Most contenders didn’t get a shot at some of the biggest bats to hit the waiver wire. Earlier this week the Twins placed two desirable hitters, Jim Thome and Jason Kubel, on trade waivers, and both were claimed by teams on the fringe of contention. Kubel will stay put, while Thome heads to Cleveland. Left in the dust were teams such as the Angels, Rangers, Yankees, Red Sox, Tigers, and the entire National League. Yet if any of these teams want to add a left-handed bench hitter there is one readily available.
Earlier this month Hideki Matsui cleared waivers with little trouble. Looking at this season numbers, it’s easy to see why. He’s right at league average right now, with a 100 wRC+. That’s easily his worst season in the bigs, and a significant drop-off from his 122 wRC+ even a year ago. Considering his age, 37, it might appear that Matsui’s useful days are behind him. Again, this appears to be the impression of many major league clubs. His MLB Trade Rumors page reflects this disinterest.
After going 0 for 3 on June 7th, Matsui hit rock bottom. His OPS dropped below .600 and he sported a .257 wOBA. Even with his slow start last year he didn’t reach these depths. Any time an older player produces like that it sets off red flags. There was a legitimate chance that Matsui was done. But Matsui kept getting into games, and his numbers started to take a turn for the better. On June 7th he had 192 PA. He has had 268 PA since and has been a different player, hitting .298/.376/.452, a .359 wOBA. It’s easy to see, when put in that light, how he could help a contender.
Philadelphia is the first team that comes to mind. They reportedly wanted Thome, but the waivers process prevented their pursuit. Since the turnaround in June Matsui has hit just as well as Thome has all season. Matsui’s turnaround has also comprised more PA than Thome has had all season. Really, any NL team could use him in a similar capacity. If any of them had designs on claiming Thome, they might want to call up the A’s and see what it would take to acquire a player who means nothing to their present and future.
The only incentive the A’s have to keep Matsui is the potential for compensation picks. If he ends up a Type B and the A’s offer him arbitration after the season they could net a supplemental pick, which might be more valuable to them than the $900,000 saved and the player to be named later they’d receive in return. In order for that to work, though, the two parties would require a handshake agreement; if offered arbitration outright Matsui would be quick to accept. There’s little chance that a 38-year-old DH gets more than $4.25 million this off-season. If they’re unsure of Matsui’s stance in this regard, they’d be better off trading him. Having a player, even a PTBNL, is better than having a player walk for nothing at season’s end.
Of all the position players who have cleared waivers, only a few players can offer more than Matsui — and it’s doubtful that Lance Berkman or David Wright is going anywhere. Any team that considered a claim on Thome should jump in on Matsui before Wednesday’s postseason roster deadline. He might not be the guy who hit fifth in the deep Yankees lineup, but he’s not the washed up player he played at the beginning of the season. He has enough left in the tank for another postseason run.