club has a realistic shot at re-signing either free agent-to-be.
  • The Astros will probably be working with less than the $107MM they spent this year.

Odds & Ends: Indians, Delgado, Harper, Matsui

Here's some links to kick off your Saturday…

  • Paul Hoynes of The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that the Indians have requested that MLB run DNA tests on a few international players the team is negotiating with to confirm their identities. The Tribe got burned when 17-year-old shortstop Jose Ozoria turned out to be 20-year-old Wally Branyan last year.
  • Michael Baron of MetsBlog.com says that Carlos Delgado hasn't really talked to the Mets' front office about returning next year, but he'd love to come back.
  • MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo breaks down the challenges facing Bryce Harper heading into the 2010 Draft.
  • The Astros may explore the possibility of Kaz Matsui returning to Japan, according to Richard Justice of The Houston Chronicle.