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.

Delmon Young Sighting

Posted December 31, 2019 by Burly
Categories: Baseball Abroad, KBO, Mexican League, NPB, Toronto Blue Jays

And the beat goes on for Delmon Young.  He’s playing in Australia’s Winter (their Summer) League this season.  Needless to say, he’s leading the league with seven home runs, although his .995 OPS is only seventh best just shy of 25 games into the season.

Young played in Mexico the summer of 2018 and he played in Venezuela that winter.  However, he didn’t return to Mexico for the summer 2019 season.  That was probably a mistake, as 2019 was an exceptionally good year for power hitters, and Young could have perhaps impressed somebody in Asia with a hot first half.  Given his major league pedigree a full year in Mexico could pay him as much as $80,000 or $90,000 with no income taxes, which if nothing else gets him a year closer to his MLB pension, which is likely to be substantial given his major league service team, even if he starts collecting it as young as 45.

Young is now 34 years old, and his chances of getting picked up by a KBO or NPB team are slim.  He may be playing in Australia solely as a way to see the world while getting paid a little to do it.  Salaries can’t be big to play baseball in Oz, however.

I surely don’t blame him for not returning to Venezuela, though — that can’t be worth $5,000 or $6,000 a month unless you really need the money.  However,  there are a lot of beautiful women there with low financial expectations for a sugar daddy.  Daily meals at nice restaurants, plus a few 25 kg sacks of corn meal and one or two whole chickens for the family are probably all it takes to get your pick of girlfriends in today’s Venezuela.

Current Blue Jays’ AAA player and former KBOer Andy Burns is also hitting well in Australia this winter/summer.  He’s still only 29 years old, and he played well at Buffalo in 2019 (.833 OPS) at mostly 2B/3B.  He’s likely hoping a KBO team will keep him in mind if he’s playing well in AAA in July and a foreign player isn’t hitting.  He certainly looks like a better KBO option than Taylor Motter, who’s a year older than Burns, but got signed by the Kiwoom Heroes because he was willing to accept a modest but not paltry $350,000.

Burns would have been a better option at $450K or $500K, although it’s possible he would have demanded more since he could be only one injury away from another major league opportunity.

Cincinnati Reds Reach Agreement with CF Shogo Akiyama

Posted December 31, 2019 by Burly
Categories: Anaheim Angels, Baseball Abroad, Cincinnati Reds, NPB

The Redlegs have reportedly agreed to terms on a three-year deal with Japanese CF Shogo Akiyama for around a $20M guarantee.  It’s a generous deal for Akiyama, who I very much think of as a crap shoot entering the major leagues as a 32 year old rookie.

Acting in Akiyama’s favor are that he’s a true centerfielder (although at age 32, his best years in the field are almost certainly behind him) and that he’s very good at getting on base, which is the most important ability for any Japanese hitter trying to establish himself as a major league player.

Aside from his age, something that concerns me is Jim Allen’s recent report that Shogo doesn’t hit the fastball well.  According to Allen’s numbers, Akiyama has been well below average in hitting the fastball in NPB over the last three years.  In my mind, that’s a big concern, because the biggest difference between major league pitcher and NPB pitchers on average is that the MLBers throw harder.

Akiyama has a big foot-in-the-bucket swing  (you can see the video here), which a lot of Japanese players have and which is going to hard to unlearn at age 32.  One of the things that amazed baseball insiders about Shohei Ohtani was how quickly (basically one Spring Training) he was able to drop his foot-in-the-bucket step for a more compact timing movement which was believed to allow him to better handle/catch up with major league fastballs.  Given Ohtani’s talent level, I wouldn’t be surprised if he one day goes back to a more foot-in-the-bucket swing, but the feeling around MLB was that his quick adjustment was a huge factor in his immediate major league success.

Akiyama better get up to speed in a hurry, because the first thing he’s going to see from major league pitchers is major league fastballs.  In that sense, the professional game is actually incredibly simple.

First, major league pitchers test whether a newly arrived hitter can hit the fastball.  If he can’t, he’s toast.  If he can, then they try off-speed pitches.  If the hitter proves he can hit those too, then the pitchers rely heavily on the scouts and the video footage to try to figure out how to set the hitter up to swing at the pitcher’s out-pitches.

Except that in today’s game, the Reds’ 2020 opponents will be looking at video footage of his recent seasons in NPB to get an idea of how to pitch to him before they ever see him in regular season action.  I don’t have any doubt, though, that pitchers won’t be testing his ability to catch up their fastballs given his high leg lift.

It would be a good idea for Akiyama to get on the phone with Ohtani to find out how Ohtani made the adjustment to MLB so quickly.  Of course, what Ohtani can’t teach Akiyama to do is become 23 again.

More KBO Retrenchment: Samsung Lions Move on from Darin Ruf

Posted December 25, 2019 by Burly
Categories: Baltimore Orioles, KBO, Milwaukee Brewers, NPB, San Francisco Giants

The KBO’s Samsung Lions just signed former major leaguer Tyler Saladino to a contract for 2020 that will pay Saladino $800,000 plus another $100K in performance incentives. It’s a good sign for the Lions, given Saladino’s past major league performance, but it likely means the team won’t be bringing back big bopper Darin Ruf, who did nothing but hit across three KBO seasons.

In 2019, Ruf played in 133 of the Lions’ 144 games, and his .917 OPS was 5th best in the 10-team circuit.  However, Ruf earned about $1.7M last year and presumably expected at least a small raise in 2020 based on his 2019 performance.  Saladino will cost the Lions about half of what Ruf would have cost the team.

It’s possible that Lions could still sign Ruf and go into the 2020 season with two foreign position players out of their three roster spots for foreigners.  In the second half last year, the Lions carried Ruf and outfielder Mac Williamson.  However, since the league expanded the roster to a third foreign player, at least one of whom could not be a pitcher, about five years ago every single KBO team has opened the season with two foreign starting pitchers and a lone foreign position player.

Ruf is 33 in 2020 (he turns 34 next July 28), so he could decide to retire.  Another KBO team could sign him for the $1M cap amount, or he could sign with an NPB team, probably for around the same $1.1M the Hanshin Tigers just gave former KBO slugger Jerry Sands.  Unfortunately for Ruf, there can’t be too many foreign player roster spots left in either NPB or the KBO.

If, in fact, Ruf does not return to the KBO in 2020, it means the league has lost its two best foreign hitters, and two of the top five overall, from 2019.  That’s no way to improve league play.

Meanwhile, SoftBank Hawks’ superstar Yuki Yanagita just signed a seven-year contract extension, meaning it’s all but certain Yanagita will never play in MLB.  Yanagita missed most of 2019 to a knee injury, and under NPB’s service time rules, he only earned 60 days of service time credit for the roughly 100 games he missed.  That was just enough to push back his free agency dates by a year.

It’s hard to feel too sorry for Yanagita, though.  The contract he signed with the Hawks will pay him roughly $5.2M per season with escalator clauses that could bring future salaries up to $6M or $7M per season.  As I like to say, Yanagita won’t be going to bed hungry anytime soon.

Also meanwhile, Tetsuto Yamada has elected to sign a one year deal with the Yakult Swallows which will pay him in the neighborhood of $4.5M, a club salary record.  This means that Yamada could ask to be posted for MLB teams next off-season.  However, he’ll be a domestic free agent next off-season, and Jim Allen thinks it’s just as likely that Yamada will sign a long-term deal with the Yomiuri Giants, Hanshin Tigers or SoftBank Hawks as request to be posted to MLB.

The fact that Yamada apparently did not request to be posted this off-season, when his value to MLB teams would have been greater than it will be a year from now (he’s going into his age 27 season in 2020), does suggest he could be content to remain a superstar in Japan.  Although salaries in NPB are considerably lower than MLB for players of Yamada’s caliber, the endorsement income for Yomiuri or Hanshin stars is enormous.  I suspect, though, that Japanese players who become MLB stars still make considerably more in Japanese endorsements than MLB players make in American endorsements.

Oakland A’s to Build New Ballpark at Coliseum Site?

Posted December 25, 2019 by Burly
Categories: Anaheim Angels, Arizona Diamond Backs, Baseball Abroad, KBO, Oakland A's

It was announced today that the A’s are going to get a share of the Coliseum site where the current ballpark is located in East Oakland, increasing the likelihood that the A’s will build a new baseball-only park on their portion of the site.

There’s nothing wrong with the Coliseum site.  It’s a crummy industrial neighborhood, but it’s readily accessible by both car and mass transit and it’s in a central location in terms of both Alameda and Contra Costa counties, the core of the A’s fan base.  What sucks is the Coliseum one of the last of the multi-sport concrete monstrosities of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.

With the Raiders moving to Vegas, it’s likely the A’s will build a new stadium in what is now the parking lots and will eventually turn the Coliseum into new parking lots.  Or the City of Oakland could elect to hold onto the Coliseum in a vain hope of attracting another NFL team, and the City and/or A’s could purchase some of the surrounding industrial areas to build more parking.  I don’t have any doubt that the A’s could draw at that site if they had a beautiful new baseball-only stadium.

In other news, I like the two-year $16M deal, with third year team option, the Diamondbacks gave former Angels’ right fielder Kole Calhoun.  Switching to the weaker league and playing his home games in a better hitters’ park, Calhoun could potentially surprise everyone and hit 40 home runs in one of the next two seasons.  Playing in Mike Trout‘s shadow, Calhoun has very quietly been a very good player in five of the last six seasons.

In a final piece of the day’s news I found interesting, the KBO’s Lotte Giants signed former MLB catcher Hank Conger to be a coach for the team in 2020.  Conger is a American son of a South Korean mother who emigrated to the U.S. and Korean-born father who was adopted by an American military family as a child — thus, the non-Korean name.  Conger is perfect to coach in Korea, particularly if he learned any Korean from his parents.

mlbtraderumors.com notes that Conger was once one of MLB’s best pitch-framers and that the Giants likely want him to work with a young catcher they just traded for.  However, what I find interesting is the fact that Conger could also potentially play for the Giants at some time in 2020.  Conger is only turns 32 next month, and he played as recently as 2018 in Mexico (albeit poorly).

KBO teams can now carry additional foreign players to play at the minor league level.  I won’t be surprised if at some point in 2020 if Lotte’s other foreigners aren’t performing Conger gets a shot at resuming his professional career.  Players doing double duty are almost always useful to their teams.

Good Article

Posted December 25, 2019 by Burly
Categories: San Francisco Giants

I really enjoyed reading Sam Miller’s article on espn.com tonight.  A lot of the stories involve the SF Giants.

Blue Jays Shell Out for Hyun-Jin Ryu

Posted December 24, 2019 by Burly
Categories: Baseball Abroad, KBO, Los Angeles Dodgers, Milwaukee Brewers, NPB, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants, Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays have elected to give Hyun-Jin Ryu $80 million over four years, which is probably $15M to $20M too much given Ryu’s age (33 in March), weight (255 lbs) and past injury history.

One of the ironies of today’s MLB is that in spite of all the revenue sharing and extra draft picks for small market teams (Toronto isn’t a small market, but the Canadian dollar means the Jays’ revenues don’t match Toronto’s population size), small market teams, particularly those perennially trying to compete with the powerhouse teams, have to spend more to sign an A-list free agent.  It pretty much goes without saying that the Jay Birds had to give Ryu an $80M guarantee to get him.

Ryu’s contract also tends to suggest that Madison Bumgarner really did choose the Diamondbacks instead of maximizing his free agent contract, since it sure looks he could have got a nine-figure deal in this market if he’d held out for it.  Players always say they signed with the team they wanted to play for most, even when it’s obvious they elected to sign with however offered the biggest guarantee.  Here’s some evidence that MadBum had some other priorities.

In a much smaller signing, the Padres signed former NPBer Pierce Johnson for two years at a $5M guarantee, with a team option for an affordable third season.  Johnson is only the latest in a steadily increasing number of former MLBers who have gone to Japan for a year or three and then returned to big money from MLB.  It’s clearly a trend that is increasing.

For Johnson, the deal was a no-brainer.  His wife just had a baby, so he wanted to return the U.S.  Also, his former team, the Hanshin Tigers, likely made him a two-year offer for around $3M, so the Padres’ offer was probably the most money.

The trend of signing players like Johnson is largely a product of the fact that numerous teams have had success bringing in NPB returnees, and the other teams are now copying them.  Also, I think that in a gradual way, NPB is improving relative to MLB.

Although NPB teams are still limited to four foreign players in the major league rosters, every NPB team is now carrying 7 or 8 foreign players per season in order to develop young foreigners and to ensure they are getting the maximum performance from each foreign roster spot.

Also, NPB teams have attendance numbers that suggest that they have the money to sign a better class of not-quite MLB major league performers.  NPB is a mature league, with more than 80 years now in the books, and attendance figures don’t go up or down much from year to year.  However, in recent years, there has been small, steady increases every season.

Here are NPB’s 2019 attendance figures.  Even NPB’s weakest team, the Chiba Lotte Marines, drew 1.67 million fans in 71 home dates.  That’s more than eight MLB teams in more 2019 games.  The Marines’ average attendance of 23,463 per game was better than 12 MLB teams.

The upshot is that NPB have the money to sign foreign players who only need to improve their games a little bit in Japan to make successful returns to the MLB majors.  The big difference now on the MLB side of things is that late bloomers who establish themselves as big stars in NPB don’t necessarily have to stay there anymore.

On the other hand, I’m not convinced that we are about to see a big increase in the number of KBO stars who go on to MLB success.  NPB is clearly much closer to the MLB level of play than is the KBO, and I don’t think it’s likely that the KBO level of play will increase significantly any time soon.

The KBO has decided to let its teams sign two more foreign players each to play at the KBO minor league level, so that will improve performance from the three major league roster spots each team has for foreign players.  However, attendance was down sharply in the KBO in 2019, and it’s revenues can’t possibly be near to NPB’s.  The lack of funds is showing in a big way this off-season, with foreign player salaries down, making it more difficult for KBO teams to compete with NPB for the best foreign players.

The KBO is still a great opportunity for foreign 4-A players, but the league is going to have a hard time signing players like Dustin Nippert, Eric Thames and Josh Lindblom going forward unless it can get its attendance up and keep it there, avoiding a crash every time the Korean National Team does poorly in the World Baseball Classic.