J-Slanted: Winter Meetings

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By JORDAN IKEDA

Sports Editor

The Yankees made official the acquisition of center-fielder Curtis Granderson yesterday, making a return to the Bronx an even more unlikely scenario for 2009 World Series MVP Hideki Matsui. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of suitors lining up for his services.

It’s been reported that Matsui has been working out in Japan to show he can still play the field, but he’s still viewed as mostly a designated hitter due to his balky knees. That being the case, the buzz around his name has been abnormally loud considering that teams usually wait until the later stages of the off-season to sniff out DHs.

The Chicago Tribune reported that the White Sox have shown interest. That possibility was enhanced Tuesday when the ChiSox gave third baseman Mark Teahen a three-year, $14 million contract. The back-loaded nature of the deal enables the team enough financial flexibility to try and sign a player like Matsui to a one or two-year, incentive-laden contract.

Matsui is waiting out his options. (JUN NAGATA/Rafu Shimpo)

Matsui is waiting out his options. (JUN NAGATA/Rafu Shimpo)

While the Mariners went and signed Ken Griffey Jr. to fill in (at least part-time) as their DH, my dream of a Matsui and Suzuki pairing might not be completely dead—only it would be Kurt Suzuki, not #51.

The Oakland As are reportedly interested in Godzilla’s services. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, here’s what needs to happen in order for this to get done. The Yanks must decide to part ways. The As must not tender Jack Cust this Saturday creating an opening. Matsui will then have to agree to a one-year contract at half the rate he made in 2009 (about $7 million). Okay, so maybe this is more of an option U, V or W for Matsui than something more imminent.

A’s manager Bob Geren is up for it at the least, “We’re not opposed to bringing a veteran in that can help us in the short term until we create somebody from our organization to take that spot. He’s certainly one of the better players in the league for sure. He’s had some great years, great numbers in New York. He’s helped them win a lot.”

The other AL West club, the Angels are also interested according to the Los Angeles Times. Though it must be noted that manager Mike Scioscia has always opted for guys with flexibility and speed. Of all the positives Matsui brings to the table, neither of those are included.

Speaking of the Angels and Mariners, Ichiro Suzuki now has a new running mate in former Angels’ utility all-star (and my favorite Halo) Chone Figgins. Though Ichiro will never go for it (unless Junior threatens to tickle him or something), I actually think the Mariners would be better served to have Ichiro move into the two hole.

The Mariners, depending on who they do or do not acquire in the coming months, are bereft of power hit­ters. They are reportedly embracing the wide expanses of Safeco and not necessarily looking for guys who can put the ball over the fence, which makes batting Figgins first even more of an enticing option. Here’s three very solid reasons why.

Ichiro in the two hole? (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

Ichiro in the two hole? (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

Figgins takes more pitches than Ichiro. While I hold a fair amount of skepticism that Figgy can maintain the high walk count he totaled last year since he’d never done anything close to 101 walks previously, it is safe to assume that he’s at least figured out how to draw 80-90 walks (thanks Bobby Abreu!) with the potential to improve like fine wine. If you added Ichiro’s last two seasons together, #51 still wouldn’t come close to 101 walks. Figgins sees a lot of pitches,. For his career 4.01 pitches per plate appearance (Pit/PA) as opposed to 3.60 Pit/PA for Ichiro. Leadoff hitters who see a lot of pitches help the rest of the lineup.

But while Figgins takes more walks than Ichiro, he also strikes out at a much higher clip. For his career, Figgins whiffs every 6.6 at-bats, whereas Ichiro strikes out every 11 plate appearances. Whiffing doesn’t do as much harm in the leadoff spot, but can kill hit and runs and destroy rallies. Besides, Ichiro always makes contact. He’s grounded into as many double plays as Figgins, but with 2,500 more plate appearances.

Finally (and this might be widely argued based on what kind of base­ball philosophy you hold) Figgins is more of a threat to steal. Ichiro goes when he’s certain. Figgins just goes. Figgy has averaged about 10 more stolen bases over the past five seasons and while his 75 percent success rate over that span is pretty bad, it must be noted that he attempts to steal more often. And the threat of stealing can be a powerful weapon.

Either way, if Figgins leads off or doesn’t, his signing is a positive for Seattle. Last year, the Mariners finished dead last in the AL in two key categories: on-base percentage (OBP) and runs scored. On the flip­side, the Angels scored the second most runs and came in third in OBP. Figgins had a huge part of that as he scored 114 runs, the second most in the AL and maintained a .398 OBP. Of course, Ichiro would’ve scored a lot of runs on the Angels too. Now, they get to see how many runs they can score together.

I’ll close with some Dodgers chat­ter. In past columns, I’ve mentioned the significance and importance of offering arbitration to a franchise’s potential free agents, especially Type A free agents. Well, the Dodgers had two prime candidates to offer arbitra­tion to in Randy Wolf and Orlando Hudson and neglected to do so.

Arbitration for Wolf and Hudson would have given the Dodgers four draft picks as compensation that would have gone a long way to bol­stering a farm system that ranks in the bottom third in the MLB.

Despite the glut of available sec­ond basemen on the market this Hot Stove season, the chances of O-Hud accepting arbitration and coming back to the Blue Crew were slim at best. Especially considering his head-scratching benching towards the end of the season and playoffs. Hudson wants to play (and still is very capa­ble) and felt extremely disrespected (rightfully so) by Joe Torre.

I would’ve give the team a pass on the Hudson thing (if he did take the offer, than the Doders would be stuck with a disgruntled second baseman) but failing to offer Wolf arbitration is unforgivable. It’s no secret Wolf was looking for a multi-year deal. At worst, the Dodgers, in desperate need of starting pitching, would have retained him for one more season.

Not offering Wolf arbitration sig­nifies that the Frank and Jamie Mc­Court divorce has all of their money tied up in personal matters, leaving the Dodgers in limbo, a bad place to be with a team full of holes needing to be filled and key division rivals already stacking up their chips.

Speaking of which, the guy who former Dodgers G.M. Dan Evans refused to part with, Edwin Jackson, has returned to the NL West and will be suiting up for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Last year, Jackson had a lights out first half posting a 2.52 ERA and a 7-4 record in the AL East, though he struggled post all-star break.

However, at only 26 years of age and armed with a lightning fastball, Jackson’s addition to a D-Backs rotation featuring former Cy Young winner Brandon Webb and all-star Dan Haren makes it hands down tops in the NL West.

Oh Dan Evans. I hated you so much when you were here. Boy how wrong I was. Without even needing to compare you to your unsuccess­ful successor Paul DePodesta or his sucks miserably successor Ned Colletti, Mr. Evans, the fruit of your labor has ripened and today, you look like a genius.

Your genius knew about Jackson, who you adamantly did not want to trade (though DePodesta shipped him off for Danys Baez…). Your genius also can be seen every time the Dodgers take the field in the forms of Russell Martin, Jonathan Broxton, Matt Kemp, James Loney, and Chad Billingsly all of whom were drafted during your tenure.

In these dark Dodger times, we at least can take comfort in the ever brightening light that you provided us nearly a decade ago. Why oh why did we ever want you gone?

Oh yeah, because you wouldn’t trade any prospects…

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Jordan Ikeda is the Rafu Sports editor. He can be contacted at Sports@rafu.com or (213) 629-2231 ext. 148. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the Rafu.

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