Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Hideki Matsui Escapes Yankees Chopping Block

Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman's personal preference is to trade outfielder Hideki Matsui to clear a roster spot for newly signed first baseman Mark Teixeira, but he is hesitating because of a negative reaction in Japan.

Word on the street indicates the team's intense recruiting effort along the Pacific Rim -- in which Japan is the cornerstone -- would be seriously undermined if Matsui were to be dealt. Matsui is a national hero in his native country, and his fans would be more than heartbroken, they would be disgusted.

Longtime dealers in the Asian talent pool, the Yankees not only have stepped up scouting in Japan, the team has reportedly invested a conservatively estimated $13 million in the planning, funding, development and establishment state-of-the-art training center there, including an elaborate intelligence network and data bank. It has already begun paying big dividends, and it bears the brand "Steinbrenner."

Saying goodbye to the player affectionately known as "Godzilla" would be virtually unthinkable, even though advancing age and serious health setbacks limited him to just 337 at-bats last year, including a mere .206 average over his last 37 appearances.

Though he returned to play in September after a more than two-month layoff, Matsui was forced to sit out the last two games of the season while doctors drained fluid from his knee. Rehabilitation is expected to have him back in playing shape by the beginning of the season, but for how long?

With Matsui enjoying privileged status, look for Cashman to deal outfielder-first baseman Nick Swisher or outfielder Xavier Nady, even though they are far more valuable to the team than Matsui. Whether Swisher or Nady will be traded depends largely on what kind of a deal can be developed over the next two months. Cashman would like to keep both, but probably favors Nady.