I considered rolling this into the game recap, but figured it deserved its own post. After an 0 for 20 slump and basically losing his starting job to Jeff Keppinger, Kazuo Matsui was released by the Astros on Wednesday.
Since it was announced after the game, there are no roster details, but I imagine he was designated for assignment, which would give the team an extra spot on the 40-man roster and 10 days to trade him before they have to release him. It may have been a straight release, however, which would also clear the necessary roster space.
In his place, the Astros have called up hot-hitting middle infielder Oswaldo Navarro. The 25-year old has played mostly shortstop with Round Rock, but can play second and third base if needed. What can Houston fans expect out of Navarro? He's a pretty solid with the glove, being voted the best defensive player in the Texas League back in 2006. He was with the Mariners until this offseason, when he signed a minor league contract with the Astros. He must've impressed Wade and Co. this spring, as he played quite a bit in the major league games as spring training progressed.
Navarro has been swinging a hot bat lately, going 13 for 43 in his last 10 games. He's hitting .312/.418/.506 in 20 games this season with four doubles, one triple and three home runs. He appeared in four games with Seattle back in 2006, getting four plate appearances and picking up two hits. He's a career .259/.330/.344 hitter in eight minor league seasons, so don't let the early numbers with the Express fool you. Navarro won't hit like that in the majors, but he's got a good shot to hit around .250, which is better than Matsui could muster this season.
As for Ed Wade's first free agent (and biggest blunder to this point), let's reflect back on Kaz Matsui's tenure with Houston. Coming off a career year with Colorado, Matsui signed a three-year, 16.5 million dollar deal on Dec. 2, 2007, which included a 1.5 million dollar signing bonus.
In three seasons with Houston, Matsui totaled 1.9 wins above replacement. Basically, that total entirely comes from the 2008 season, as Matsui had a 1.9 WAR then, a 0.7 WAR in 2009 and a -0.7 WAR in 2010. He had more plate appearances with Houston (1,033) than with any other team in his career, but didn't hit much better than his career averages. His slash line with the Astros of .259/.315/.370 was inflated by that 2008 season, when he hit .293/.354/.427 before battling injuries all last season.
In the end, Matsui didn't provide any less value than fans could have expected when he signed. The problem was that 2008 season set expectations too high. Plus, two straight managers tried to use his as a No. 2 hitter, and a guy with a career OBP of .321 won't cut it that high in the lineup.
Am I surprised the Astros made this move? Yeah, a little. Matsui was a pretty classy player for his Houston tenure, never really making noise and plugging away despite those bizarre injuries. As timmy astutely brought up a while back, we don't know how valuable Matsui was from the Japanese market. Was McLane getting a ton of revenue from merchandise sales over there? Were there more eyes watching Houston on MLB.TV because of Matsui? We won't know those kinds of specifics because baseball finances are so secret.
When J.R. Towles was sent down, I said it smacked of a "move just to make a move." This doesn't fell like that. This is more like a general manager recognizing that a guy can't help his manager win games, so he cuts bait and brings up a guy who might have more value. For all Wade's flaws, he recognized a sunk cost and made the smart move. If only this will help the Astros win a couple more games.