‘Hart of the Order’
By Sean Hartnett
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Hideki Matsui’s playoff heroics left Yankees fans wanting more.

His three home run, eight RBI performance in the 2009 World Series earned him the World Series MVP.  Matsui batted a whopping .615 against the Phillies and it should have persuaded the Yankees to offer him a fresh contract to keep him in the Bronx.

Instead, Brian Cashman opted to bring back former Yankee Nick Johnson to be their 2010 designated hitter.  It turned out to be a disastrous signing as Johnson was limited to 24 games before a mysterious wrist injury ended his season.  He hasn’t made it back to the majors ever since.

Johnson’s 2010 salary was $5.5 million dollars. For just $1 million more, the Yankees could have retained Matsui.

Strangely, there wasn’t a great deal of interest from the Yankees during the 2009 offseason.  Matsui spoke to the Japanese paper Yomiuri Shimbun after signing for the Angels.

He told the worldwide paper that he “loved the Yankees the best” but realized that the Yankees weren’t interested when his agent informed him that, “The Yankees had nothing prepared.”

It was a decision that haunted the Yankees in postseason following Matsui’s departure.

They’ve missed his clutch hitting in each of the last two playoffs where Yankee bats have gone cold.  Cliff Lee, Colby Lewis and the Texas Rangers’ arms dominated Yankee hitters in the 2010 ALCS.  The Yankees’ exit from the 2011 ALDS to the Detroit Tigers was even more embarrassing as the majority of their offense merely dried-up.

In both series, the Yankees had two games where their offense exploded but otherwise, they’ve looked very tame at the plate since Matsui was forced out of the Bronx.  It’s time that the two sides are reunited.

The trade of Jesus Montero has left a large gap at designated hitter.  Speculation has begun that the Yankees could target Carlos Pena or Johnny Damon but both might be too expensive to fit into the Yankees’ 2012 budget.

Andruw Jones will likely serve as the Yankees’ DH against left-handed pitching but his numbers against right-handers in 2011 were awful.  Just take a look at Jones’ 2011 splits:

Against LHP: 126 AB .286 AVG 8 HR 25 RBI .384 OPB .540 SLG

Against RHP: 64 AB .172 AVG 5 HR 8 RBI .303 OBP .406 SLG

Jones can definitely serve as a strong DH against lefties but the Yankees need to find someone who can take the majority of at-bats against right-handed pitching.  I can’t imagine the Yankees starting 2012 with the unknown Jorge Vazquez.

The Yankees need someone dependable and that man could very well be Matsui.

In 2011, Matsui suffered a statistical drop-off but much of that could be largely attributed to playing at the Oakland Coliseum.  The deep fences and large foul ground at the park hurt his 2011 numbers which took a decline from the overall consistency he showed with the Yankees and Angels.

Matsui would be boosted by returning to Yankee Stadium and taking aim at the short porch in rightfield.  If Jones struggles, Matsui could take away at-bats against lefties.

Over his career, Matsui has been equally good against right-handed and left-handed arms.  His lifetime averages against both is .285 and his on-base plus slugging percentages versus righties and lefties are each above .800.

Matsui’s career postseason batting average is .312 with an on-base percentage of .391.  Over 205 playoff at-bats, he’s hit 10 home runs and driven in 39 RBIs.

WFAN’s Jon Heyman reported yesterday the Yankees have about between $1 million and $2 million to spend on a DH.  Matsui earned $4.25 million with the A’s last season but is coming off a disappointing year.  He would likely take a pay-cut to return to the Yankees.

Heyman also tweeted yesterday: @JonHeymanCBS: “There has been some contact between Matsui and Yankees.  Decent fit, considering team budget, his background.”

Along with the Hiroki Kuroda, Matsui could help bring further Japanese advertisers back to the Yankees will his mega-star image in Japan.  That could off-set any budget worries that the Yankees might be facing.  A $3 million dollar base salary plus $2 million in potential incentives could do the trick.

Can you envision Matsui back in pinstripes to start the 2012 season?  Or would you prefer the Yankees target someone else?  Share your opinions below and send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN.