Good to See MLB Teams Spending Some Money

Posted December 5, 2019 by Burly
Categories: Atlanta Braves, Baseball Abroad, Chicago Cubs, Houston Astros, KBO, New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies, San Francisco Giants, Washington Nationals

The Phillies have reportedly reached a deal with Zack Wheeler that will pay the player $118 over five seasons; and the Braves have inked Cole Hamels to a one-year deal for a cool $18M.

Wheeler’s deal beats mlbtraderumors.com’s prediction by $18M and is good news for the other top-tier free agent pitchers.  Obviously, Stephen Strasburg and Geritt Cole are going to top $118M by a bunch, and it’s likely that Madison Bumgarner will do considerably better than the $72M guarantee mlbtraderumors predicted.  It’s also a big commitment from the Phils for a pitcher who has a reasonable shot of blowing out his elbow tendon a second time in the next five years.

While Hamels’ deal is only for one season, it’s still a big commitment for a player entering his age 36 season, who pitched less than 150 innings in 2019 and failed to reach 150 IP in two of the last three seasons.  Again, this deal can’t hurt other free agent starters going forward.  There are lot of free agent starters still on the market, but they have an advantage over position players in that every team could use at least one more good starter.

In completely unrelated news, the Doosan Bears have agreed to post outfielder Kim Jae-Hwan.  Kim was great from 2016 through 2018, but his .796 OPS was only 30th best in the KBO and he’s going into his age 31 season.  I doubt MLB teams will have much interest, but you never know.

The KBO Makes Rule Changes That Could Marginally Effect Larger Baseball Word

Posted December 3, 2019 by Burly
Categories: Baseball Abroad, KBO

The KBO players voted in favor of some rule changes proposed by management that could have some impact on baseball outside of South Korea.  The most significant changes are that domestic KBO players can can become free agents a year earlier and each club will be able to sign two additional foreign players to play at the minor league level.

Under the new rules, domestic KBO players signed out of high school can become free agents after eight KBO seasons, while college players can become free agents after seven KBO seasons.  This could mean that a few more players will be eligible to try to make the jump to MLB, although I suspect that all the MLB-worthy South Korean players will still either be signed out of high school or will be posted for MLB teams to bid on before the player reaches free agency.

Currently, KBO teams are allowed to sign three foreign players, all of whom play in KBO’s major league.  As a practical matter, KBO teams sign two foreign starting pitchers and a position player, because by rule one of the three cannot be a pitcher.

KBO teams will now be able to sign two more foreigners to play at the minor league level.  I expect that this will most benefit Latin American players who wash out of the MLB system, but continue to develop as they age.

NPB teams have no limit on how many foreign players they can sign, although only four may be on the active major league roster.  As a result, NPB teams now typically sign 7 or 8 foreign players, with 5 or 6 expected to compete for the major league roster 1 or 2 are low salaried Latin American youngsters who washed out of the low MLB minors but caught on with the Japanese teams’ training camps in the Dominican Republic set up for this purpose.  The Hiroshima Carp have had the most success with signing MLB-system cast-offs recently, but pretty much all the other NPB teams are trying to develop their own prospects.

These prospects are almost exclusively Latin American players, because NPB teams can pay them as little as $35,000 to $50,000 a season to start, because that’s a lot of money in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.

It’s also possible that KBO teams might try to sign American-born players who wash out of the high MLB minors (AA and AAA) going into their age 24 to 27 seasons, who the KBO teams might think they can still develop at a cost of $120,000 to $200,000 a season into KBO major leaguers.  Many of the best Independent-A and Caribbean Winter league pitchers would also jump at the chance to make that kind of money to start with a chance of earning a promotion and more money to play in the KBO majors.

The KBO will also be allowing its major league teams to play all three foreigners in the same game (the current limit is two per game).  As a practical matter, with two of every team’s three foreigners being starters, this rule change won’t have much of an effect.

More Asian Comings and Goings

Posted December 2, 2019 by Burly
Categories: Anaheim Angels, Baltimore Orioles, Baseball Abroad, Detroit Tigers, KBO, Miami Marlins, New York Mets, NPB, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburg Pirates, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers, Toronto Blue Jays

In terms of players moving between MLB and the Asian majors, the biggest news since my last post on the subject is that slugging 1Bman Justin Bour will be playing for the Hanshin Tigers of Japan’s NPB in 2020.  No word yet on what Hanshin will be paying him, but it’s likely for a guarantee of over $1 million, given Bour’s major league pedigree.

I don’t think it’s necessarily a great signing by Hanshin.  Bour is entering his age 32 seasons, and players of his talent level and size (he’s listed at 6’4″ and 270 lbs).  His 2018 season was a big step down from 2015-2017, and in 2019 he played his way out of a major league contract for 2020.

Bour also has a big career platoon split, which helped make him a useful major league platoon player, but which doesn’t bode well for Japan, where he will expected to play every day for the money he’s getting.  If Bour can hit NPB right-handers well enough to stick, it may just be a matter of time before we see him getting a day off to “rest” every time Hanshin faces a tough lefty starter.

The Hiroshima Carp have signed South African born Tayler Scott to a deal that pays him a $175K signing bonus and a $525K salary, which may or may not be guaranteed.  Scott has major league stuff, but not major league command — sometimes these kind of pitchers do very well in NPB, where the margin for error is greater than the MLB majors.

Drew VerHagen and Aderlin Rodriguez are two more MLB system products who will be playing in NPB next year.  VerHagen has enjoyed some MLB major league success and should be a good bet to perform well for the Nippon Ham Fighters in 2020.  Aderlin Rodriguez is something of a bargain-basement player for a bargain-basement team, the Orix Buffaloes.

Rumors have it that Pierce Johnson and Joely Rodriguez will be returning to MLB for 2020, at least if they get the contract offers they are hoping for.  IMHO they are both likely to receive major league contract offers.

The SK Wyverns of the KBO will be posting South Korean ace Kwang-hyun Kim.  You may remember that Kim was posted a few years’ back, but failed to reach agreement with the winning bidder, the San Diego Padres, and returned to South Korea.  Kim then promptly tore his elbow tendon and missed a season.

Since then, Kim has firmly re-established himself as one of the KBO’s two best domestic starters, and he wants to give MLB another shot, although he’s already 31 years old.  Reports have it that MLB teams are interested, but we’ll see what kinds of offers he gets or doesn’t get.

New MLB system players who will be plying there trade in the KBO in 2020 are Aaron Altherr, Mike Wright, Adrian Sampson, Dixon Machado and Nick Kingham.  The NC Dinos signed both Altherr and Wright and is giving them the best deals so far for first year foreign KBOers this off-season — both Altherr and Wright will reportedly receive $200K signing bonuses and $800K guaranteed salaries, which is the most they can make under the league’s salary cap.  Nick Kingham will also reportedly receive a $900K guarantee, although $200K of that is for a team option for 2021, most likely also for $900K, so if things go right for Kingham and the SK Wyverns, he’ll earn $1.6M over two seasons.

Meanwhile, the low-budget Kiwoom Heroes re-signed pitcher Eric Jokisch for a second KBO season at a modest $700K max, which includes have-to-earn-’em performance incentives.  No one ever said life was fair.

Are Qualifying Offers Negotiable?

Posted November 28, 2019 by Burly
Categories: Atlanta Braves, Baltimore Orioles, Miami Marlins, Milwaukee Brewers, Washington Nationals

I saw on mlbtraderumors a few minutes ago that the Orioles are putting middle infielder Jonathan Villar on outright waivers because the O’s don’t want to pay him the $10.1 million he’s projected to get through arbitration, and they couldn’t find a trade partner for him.  As MLBTR points, it seems like kind of a crazy move by the team, as baseball reference ranks Villar as the team’s best position player in 2019, fangraphs says he was worth $31.7M last year, and the O’s 2020 payroll will be low with or without Villar.  It does tend to show why the O’s have been so awful in recent years.

Anyhoo, it made me wonder if O’s could have tried to get Villar to sign at the 2020 price the team wanted, say $7M or $8M (assuming the team valued Villar at that much), and tried to sweeten the deal by releasing any ability the team might have to give him a qualifying offer next off-season.

For certain players, a release of any ability by the team to later give the player a qualifying offer in the future would be well worth a much lower salary to the player now.  There are certain teams, the tightwads particularly, who would also likely be willing to trade away the right to make a Qualifying Offer for the ability to save money during the player’s six years of control.

One issue would be whether a team could permanently waive the QO even if the player is traded to another team later.  Frankly, I don’t see any good reason why not, because any later acquiring team would go in knowing that they they also couldn’t make a qualifying offer and would price that fact in to any trade they make for the player.

A real good example would be Christian Yelich earlier in his career.  The cash-strapped and just plain cheap Marlins might readily have been willing to sell the QO for a smaller salary when they gave Yelich a seven year deal before the 2015 season.  Teams like the Marlins know they are going to lose their best players sooner or later, and maybe selling the QO would have made it possible for the Marlins to hold onto Yelich longer

Meanwhile, had the Marlins sold the QO, the Brewers could have factored this in when traded for Yelich before the 2018 season.  In fact, it would likely not have changed Yelich’s worth at all, because the Brewers would be receiving the same player owed less future salary under Yelich’s long-term deal because Yelich had purchased the QO from the Marlins.

One has to remember that the Qualifying Offer regime is ultimately about holding down player salaries, and I very strongly suspect that teams are intentionally overvaluing what little they actually lose by signing a free agent tied to a QO because there is more sophisticated collusion going on than the old in-your-face collusion the owners got burned on in arbitration back in the 1980’s.

Still, like using opt-out clauses to obtain lower guarantees on long-term contracts, there is no reason why Qualifying Offers should not be negotiable also.  If it does not require further bargaining between the players and owners, it may only be a matter of a crafty player agent like Scott Boras or a crafty team executive to put the QO on the bargaining table as a bargaining chip,  In the case of a young superstar like a Ronald Acuna or Juan Soto, there might be real value to both player and team if the QO is on the table as a subject of discussion.

Indy-A CanAm and Frontier Leagues Have Merged

Posted November 27, 2019 by Burly
Categories: Independent-A Leagues, Minor Leagues

I only just discovered (the move was announced about a month ago) that the independent-A CanAm League and Frontier League will merge for the 2020 season.  Five Can-Am League teams (the New Jersey Jackels, Quebec Capitales, Rockland Boulders, Sussex County (NJ) Miners and Trois-Rivieres Aigles) will join nine Frontier League teams (all but the River City Rascals) will form two seven-team divisions.  As you might have guessed, the River City Rascals had the Frontier League’s worst overall attendance in 2019; however, the possibly now defunct Ottawa Champions had attendance better than three of the merging CanAm League teams.  You can read more about the merger here.

What I find interesting about the merger is that the two leagues have traditionally featured different levels of Indy-A play, with the Frontier League featuring more 23 year old college grads who went undrafted by MLB, while the CanAm featured older players and was more in line with the higher American Association level of play.  In fact, for a number of years the CanAm League had a relationship with the American Association whereby the leagues would play a certain number of inter-league games each season.

However, CanAm league attendance never approached that of the better drawing American Association teams, but was able to maintain a high level of play because it was seen as the best place to get noticed by MLB scouts if you weren’t quite good enough to get an Atlantic League roster spot entering the season.

The Frontier League draws slightly better than the CanAm League, but also traditionally had lower total payrolls in accordance with playing generally younger players.  Will the quality of merged league play be closer to the CanAm League or the Frontier League?  That remains to be seen.  The finances suggest that former CanAm League teams will sign more 23 and 24 year olds than previously and play at closer to a Frontier League level, however.  The merged league hopes to expand further, perhaps to a 16- or 20-team circuit, but that remains to be seen.

The merger will probably mean fewer jobs for older players cut loose from the MLB system.  Both the American Association and Atlantic League have roster limits on the number of older veteran players, and the attendance for the weaker teams in each circuit don’t suggest that either league can afford to pay for more older veteran players unless the vets can be forced to take a class pay cut — players are in both leagues are usually paid a flat monthly salary based on years of professional experience.

It’s possible that a few vets will be willing to play for less money in the fly-by-night Indy-A leagues like the Pacific Association and the Empire League, but again, that remains to be seen.

Chicago White Sox Spend Big on Cubans

Posted November 23, 2019 by Burly
Categories: Chicago White Sox

It’s not just the SoftBank Hawks that love them some Cuban ballplayers — the ChiSox obviously do too.  The team just signed catcher Yasmani Grandal for four years and $73M, $5M more than mlbtraderumors.com predicted.  Then, after having Jose Abreu accept the $17.8M qualifying offer, the team effectively rips it up and gives Abreu a generous $50M over three seasons, with $4M of it deferred.

The Pale Hose definitely want to keep their star Abreu, even though he’s soon to be 33.  I would expect Abreu to be able to continue to hit age 33 to 35, at least when he’s healthy.  At his size and age, the healthy part might be the real issue.

They also wanted to get better now, which is what the lay-out on Grandal strongly suggests.  The question now is do the Sox trade their 2019 catcher James McCann, who was very good himself, and due to get a big raise through salary arbitration after slashing .273/.328/.460 and donning the tools of ignorance in 106 games.  I expect the Sox will trade McCann because of the salary issues and the Sox AAA catching looking deep and young; but in the immediate aftermath of the Grandal signing, the Sox are making noises like they want to keep both.

The White Sox fondness for Cuban ballplayers goes back to Minnie Minoso.  Minnie was the first great black Cuban ballplayer in the majors, and Cuban players and the White Sox have been drawn to each other ever since.

The Sox have great young players in Yoan Moncada and Eloy Jimenez and maybe Tim Anderson.  I can’t see Anderson winning another batting title as little as he walks, and there’s a reasonable possibility he might not even hit .300 again, no matter how well he hit in 2019.

However, the Sox also have a lot of holes in their line-up, which the signing of Grandal doesn’t fill, and an extremely weak bench.  Talent is coming in the form of Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal, but I expect both to start the season at AAA Charlotte for at least as long as it takes for the major league team to enjoy another season of control.

I’m hoping that 26 year old Danny Mendick gets a real chance to make the 2020 club out of Spring Training.  He was the only role player on the 2019 squad with an OPS as high as .700.

Granted, Danny Boy put together his .787 OPS in only 40 September plate appearances, but he also had an .812 OPS in a full season at AAA Charlotte, which is good for a middle-infield/jack-of-all-trades type.  At any rate, he doesn’t look to have a lot of a competition for a back-up role filling in wherever needed at this moment.

San Francisco’s Old Love Matt Duffy Should Be Available

Posted November 21, 2019 by Burly
Categories: San Francisco Giants, Tampa Bay Rays

The Tampa Rays just designated Matt Duffy for assignment, presumably because the Rays don’t intend to offer him salary arbitration after an injury-plagued 2019.  Duffy will likely choose free agency, which means there is at least the possibility of an affordable return performance with the San Francisco Giants.

Duffy was really popular in SF in 2015, when he was a Rookie of the Year candidate after being drafted in the 18th round of the 2012 Draft.  No one had expected much out of him, but he worked hard and had a fantastic season that year.

Since the Giants traded Duffy to the Rays in a package for starter Matt Moore, Duffy has been hurt more often than not, although he did have a fine come-back season in 2018.  Duffy’s defensive value is mostly as a 3Bman but he can also play SS and 2B on an as needed basis.

It’s hard to imagine anyone seeing Duffy as their every-day third sacker going into the 2020, but as a utility man who could seize a starting role if things break right for him (and badly for someone else), that’s certainly a possibility.

With Pablo Sandoval having undergone Tommy John surgery in August, and probably available only as a designated hitter in 2020, Sandoval’s roster space is certainly open for Duffy to step in, if the Giants decide to go that route.  If nothing else, I’m sure the fans would all love to see Duffy again back in the Orange and Black.