Future uncertain for Matsui, Pettitte
Yanks face decisions on whether to bring back veterans
NEW YORK -- In the waning days of the season, it seemed overwhelmingly unlikely that Hideki Matsui would figure into the Yankees' future plans. Despite a season perhaps better than anyone around the game could have predicted, Matsui had 35 years of age weighing on two bad knees.
In the waning days of the season, also, the future for Andy Pettitte appeared cloudy. A near-retiree the past two winters, Pettitte had a tired left shoulder and a resolute goal: win the World Series.
Both veterans played convincing and decisive roles in the Yankees' 27th World Series title, Matsui taking home the Most Valuable Player Award and Pettitte winning the clinching game in all three rounds of the postseason. Both contributed perhaps more than the Yankees and their fans could have imagined. And both now have no real concept what the future holds.
"Obviously, they've been huge for us," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said after the 27th out of the 27th championship. "Those guys have always been big for us. We'll have our meetings, and we haven't done that type of stuff. Now is not the time to deal with that."
A World Series run that seeps into November, however, affords little time for reflection. Soon, the Yankees will delve into their offseason proceedings, which this year will include decisions on whether to pursue the 35-year-old Matsui, the 36-year-old Johnny Damon and the 37-year-old Pettitte. All are at the tail ends of successful careers, and all would have to make some concessions to continue playing in New York.
But all have also made it clear that in an ideal world, they would like to retire as Yankees.
For one, that day may come sooner than for the others. In each of the past two offseasons, Pettitte has made a last-minute decision to re-sign in New York rather than retire, with the reasoning that he wanted to win one more championship with the Yankees. Now, he has, enjoying a fine regular season and an even better October and November.
If his goal was indeed one more championship, then Pettitte would seemingly have little left to play for. With 229 victories at the age of 37, Pettitte will never reach the hallowed mark of 300. He already has more postseason victories (18) than any pitcher in history. And though another two or three seasons could pad Pettitte's statistics to the point that voters may consider him for the Hall of Fame, his admission to the use of human growth hormone in 2002 may have forever locked his entrance to Cooperstown.
Pettitte also has never been about individual achievements. More than anything, he talks of titles. He knows how difficult they are to obtain. And he knows that it would be nearly impossible for him to play such a major role on a championship team again.
But he also has never known anything other than the life of a baseball player.
"I'm not sure," a champagne-soaked Pettitte said early Thursday morning of his desire to return. "I'm not. I'm not sure. I'll need to get home and talk to my family. I'll need to talk to the Yankees and find out where they're at, and then I can probably start trying to figure out what I'd like to do."
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|Tony Fernandez||Blue Jays||1993||5|
In Japan, the discussions may be similar. Just one year ago, Matsui was an aging slugger whose knees would no longer allow him to play the outfield and who did not appear well enough to be a full-time designated hitter, either. The Yankees already had one outfielder, Damon, losing his youth in leaps and bounds, and if they were to re-sign either man for 2010, Damon appeared to be the better fit.
Matsui, though, has suddenly made that decision difficult.
Though it is dangerous to judge players on the sample size of a single postseason, Matsui shattered all expectations in this one. He hit .349 in the playoffs and .615 in the World Series, slamming three Series home runs and a record-tying eight RBIs -- despite not starting a single game at Citizens Bank Park, a National League stadium where the DH is not permitted.
He has proven not just that he can still hit, but that he can do so with aplomb. And the Yankees, drawing on a bit of sentimentality, could attempt to thank him with a short-term contract.
Matsui, for his part, has made public both his intention to continue playing and his desire to do so in the Bronx.
"I hope so," he said in front of a national television audience on the Yankee Stadium field after Game 6. "I love New York. I love the Yankees. I love the fans here."
Baseball is a business, though, and despite the desires of Matsui, the Yankees may decide instead to pursue the more athletic Damon, the significantly younger Matt Holliday or Jason Bay, or some combination of the above.
Pettitte, likewise, may decide that he is satisfied with one of baseball's storybook careers. And so Wednesday's World Series Game 6 may have been the last game that either spends in pinstripes.
Only time, desire and dollars will tell.
"We're going to celebrate and the business side of the game will kick in at some point here rather soon, where the agents get involved with the players' interest and the club's interest," Cashman said. "We'll find out then."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.