The P-I is reporting that Montreal’s Omar Minaya will interview with the Ms in the next week, bringing the total to two “official” candidates. With any luck, the other 4-6 will be fished out this week.
After the GM search, Kazuo Matsui is probably the most interesting decision the Mariners will make this offseason. I can see both sides of the issue, and think my feelings on his acquisition will be determined by the other roster decisions the new GM makes.
Why Matsui would be a good acquisition
1. Shortstop is a problem for the Mariners and he is the best available option (no, I don’t think much of Miguel Tejada in Safeco Field). Carlos Guillen simply is not a reliable option for a contending team. You can count on him missing at least a month of the season, being hobbled for another month, and just an average player when he is healthy. The Mariners should view shortstop as a position of weakness and look to upgrade.
2. The Japanese revenue is a strength for the organization. The Mariners get more money flowing into their coffers from Japan than any other team, and it is wise to continue to cultivate financial advantages where you can find them.
3. He is in his prime. Unlike most free-agents, Matsui is not in the decline phase of his career. He turns 28 next week and likely has 2-3 “prime” years left before his skills begin to deteriorate. Most free agent signings are at the end of their good years, and teams are paying for what they have done in the past. He will be discounted because of the uncertainty of his abilities to translate to America, but we shouldn’t be worried about his abilities vanishing before our eyes.
4. His skillset should translate well to Safeco Field. As a switch-hitter, he’ll take most of his hacks from the left side, so the giant abyss in left-center shouldn’t rob him of too much power. His swing is tailored for line drives and ground balls, reducing most the park effects that Safeco would have on his production.
Why Matsui would be a bad acquisition
1. Japanese players are consistently overpriced. Think anyone would be handing Hideki Matsui seven million dollars if he were a free agent this offseason? Me either. The market is not made for bargains. The Mariners will almost certainly have to pay a contract higher in value than his actual production is worth. He will not come at a discount rate.
2. His power may not translate to the major leagues. His value in Japan has come from hitting 30+ homers the past two years, but most scouts project him as a 10 homer guy in America. Since he doesn’t walk much and doesn’t have Ichiro’s ridiculous ability to hit .400 for months at a time, he’s going to have to have some pop to be an impact player. None of the Japanese players have proven to be productive power hitters at the major league level, and Little Matsui is not likely to be the exception.
3. The Mariners need to maintain budget flexibility. Locking themselves into a 3 or 4 year contract to a risky proposition like Matsui would hamper their ability to acquire the power bat they badly need.
What would I do?
I’d probably take a pass on Matsui. I don’t believe his power will translate and he doesn’t walk enough to get by as a singles hitter. Similar to Big Matsui, I expect him to be a league average player getting paid significantly more than he is worth. I think there are cheaper alternatives available with similar upsides and less risk involved. However, if the Mariners want to open up that weird non-payroll fund and sign Matsui to a contract that won’t keep them from acquiring other talent, then by all means do so.