Those Dodger Deals

Posted February 11, 2020 by Burly
Categories: Anaheim Angels, Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, Minnesota Twins

The dust has settled, and two of the three big Dodger deals have been completed.  The Bums get Mookie Betts, David Price and half of the $96M still owed to Price in exchange for Alex Verdugo and two prospects, middle infielder Jeter Downs and Connor Wong.  It seems to me like a modest price to pay for one season of Betts and three seasons of Price, particularly when the Dodgers are desperate to win a World Series.

I can’t help but feel that the whole purpose of this move from the Red Sox side of things was to get under the salary cap amount for a year in order to re-load in 2021 or 2022.  Don’t be surprised if the Red Sox are in the running to pay Betts a huge free agent contract next off-season, once the Red Sox have resolved their salary cap issue.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers also traded Kenta Maeda, $10M on Maeda’s remaining contractual guarantee, and 20 year old catching prospect Jair Camargo to the Twins for pitching prospect Brusdar Graterol, corner outfield prospect Luke Raley and the 67th pick in the 2020 draft.  In Graterol and the draft pick, the Dodgers will get some prospects to replace Downs and Wong, and the Twins will get a good major league pitcher for $650,000 a year plus significant bonuses that Maeda earns only if he pitches a lot of innings for the Twins.  Except for the loss of Graterol and the draft pick, it’s almost a no-lose proposition for a Twins team looking to go deep in the play-offs in 2020.

The Red Sox wouldn’t take Graterol despite the obvious talent, because he’s already had one major arm surgery and he’s overweight.  He has closer stuff, however.  Maeda was obviously expendable after the acquisition of Price, and the Dodgers could essentially buy a very good, if not great, draft pick from the Twins with money the Red Sox sent along with Price.  Don’t be surprised if the Dodgers pay half of the money they will owe Price in 2021 and/or 2022 in order to trade him off a year or two from now, when the Dodgers will trying to get under the salary cap for a season before re-loading again.

Reports have it that the Joc PedersonRoss StriplingAndy Pages for Luis Rengifo deal with the Angels has fallen apart, but why exactly no one seems to know.  If the Angels thought the deal would make them better a week ago, I’m not sure why they’d decide against it simply because they had to wait a week for the other Dodger machinations to play out.  Rumors have it that Angels owner Arte Moreno was upset about having this deal put on hold, and it wouldn’t be the first time Moreno has inserted himself into player acquisition issues to the detriment of the team, in that Moreno is supposed to have a major driver of the Albert Pujols deal that turned out to be a disaster for the Halos.

There have also been reports that the Dodgers nixed the Angels deal because the final pieces of the Betts-Price deal were different than expected.  This doesn’t make much sense either, as the Dodgers now have one highly-paid outfielder too many and could assumably still use another young middle infielder.  Maybe the fact that the Dodgers beat Pederson in arbitration, thereby saving $1.75M in 2020, is the reason trading Pederson no longer seemed like a great idea.  The Dodgers may also have realized that throwing in Andy Pages, who had a 1.049 OPS as an 18 year old rookie leaguer in 2019, was too much without a second legitimate prospect from the Angels in return.

All that said, it’s still quite possible that a variation of this deal centered around Pederson and Rengifo goes through before Spring Training starts.

Mike Bolsinger Sues Astros for Sign-Stealing

Posted February 11, 2020 by Burly
Categories: Anaheim Angels, Houston Astros, Los Angeles Dodgers, NPB, Oakland A's, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants, Toronto Blue Jays

Mike Bolsinger is suing the Astros for lost earnings as a result of getting hammered and knocked out of the majors by a bad outing against the ‘Stros, with the garbage can banging away in the dugout.  His lawyers certainly found the right plaintiff, a pitcher who got knocked out and immediately sent down with recorded audio proof of the cheating.  MLB Trade Rumors’ Jeff Todd has a good piece which mentions some of the hurdles Bolsinger will face in order to get to discovery, at which point the Astros will probably settle for some several million dollars paid to Bolsinger and his lawyers in order to prevent all of the Astros’ dirty secrets from getting a fuller public airing.

I think it’s likely that the Astros will try to get the case kicked into arbitration, although Bolsinger may have an argument that cheating of this type isn’t covered by the Collective Bargaining Agreement and thus not arbitrable.  However, disputes as to arbitrability are usually left to the arbitrators themselves to decide — courts love kicking cases off to arbitration in these circumstances, because labor arbitrators have more experience in resolving collectively bargained contracts and issues than state court judges.  Kicking cases into binding arbitration, where both sides are well represented by competent legal counsel also conserves state court judicial resources.

An argument I would expect the Astros’ lawyers to raise is whether a California State Court in Los Angeles has personal jurisdiction to hear this dispute.  As I understand it, most of the sign-stealing cheating took place in Houston, although wikipedia’s description of the methods used suggest they could also have been used on the road so long as the Astros could get a live video-feed of the game.  In any event, the day that Bolsinger got hammered happened in Houston.

Thus, it may be necessary for Bolsinger’s lawyers either to find a California-based pitcher to add as a plaintiff and/or to prove that the Astros were stealing signs in Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco or Oakland.  The lawyers picked L.A. because it has a more liberal judiciary.  Orange County is more conservative, but Alameda County, where the A’s play, would probably have been a better choice, because it would probably be easier to prove the Astros cheated at the Oakland Coliseum than at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

A 2017 U.S. Supreme Court case, Bristol-Myers Squibb, holds that to establish specific personal jurisdiction, the conduct complained of in the lawsuit must arise out of or relate to the defendant’s activities in the forum state such that the forum state’s court may only adjudicate issues deriving from or connected with the present controversy that establishes jurisdiction.  This is why I think Bolsingers’ lawyers need to present evidence that the Astros cheated in California and thus that a pitcher in California was negatively affected by the cheating to establish personal jurisdiction.

As I said, if the lawsuit gets past the pleading stage to discovery, I expect the case to settle.  If it did go to trial, Bolsinger would have a hard time proving damages.  While the outing at issue got him knocked out of the majors, he had a 5.49 ERA going into that game.  He’s also likely to find it nearly impossible to prove he would have made more after he was sent down by the Blue Jays, because he made more money in Japan the last two seasons than he would likely have made in the U.S. even if he’d been able to last a little longer in MLB.

I’m doubtful that any major league team will sign Bolsinger in the future.  They might if he was younger and better, but given where he is in his career, I expect him to be effectively black listed by MLB teams for committing the cardinal sin of suing them.

The 2020 Giants Won’t Be Good, But They’ll Be Familiar

Posted February 8, 2020 by Burly
Categories: Arizona Diamond Backs, Boston Red Sox, Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Dodgers, Miami Marlins, San Francisco Giants, Texas Rangers

The SF Giants signed Hunter Pence for a reported $3M plus incentives, and they just brought back Pablo about a week ago.  We’ll see if Hunter has one more year in him, and while I’m not too excited about the Panda, I like the fact that the Gints signed all-around infielder Wilmer Flores for his age 28 and 29 seasons at a total of $6M.

Signing Flores is a good move, but it’s not a great move.  It’s more of a signing I’d expect to see from the Royals or the Marlins.  Makes the Giants just good enough not to lose 100, maybe.

I’m actually hoping the Dodgers complete the Mookie Betts, David Price deal.  Even without them, the 2020 and 2021 Giants aren’t likely to compete with the Dodgers the next two years.  In 2022, David Price will be two years older, and Mookie Betts will be gone or an extremely pricey part of the Dodgers’ salary cap considerations.  It’s a win now, pay later strategy, and the Giants won’t be any good until later.

Committed to Rebuilding

Posted January 26, 2020 by Burly
Categories: Anaheim Angels, Pittsburg Pirates, San Francisco Giants

Absent a surprise signing of Nicholas Castellanos, the last remaining elite free agent, it seems clear that the San Francisco Giants are fully committed to a two-year rebuilding process, which will presumably and hopefully end when the Giants get out from under the bulk of their long-term veteran contracts at the end of the 2021 season.  Jeff Samardzija‘s contract comes off the books after this coming season, and the big contracts of Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford and Johnny Cueto can be gotten out from under by the end of 2021.

The Giants are still on the hook for nearly $15M to Evan Longoria in 2022, but that’s easy enough for a big revenue team like the Giants to handle.

The run of pennant contenders from 2009 through 2016 left the Giants’ farm system utterly bereft, so much so that nearly no one drafted before the 2017 Draft looks likely to develop into a player that could significantly help the Giants reach a future post-season.  With the team’s run of winning seasons having ended, the team has had good first round picks the last three drafts, whom they’ve actually held onto; and 2017 Third Round pick Seth Corry had a 2019 season at full season Class A ball at age 20 that elevates him to elite prospect status.

Heliot Ramos and Joey Bart should be ready for the majors by 2021 or the start of 2022, and the Giants will likely be drafting from a high position at least through the 2022 Draft.  Signing pitchers like Kevin Gausman and Drew Smyly says only that the team is committed to not losing 100 games in 2020.

After making qualifying offers to Madison Bumgarner and Will Smith, the Giants have 5 of the top 87 draft picks in the 2020 June Draft.  Giants fans have to hope that the team can turn at least two of the four picks after the first round pick into useful major league players.  The Giants have a history of underwhelming with their 2nd round picks, with the notable exception of Bryan Reynolds, who looks like he’s going to be a big star for the Pirates and is one of the many prospects the Giants drafted before 2017 who got traded away for runs at the post-season.

The Giants also essentially bought former Angels No. 15 overall pick in 2019 Will Wilson for Zack Cozart‘s $12M+ 2020 salary and grade-B prospect Garrett Williams, adding one more prime prospect to the mix.  I’m a little sad the Giants have already sought release waivers on Cozart and won’t give him a shot to be a back-up infielder for the Gints, even though I knew at the time they acquired him that the team was solely interested in acquiring Wilson.

It will be worth two more sub-.500 seasons if it means the Giants can actually draft and develop into major league stars a new, affordable core of young players, who can be supplemented with expensive free agents, once the existing big contracts come off the books two years from now.  The plan to rebuild obviously makes sense, and the team is going about it in the right way.  It’s just a matter of whether the team can succeed in drafting the right players and developing them, and also having the good luck of none of the most talented prospects getting seriously hurt.

LG Twins to Sign Roberto Ramos

Posted January 23, 2020 by Burly
Categories: Baseball Abroad, Denver Rockies, KBO, NPB

It looks like the last roster spot for a foreign player in the KBO has been filled.  The LG Twins are reportedly on the verge of signing former Colorado Rockies’ prospect Roberto Ramos.

On paper, it looks like a great signing.  At age 24 in 2019, he blasted 30 home runs and posted a .980 OPS at Albuquerque in the Pacific Coast League.  It’s his second season in a row hitting at least 30 HRs in the minors.  It makes me wonder why Ramos wants to go to South Korea and why the Rockies sold away his rights.

The answer seems to be that nobody, including most importantly the Rockies, think Ramos is a legitimate major league prospect.  MLB.com ranks Ramos as only the 27th best prospect in the Rockies’ system, and fangraphs ranks him 31st.  That’s mighty low for a 25 year old player coming a full season at AAA like Ramos’ 2019.

Ramos played poorly in a brief 10 game stint in the Arizona Fall League and failed to impress in 48 games in Mexico’s Pacific League this Winter.  However, it’s quite possible he was simply tired, as he ended up playing in an exceptional 185 championship games this year across which he accumulated 731 plate appearances.  So long as he’s still healthy physically, all that play has to be good on the developmental end.

Initial reports are that Ramos will only be making about $500,000 playing in Korea in 2020, which is less than the major league minimum.  It’s likely SK had to buy his rights from the Rockies for about $500,000.

In theory, signing a player this young coming off a AAA season like Ramos’ 2019 looks like a great move by the Twins.  However, I can’t remember the last 25 year old foreign rookie to NPB or the KBO to become a great player there.  There are plenty of 26 and 27 year old foreign rookies who have become huge stars in Asia, but precious few 25 year olds, at least in the recent past.

Most players with enough talent to become big Asian stars going into their age 25 seasons are still seen a legitimate major league prospects.  It’s only when the player has reached the end of his age 25 or 26  season and still hasn’t established himself as a regular major league roster holder that the Asian majors become a better option.

I also think that 4-A players need that extra year or two of both mental and professional maturity in order to be able to adjust quickly to Asia’s very different way of playing baseball.  Foreign players have to hit the ground running in Asian pro baseball, because Asian teams are almost never interested in trying to develop the foreign players they bring in at major league salaries, and mediocre foreign players are easy to replace.

Ramos needs to hit like a star in the KBO in 2020, or he’ll be back in AAA a year older and even less of a prospect in 2021.

Best Foreign Pitching Prospects for Taiwan’s CPBL 2020

Posted January 21, 2020 by Burly
Categories: Anaheim Angels, Baseball Abroad, Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds, CPBL, Independent-A Leagues, KBO, Mexican League, Minor Leagues, San Diego Padres, Tampa Bay Rays, Toronto Blue Jays

Last off-season I had fun writing a post on the best foreign pitching prospects for Taiwan’s CPBL.  Henry Sosa was the one of many players I name-checked in the article, and I predicted he’d sign with a Mexican League team.

The point is there are so many pitchers available with the right talent level and potentially in the CPBL’s price range that it’s kind of a fool’s errand to try to predict who exactly CPBL teams will sign, unless you are reading reports out of Taiwan in Chinese coming from sources that actually work for one of the CPBL’s four teams.

Nonetheless, it’s still fun to identify some pitchers most MLB fans have never heard of but who still have enough left they could be stars in the CPBL earning at least $150,000 to start if they can last a full season. There were a flurry of foreign pitcher signings in the CPBL last week, but there still appear to be as many as four remaining roster spots available for foreign pitchers as I write this.

Former foreign KBO pitchers are always very popular with CPBL teams.  Christian Friedrich (32 years old in 2020), Joe Wieland (30), Deck McGuire (31), Felix Doubront (32), Pat Dean (31), Ryan Feierabend (34), David Hale (32), Tyler Cloyd (33) and Scott Copeland (32) are all over age-30 former KBOers who are still looking for a contract somewhere.

Christian Friedrich is my favorite as a potential CPBLer.  He hasn’t pitched in the MLB-system since 2017 due to an arm injury.  In 2019, he split the season between the Atlantic League and the KBO and pitcher very well in both places.  He’s not returning to the KBO to start the 2020 season (all the KBO roster spots for foreign pitchers are now filled), and at age 32, he might find it hard to get a call from an MLB organization.

Also, by my calculation Friedrich only earned about $160K last season, which is an amount a CPBL team could easily afford.  Almost all of these pitchers would be a good bet for a CPBL team, so long as any of them are willing to pitch in Taiwan for what the Rakuten Monkeys or the 7/11 Uni-Lions are willing to pay.  The ChinaTrust Brothers and the Fubon Guardians spent big on foreign pitchers this off-season, but their roster spots are now filled.

I like Feierabend too, because as a knuckleballer, he could still potentially pitch for years in the CPBL even though he’s already 34.

Pitchers who pitched well in the Caribbean Winter Leagues are a good bet for CPBL teams.  Teddy Stankiewicz (26) , who pitched well at AAA for the Red Sox last year and in both Mexico and the Dominic Republic this winter, would be a great prospect, but I expect an MLB organization will eventually get around to signing him.  David Kubiak (30) pitched so well in the Dominican Republic this winter, he deserves another shot in the CPBL.

Eric Stout (27), Jason Garcia (27), Justin Nicolino (28), Jake Paulson (28), Giovanni Soto (29), Mitch Lambson (29), Forrest Snow (31), Joe Van Meter (31), Hector Santiago (32) and Mitch Atkins (34) round out a list of pitchers who were good this winter and are still looking for summer 2020 jobs.

CPBL teams like AAA pitchers who have aged out and didn’t quite pitch well enough the previous season to receive a contract for next season.  The current possibilities include Dan Camarena (27), Dillon Overton (28), Tyler J. Alexander (28), Ryan Merritt (28), Parker Bridwell (28), Daniel Corcino (29), Drew Hutchison (29), Dietrich Enns (29), Erasmo Ramirez (30), Kyle Lobstein (30), Seth Maness (31), J.J. Hoover (32), and Logan Ondrusek (35).

I still like Tyler Alexander and Kyle Lobstein, whom I listed last off-season, as potential CPBL pitchers, but any of these pitchers would be good bets.  J.J. Hoover pitched in the Australian Baseball League this winter, which is great back door to the CPBL, because it’s easier and cheaper for CPBL teams to scout players Down Under than in the Americas.  Thomas Dorminy (28) and Rick Teasley (29) are two former CPBL pitchers pitching in Australia this winter, who, I bet, would jump at the chance to pitch in Taiwan again at CPBL salaries, even at the low end.

CPBL teams like Mexican League pitchers too.  Matt Gage (27), Andre Rienzo (31) and Dustin Crenshaw (31) are current Mexican League pitchers who might be available this off-season.

Needless to say, many of the pitchers I’ve listed will get minor league offers between now and the end of Spring Training, or they will elect to pitch in the Atlantic League or the Mexican League in the hopes of working their way back to the MLB system.  Even so, there are lots of options out their for CPBL teams, if they are willing to turn over every stone and kick a few tires.

Salaries Up for Foreign Pitchers in Taiwan’s CPBL

Posted January 15, 2020 by Burly
Categories: Baseball Abroad, CPBL, KBO, NPB, Seattle Mariners

The elect few who read my blog with any regularity know that I like to write about the salary scales throughout the world of professional baseball.  Free agent contracts are up in MLB and NPB this off-season.  KBO contracts for foreign “mercenaries” are definitely down.

Salaries in Asia’s smallest major league are way up for at least a few foreign pitchers.

Until this off-season, new foreign pitchers to the CPBL typically received three or four month guarantees ranging from about $50,000 to $100,000.  So, roughly a little over $15,000 to about $25,000 per month, and not for an entire season.  Rob over at CPBL Stats has been opining for the last year or so that CPBL teams could afford to pay one of their three foreign major leaguers roughly $50,000 a month to start.  It looks like he’s been proven right this off-season.

It took the right sequence of events to move CPBL teams out of their comfort zone, and that sequence happened this off-season.  Last off-season, former KBO star Henry Sosa got dumped by the LG Twins, as a result of the fact that Sosa was getting older and was expensive, and KBO teams pay enough for 4-A pitchers that it’s extremely easy for them to find replacement foreigners who are at least average KBO starters.  Sosa signed on with the Fubon Guardians and completely dominated the CPBL with his big fastball and veteran experience until the Guardians sold him back to the KBO at mid-season, probably due to a clause in Sosa’s contract with the Guardians that required the transfer if a KBO team came calling.

Sosa pitched well in the KBO’s 2019 second-half, but again got squeezed this off-season.  Having proven his value to CPBL teams, the Guardians offered him something like $50K per month for a full CPBL season, which has led to reports that reports that Sosa will earn $500K to $600K in 2020.  In any event, Sosa will probably earn no less than $400K pitching in the CPBL in 2020, when taking into account post-game performance bonuses and other emoluments.  Unfortunately, CPBL teams, like NPB teams, are not at all transparent about player salaries.

The signing of Sosa for big money (by CPBL standards) has unlocked CPBL wallets, or at least the wallet of what is probably the 4-team circuit’s wealthiest team, the China Trust Brothers.  The Brothers signed former SoftBank Hawk and Seattle Mariner starter Ariel Miranda for similar money to Sosa, which was what was reasonably necessary for a CPBL team to beat out small revenue NPB and KBO teams like, for example, the Chiba Lotte Marines.

Then, the Brothers went out and guaranteed roughly $125,000 for three or four months to Esmil Rogers, who pitched very effectively for parts of three seasons in the KBO, has significant MLB major league experience, and is coming off a strong winter league season in his home Dominican Republic.  It’s a lot of money for a pitcher entering his age 34 season with no other likely 2020 option than MLB AAA or the Mexican League, but Rogers has the back-story CPBL teams love.

The Brothers are trying to keep pace with Guardians, who also re-signed CPBL Ace Mike Loree, and the hot-hitting Rakuten Monkeys, who are presumably going to have more money to spend on foreign pitchers since the sale by Lamigo to Rakuten.  Also, the expansion Wei Chuan Dragons, who start major league play in 2021, are already showing signs they will spend big on foreign pitchers next off-season in order to get competitive in a hurry.  Add to that the fact that the Brothers’ 2019 foreign starters, paid in line with last year’s CPBL salary scale, were as a group well less than adequate.

I also think that new roster rules for foreign players is having an effect on salaries.  Before 2020, teams could have three foreign players (in practice, all starting pitchers) on their major league rosters, and typically at least three of the four CPBL teams would keep a fourth foreign pitcher on hand at the minor league level.  However, in order to call up the fourth pitcher in the minors, one of the team’s three major league foreigners had to be released.  Starting in 2020, teams will be able to transfer foreign major leaguers to the minors and call up the foreign minor leaguer with the only restriction that the first pitcher can’t be recalled for 15 days.

The Brothers have, in addition to Sosa and Rogers, re-signed Mitch Lively and brought in fourth foreign pitcher, Dominican Jose De Paula.  This probably means that De Paula, a pitcher of the type CPBL teams in the past signed to pitch at the major league level, will start in the CPBL minor league and wait for one of the other three starters to get hurt or pitch ineffectively.  De Paula’s signing is going to put pressure on the other three CPBL teams to sign a better class of 4th foreign pitchers.

As with all things in professional baseball, little is set in stone when it comes to spending money, and we’re going to have to see if bringing in a better and better paid class of foreign pitchers has an effect on CPBL attendance, which, frankly, isn’t what it should be given baseball’s popularity in Taiwan and the size of Taiwan’s major urban areas.

Also, most of the foreign pitchers signed for the 2020 season are over age 30, which means that a fair number of them will be injured during the season.  If the higher paid foreigners bomb or flame out, there won’t be as much incentive to repeat the experiment in 2021.  I do think, though, that expansion in 2021 will add some excitement for the league and unlock some wallets.

If CPBL teams are willing to compete with small market KBO and NPB teams for at least one foreign starting pitcher per team, the CPBL will get better, and we’ll see more movement of foreign pitchers between the CPBL and the other Asian majors.  I’m excited about that prospect.