It’s official—the Kaz Matsui era is over.
After seven years of remarkably sub-mediocre baseball, the man once hailed as the Mets’ shortstop of the future is returning to Japan. Now 35 and coming off of a .141 season with the Astros, Matsui has signed with the Rakuten Eagles, a team I have never heard of.
Matsui’s legacy is a profound one: He was very, very, very disappointing.
Remember back when the Mets signed him in December 2003, and the team actually moved Jose Reyes to second base? Katsui was the first Japanese middle infielder to come to the U.S., and he was can’t miss. The Big Apple papers had a gay ol’ time that first spring training, writing pieces about the Odd Couple middle infield with unlimited potential. Katsui was The Man for a week or two, talking up his abilities, flashing that winning grin, expressing little doubt that the transition to the Majors would be an easy one.
So what went wrong? Well, to begin with, Matsui was a terrible defensive shortstop. Weak arm, below-average range, struggled coming in on balls. As a hitter, he never adjusted to, frankly, better pitching. Japan has some good arms, but not this many good arms. Matsui looked lost at the plate, and after hitting a home run in his first at bat he pretty much failed to hit anything—ever. That first season was his best season: .272 with 125 hits, 32 doubles, 2 triples, 7 home runs, 44 RBI, 65 runs, 14 stolen bases. Good numbers if you’re Scott Fletcher. Terrible numbers if you’re The Hope.
Two seasons later he was traded to Colorado for a cow, and that was that. He had one OK season with the Rockies, but was never anything more than mediocre.