By Jordan Ikeda
Rafu Sports Editor
ANAHEIM.—Watch out AL West. Hideki Matsui, the man known as Godzilla, has officially landed on the shores of California. Matsui was introduced as the newest edition to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Wednesday afternoon as the two sides agreed to a $6 million, one-year contract.
“I’m very excited,” Matsui said at the press conference held at Angels Stadium. “To me, this is a new journey…I would like to do the best in every way I can, to help bring another world championship to this team. I am honored to be a part of this prestigious organization.”
The reigning World Series MVP and two-time All-Star hit .274 with 28 homers and 90 RBIs last season for the New York Yankees. In the World Series, he started only three of the six games against the Philadelphia Phillies but went 8 for 13 (.615) with three homers and eight RBIs, tying a Series record by driving in six runs in Game 6.
“We are excited to have a player with the talent that Hideki brings,” Angels general manager Tony Reagins said. “He is very gracious, respectful and a professional. We think he will enhance our lineup, he will enhance our organization both on the field and in the community and we are excited to have him.”
The 35-year-old Matsui, who surpassed 100 RBIs four times in seven seasons with the Yankees after coming over from Japan, will once again don the #55 in honor of his childhood hero, Sadaharu Oh’s home run record.
Throughout his seven-year career in New York, the 35-year-old left-handed slugger batted .292 with 140 homers and 597 RBIs, giving him the most home runs and RBIs by a Japanese player in Major League history.
Matsui’s signing as the everyday designated hitter means fan favorite and former MVP Vladimir Guerrero will not be returning to Anaheim. Matsui is an upgrade over the current version of Big Daddy Vladi who has been hindered by lower-leg injuries that limited him to just 383 at-bats, 15 homers and only two games in the outfield last season.
While Guerrero has lost a lot of the bat speed that made him so dangerous, Matsui brings another patient and disciplined approach to the Angels line-up, continuing a change in philosophy at the plate that began last season with the signing of on-base machine Bobby Abreu. Matsui takes pitches and works counts by being able to foul off pitches he doesn’t like. He’s also coming off of the best season of his career.
“I think his presence in the middle of our lineup will make the guys around him, particularly some of our younger players, better,” Angels skipper Mike Scioscia said. “And the depth and balance that he’ll bring is going to be incredible to what we are trying to accomplish.”
Not mention, but no doubt a key reason he was brought aboard, is Matsui’s penchant for clutch hitting. His .876 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) last season would have been second-best on the Angels behind Kendry Morales. He’s a .325 career hitter with a .967 OPS in “late and close” situations while Guerrero is a .326 hitter with a .965 OPS. Just for comparison, Mr. clutch Yankee Derek Jeter is a .295 hitter with an .813 OPS in such spots.
While Guerrero and Matsui’s “late and close” stats are pretty dead even, the big difference between the two is clearly evident in their postseason stats. Matsui has a .312 average, 10 homers and 39 RBI and a .933 OPS in 56 playoff games, while Guerrero has a .286 average, 2 homers, 14 RBI and a .740 OPS in 29 postseason games.
While Matsui’s signing is a plus for the baseball side of things, his presence will also help the business aspects of the Angels organization as he has huge drawing power in Japan. Yankees Stadium was never in want of Japanese advertisements and estimates dictate they made upwards of $10 million per season from them.
There is also a large Japanese and Japanese American population in the greater Los Angeles area who will suddenly have another option from watching Hiroki Kuroda of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Matsui is the second Japanese-born player to suit up for the Halos, the first being relief pitcher Shigetoshi Hasegawa who played for the team from 1997- 2001. Hasegawa was in attendance at the press conference Wednesday to show his support for the Angels decision and for his countryman.
“Obviously his popularity reaches across the Pacific, if not the world,” Reagins said. “And he is a tremendous talent and tremendous human being. Those are all positives for our organization going forward.”
Of course the overriding concern is the condition of Matsui’s knees. During the press conference Matsui made it clear that he chose the Angels based on the fact that he would be given an opportunity to show he can play the field. He told reporters that his knees had gotten better.
And yet, despite the excitement of the occasion, there was a bit of uneasiness presiding over the entire event. I got the feeling, based on some carefully translated questions that the Japanese media did not view the Angels organization on the same level with the Yankees.
On the other foot, from the American media’s perspective, I got the feeling that while Matsui is a nice addition to the club, they were hungry to know what’s next.
That questioning vibe was made only more apparent due to the other introduction that took place on Wednesday. Out in Boston, the Red Sox officially welcomed former Angels staff ace John Lackey to a now best-in-the-AL rotation.
Up north, the Seattle Mariners lured away Figgins to pair with the excellent skills of Ichiro Suzuki and acquired 2008 Cy Young winner Cliff Lee to pair with the awesome talent of Felix Hernandez to form both the best leadoff hitting duo and one-two pitching combo in the Majors.
So, while Matsui’s signing is a positive in many respects, what’s that old saying? One step forward, three steps back?
But I trust the leadership of owner Arte Moreno and the decision-making of Reagins. They’ve earned at least that much from how well run this organization has been over Moreno’s ownership.
The Angels have made wise moves in letting fan favorite Troy Glaus and in-season addition, Mark Teixira walk to sign lucrative contracts elsewhere. Their positions ended up being filled by Figgins and Morales and the extra money used to sign Guerrero and Abreu.
After all, the off-season is just begining. So, let’s enjoy the signing the Angels have made. Matsui is a hell of a ball player, and his patient approach and professionalism in the clubhouse will fit in nicely with the 2010 Angels.