After breaking it off with Jack Cust, being spurned by Lance Berkman and getting the feeling that Adrian Beltre‘s just not that into them, the Oakland A’s are expected later today to announce the signing of Hideki Matsui. Assuming the 36-year-old’s achy knees check out during his physical, Matsui will take over as Oakland’s designated hitter.
Following seven seasons in the Bronx, Matsui signed a one-year, $6 million deal with the Angels last winter. Mercifully kept out of the field for the most part (his career UZR/150 as a fly catcher is -17.6), Matsui hit .274/.361/.459 in 558 plate appearances. As usual, Matsui did a good job working the count by drawing a walk in 12 percent of his plate appearances. And his .185 Isolated Power was solid, considering that Angel Stadium wreaks havoc on left-handed power. According to Stat Corner, the park played neutral overall for lefty batters due to an increase in singles and doubles. But it depressed homers for southpaw swingers by eight percent compared to a neutral venue. He’ll face even less hospitable conditions in Oakland, as the Coliseum saps lefty offense by five percent overall, and homers by eight percent.
As a player entering his late thirties, Matsui carries risk. But even so, he looks like an upgrade over both the departed Cust and Oakland’s best internal option, Chris Carter. Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projects Cust (now a Mariner) to bat .230/.362/.411 in 2011. Carter, a twice-traded 24-year-old slugger without a defensive home, projects as a .229/.314/.427 hitter. There’s no ZiPS forecast yet for Matsui, but even with some decline he should eclipse those slash lines.
Overall, Matsui projects as a 1.5 to 2 WAR player — not spectacular, but certainly still employable. The terms of Matsui’s contract aren’t yet known. But if reports are correct that the deal is worth about $7 million, then the A’s are seemingly getting Matsui for less than market value during an offseason in which a win above replacement level is going for upward of $5 million. One could argue that Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez and Vladimir Guerrero, other free agent DH options, project as well as or better than Matsui and could be had for similar cash. By inking Matsui, the A’s appear to be choosing the guy they deem more likely to provide 500-600 plate appearances next year.
UPDATE: ESPN’s Buster Olney reports that Matsui’s contract is for $4.25 million, which makes this an even better deal for Oakland.