When the Angels signed Hideki Matsui to be their DH and maybe a part time outfielder, it seemed like a pretty good fit on the surface. As RJ noted at the time, Matsui brings a left-handed bat to a team that could use one, and he should still be a productive hitter in 2010. On a one year contract for just over $6 million, he’s not a bad deal. However, I wonder what effect this move will have on the rest of the roster.
As we saw in October, Mike Scioscia sees value in having Jeff Mathis behind the plate. Mike Napoli played 18 games at designated hitter a year ago as the Angels worked his bat into the line-up without making him squat behind the plate. Napoli was the most commonly used DH for the Angels besides Vladimir Guerrero.
With Matsui on the roster, that option is pretty limited. They could use Napoli as Matsui’s platoon partner, using him at DH when a lefty is on the hill, but is Scioscia goinig to want to limit himself to only using Mathis against southpaws? Keep in mind that Mathis started 78 games in the regular season a year ago and then essentially became the starting catcher in the ALCS.
I find it unlikely that Scioscia would scale back Mathis’ role this year, given his preference for his skills behind the plate. So, while Matsui offers the potential of a productive DH, I have to wonder what the opportunity cost associated with having him on the roster is. If Napoli’s playing time is cut significantly as a result, did the Angels really get that much better?
Matsui certainly provides depth, and Napoli’s injury history suggests that perhaps they couldn’t afford to count on him playing regularly, but after losing John Lackey and Chone Figgins and then losing out on the Roy Halladay sweepstakes, the Angels could use a premium player more than they could use multiple solid players. Especially with the moves being made in Seattle and Texas, the AL West appears to be up for grabs – Anaheim fans should be hoping that their new DH doesn’t take too much playing time from Napoli, or else their one off-season move so far won’t do much to keep the other teams from nipping at their heels.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.