May 1, 2012; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays designator hitter Hideki Matsui addresses the media after he was signed to a minor league contract at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

How Does Hideki Matsui Fit In?


Hideki Matsui is hitting just .121 at Triple-A. He’s not about to be called up by the Rays. But if he ever does round himself into form, how will he fit into the Rays’ roster?

Luke Scott has been the Rays’ DH all season. And he’s done a good job. Matsui can play a little left field still, but he’s going to have to play DH most of the time. So what should the Rays do fo get both Scott and Matsui in the lineup?

With Scott’s shoulder healing, allowing him to be available in the outfield, the Rays will have a little more flexibility in their defensive alignment. One scenario where Matsui could get at-bats is against tough lefties, who we know from his time with the Yankees that Matsui hits pretty well. Pretty well isn’t great, but it’s better than Matt Joyce right now, who too often looks lost against lefties. The Rays lineup and defensive alignment could be something like this.

1 Desmond Jennings LF

2 B.J. Upton CF

3 Evan Longoria 3B

4 Carlos Pena 1B

5 Ben Zobrist 2B

6 Luke Scott RF

7 Hideki Matsui DH

8 Jose Molina C

9 Elliot Johnson SS

If Jennings and/or Longoria wasn’t back yet, it would be much easier to get Matsui into the lineup.

1 Carlos Pena 1B (why not in the leadoff spot?)

2 B.J. Upton CF

3 Matt Joyce RF

4 Ben Zobrist 2B

5 Luke Scott LF

6 Sean Rodriguez 3B

7 Hideki Matsui DH

8 Jose Molina C

9 Elliot Johnson SS

The problem is that Matsui doesn’t look like he’ll be ready in time, if ever. So if the big guns are back, how could Matsui get into the lineup other than replacing Joyce? Well, the answer would be that he could get into the game when one of the outfielders, Carlos Pena, or Scott himself got a day off. But it’s not like he could replace say Sean Rodriguez in the lineup. Same story with the weakest position in the Rays’ batting order, catcher. If both Scott and Matsui were hitting, Matsui would function as a lefty bat off the bench most nights and maybe get 1 or 2 starts a week instead of Scott and 1 start with Scott.

Right now, the Rays have way too many players on their roster. For instance, when people come back, Rich Thompson is going to have to go, great as his story may be. Let’s look at the Rays’ 25-man roster (it’s alphabetical by position). We’ll mention plays on the DL only when they’re essentially guaranteed roster spots when they come back.

Pitchers: Burke Badenhop, Alex Cobb, Wade Davis, Kyle Farnsworth (DL), Jeremy Hellickson, J.P. Howell, Jake McGee, Matt Moore, Jeff Niemann (DL), Joel Peralta, David Price, Cesar Ramos, Fernando Rodney, James Shields

Catchers: Chris Gimenez, Jose Molina, Stephen Vogt

Infielders: Elliot Johnson, Jeff Keppinger (DL), Evan Longoria (DL), Carlos Pena, Will Rhymes, Sean Rodriguez, Drew Sutton

Outfielders/DH: Sam Fuld (DL), Desmond Jennings (DL), Matt Joyce, Rich Thompson, B.J. Upton, Ben Zobrist

Here are some things that are likely to happen when the following players come off the DL:

Kyle Farnsworth: Cesar Ramos will be optioned to Triple-A Durham or designated for assignment.

Jeff Niemann: Alex Cobb will be optioned to Triple-A Durham, or Niemann or Cobb will be traded.

Evan Longoria: Stephen Vogt will be optioned to Triple-A Durham.

Jeff Keppinger: Will Rhymes, Drew Sutton, or Keppinger himself will be designated for assignment.

Desmond Jennings: Rich Thompson will be designated for assignment.

Sam Fuld: One of the two remaining players left after Keppinger comes off the DL will be designated for assignment.

Robinson Chirinos, and Brandon Guyer will be optioned to Triple-A Durham when they come off the DL (which for Guyer isn’t anytime soon after shoulder surgery), and I can’t see any scenario where Brandon Allen isn’t DFA’d unless another injury happens (please, no). Once all these moves happen (hopefully all by mid-August), the only expendable players that could be DFA’d for Matsui would be Elliot Johnson, Sean Rodriguez, and the last infielder standing following Keppinger and Fuld coming off the DL. It could, and (if Matsui has anything left) should be a situation where Matsui is ready before Fuld, meaning that there could be four possible players to DFA or option to the minors. Will it be worth it for the Rays to do so? Only if Matsui has really found his stroke. Matsui provides negative versatility and his only possible value is in his bat. At least Scott can play the outfield or first base if the Rays need it.

The Matsui signing is really injury insurance for Scott and a last resort if all the middle infielder/utility types don’t hit. The Rays assume the worst, and we’ve seen something pretty darn close to the worst-case scenario rear its ugly head where all these players on the DL. We have yet to see from Matsui that he has anything left to give the Rays. And even if he does, if the injuries resolve themselves, the Rays may have to bend over their backs to accomodate him.

Tags: Hideki Matsui