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BASEBALL

Matsui puts the lumber to slump

His recent hot hitting could persuade the Angels to keep him

August 27, 2010|Mike DiGiovanna

The waiver wire is bustling this time of year, with teams jostling to add a piece to boost their World Series hopes and non-contenders looking to dump salary or trade a veteran for a prospect or two.

It is not known whether Angels designated hitter Hideki Matsui has been on waivers, but if he has, and a team wins a claim or trades for him, he will come with a little baggage in the form of the 40 or so Japanese media members who cover him on a daily basis.

Think it's tough for a major leaguer wondering where he'll be playing next week?

Imagine being a reporter who, after covering Matsui for seven years in New York and moving to Southern California for 2010, has to move again for a month, with more uncertainty to follow in free agency in November.

"It is very hard not knowing what is going to happen," said Gaku Tashiro, a Sankei Sports reporter who has covered Matsui in the U.S. for eight years. "The best-case scenario is for Hideki to stay with the Angels because the players and team are very kind to us.

"The environment in California is very good for Japanese media. Plus, Hideki likes playing here because of the good weather. He likes the Angels players. He wants to win here."

Matsui was asked whether it was strange to think the fate of roughly 40 media members hinges on his next move.

"I don't know if 'strange' is the right word," Matsui said through an interpreter. "But it's certainly automatic that if that ever happens, everybody would go."

Even if Matsui, 36, finishes the year in Anaheim, his media contingent will go into limbo this winter, when he is a free agent.

"Some Japanese media moved here from New York because of him," said Takako Nakamichi, a director for the Japanese broadcasting network Fuji-TV. "If your company wants to continue covering him, they'd have to move to Kansas City, Baltimore, Oakland or somewhere else. It's hard."

With Matsui underperforming for much of May, June and July, the chances of his returning to Anaheim in 2011 seemed remote. But if he hits in September the way he has in recent weeks, he could go from foregone conclusion to a tougher winter decision for the Angels, who are all but out of playoff contention.

With 17 hits, including two home runs and six doubles, in 33 at-bats in nine games, Matsui has raised his average from .243 to .266 entering Friday night's game against Baltimore. He has 16 homers and 69 runs batted in, and with a solid September could finish with 20 homers and 90 RBIs.

That wouldn't measure up to the player he replaced -- Vladimir Guerrero is hitting .302 with 24 homers and 95 RBIs for Texas -- but it wouldn't be far from what the Angels projected.

"Hideki's production is very close to what we anticipated," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "As a group, we've underperformed. Some guys who are well below what you'd expect. Hideki is not one of those guys."

But has Matsui, on a one-year, $6-million deal, done enough?

"I don't know what they're thinking, but from my perspective, I haven't put up the kind of numbers that would warrant that from the club," Matsui said. "Personal numbers are important, but what's more important is what you've done to help the team win. From that standpoint, I haven't done enough to help my team. So, in that sense, it's been a disappointing season for me."

The Angels are expected to make a strong run at Carl Crawford, and if they lure the Rays' left fielder in free agency, Matsui wouldn't return; the Angels would need the DH spot for outfielder Bobby Abreu, who is under contract for 2011.

But if the Angels don't add an impact outfielder, there is a chance they would want Matsui back.

"It's nice from a player's standpoint when a club asks you to come back for another year," Matsui said. "It would be a pleasure to do so."

Though he isn't the feared slugger he was during his prime Yankee years, there still will be interest in Matsui.

Baltimore and hitter-friendly Camden Yards seem a logical destination, but the White Sox, Tigers, Royals, Blue Jays, Rays, Mariners and Athletics all have struggled to find consistent production from the DH spot this season.

If Matsui leaves, the Angel Stadium press box will seem almost deserted and the team's advertising revenues probably will drop. Before 2010, three Japanese companies advertised in the stadium -- Suzuki, Sharp and Konica Minolta. The team added eight, including Komatsu and Yokohama, when he was signed and another four, including Yakult and Mazda, after opening day.

"As of now, my focus is on this season," Matsui said. "I haven't thought beyond that."

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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