Colorado Rockies Sign Ian Desmond for $70 Million

Posted December 7, 2016 by Burly
Categories: Denver Rockies

In a move that has left almost the entire baseball commentariat scratching their heads, the Rockies today announced that they signed Ian Desmond to a five-year $70 million, a signing that will reportedly also cost them the 11th overall selection in the 2017 Draft.  While I think that giving up this draft pick at the same time that you are wildly overpaying Desmond makes little sense any way you slice, the only way it makes even a modicum of sense to me is if the Rockies are concerned about Trevor Story‘s ability to come back from the torn thumb ligament that ended his 2016 season.

The 2016 Rockies had gaping holes at 1B and LF, at least until David Dahl was called up to fill the latter position, but Desmond isn’t a good enough hitter for this signing to make sense if they plan to play him regularly at either position.  The Rockies could probably have signed Chris Carter to play first for one year and $8 million; and, while Carter’s game has it’s own big holes, he might well hit 50 home runs playing half his games in Coors Field.

There has been speculation that the Rockies intend to use Desmond as a jack-of-all-trades type player, in the manner of Ben Zobrist.  While Desmond can play all three outfield positions and may well end up in right field with Carlos Gonzales moving to 1B, Desmond has played a total of only eight games in his professional career at an infield position other than shortstop, all of them at 2B, the last time in 2009, his MLB rookie year.  It’s no guarantee that a shortstop with almost no experience at 2B can slide over to the new position without facing a steep learning curve, particularly when it comes to turning the double-play.

It would have made more sense to me to sign Carter, keep the draft pick and use the $60 million savings to try to improve their bullpen.

San Francisco Giants Sign Mark Melancon and Other Developments

Posted December 7, 2016 by Burly
Categories: Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox, Pittsburg Pirates, San Francisco Giants, Washington Nationals

There was an article in the SF Chronicle today entitled, “New Giants Closer Mark Melancon Explains Why He Picked SF.”  Surprisingly, the quote, “They gave me a sh*$-load of money!” appears nowhere in the article.

The Giants were determined to sign Mark Melancon and they did by the basic expedient of offering him the most money.  It’s an all-in kind of move since Melancon will be 32 in 2017, but now is the time for one last run at going deep into the post-season with this core of players.

Today’s big news is the Chris Sale trade.  It’s a hard pill to swallow for Chi-Sox fans, given that they had a good chance at their first over .500 season since 2011 going in to the upcoming season, and now they most certainly do not. The team went 18-14 in Sale’s 32 2016 starts, which means the team without him is going to have to be about 12 games better than they were last year to finish 2017 with a winning record.

From White Sox management’s perspective, though, the move makes a great deal of sense.  Sale was definitely a squeaky wheel in 2016, and the White Sox got a boat-load of young talent in exchange for the three years of now bargain-price control on Sale’s contract.  Yoan Moncado, Michael Kopech and Luis Basabe all look like great prospects, and Chicago got a fourth B-level prospect to boot.  Things might look up dramatically for the White Sox in 2018 or 2019.

Nippon Ham Fighters to Post Shohei Otani after 2017 Season?

Posted December 5, 2016 by Burly
Categories: Baseball Abroad, Boston Red Sox, National League, New York Yankees

mlbtraderumors.com posted a piece this evening stating that NPB’s Nippon Ham Fighters have announced they will post super-prospect Shohei Otani after the 2017 season.  This seems like a real possibility only if Otani made it clear to the Fighters that he wants to be posted.

The only reason for the Fighters to post Otani two years earlier than they reasonably had to would be to avoid him getting hurt.  Otherwise, Otani is clearly worth more to the team than the same $20 million they will get for him whether they post him next off-season or three years from now.

Otani cannot be unaware that he is the best player in NPB and that his major league earnings will certainly be greater the younger he leaves for MLB.  I would expect him to command a $200 million plus contract next off-season in addition to the posting fee.

After helping the Fighters win the 2016 Nippon Series, as Masahiro Tanaka did before insisting that the Rakuten Golden Eagles post him a few years back, Otani’s ability to successfully demand posting is very high.  NPB teams don’t want to look bad to their fan bases by preventing obvious major league talents from going on to greater wealth, fame and professional fulfillment in MLB, particularly when they have reached the top of the mountain in NPB.

I see Otani as strictly a pitcher in MLB, except perhaps for occasional pinch-hitting opportunities if he signs with a National League team.  For that reason, though, I’d like to see a National League team sign him, although I expect the Yankees and Red Sox will have a lot to say about that.

Mexican Left-Hander Efren Delgado

Posted December 4, 2016 by Burly
Categories: Baseball Abroad

I was surfing the 2016 Winter League stats this morning, and one player who jumped out at me was 22 year old Mexican lefty Efren Delgado. After a break-through 2016 in the regular season Mexican League, he’s again one of the top pitchers in the Mexican Pacific League, Mexico’s winter league.

What Delgado has going from him is that he’s young (he turned 22 only about a month ago) and he’s got strikeout stuff.  His strikeout rates aren’t overwhelming, but they are just fine for a player his age pitching effectively in the Mexican leagues.

Mexican League teams demand hefty buy-outs to sell their young stars to MLB teams, most likely at least $1 million to sell the rights of Delgado.  While that is hardly outrageous for young talent, it’s enough that MLB organizations won’t shell it out unless they really think Delgado is worth it.

Going into his age 22 season, it would certainly be a good time to acquire his rights and send him off to AA ball to see what he can do against a level of competition that is roughly equal to the Mexican summer league, but that is both more talented and less experienced.  On the other hand, MLB teams may also be willing to wait another year to see if he pitches as well in the Mexican League in 2017 as he did last season.  Still, players going into their age 22 season who have a proven record of success in what amounts to the high minors (AA or above) don’t grow on trees, so I’d like to see him join the MLB system sooner rather than later.

Overpaid Glove-Tree Catchers

Posted December 3, 2016 by Burly
Categories: Arizona Diamond Backs, Kansas City Royals

The Diamondbacks just signed light-hitting, defense-first catcher Jeff Mathis to a two-year $4 million contract.  While the contract is relatively small potatoes in today’s MLB, Mathis is still the second all-field, no-hit catcher to get a multi-year, multi-million deal this off-season.

Mathis will be 34 next season, and fangraphs values his career MLB performance as worth -$5.3 million.  His defense is indeed above major league average but his hitting is so poor that even at a position where a lot of hitting isn’t expected, he hurts the team the more he plays.

Guys like Mathis and Drew Butera may be good in the club house, and they certainly make a team’s pitchers happy behind the plate, but they don’t help a team with their total lack of offensive production.  Butera at least hit in a little capacity in 2016, but Mathis has never had a single season OPS higher than .642.

Clearly, the fact that both Mathis and Butera got multi-year deals for roughly the same amount means that this is the value that teams give to veteran good-field, no-hit back-up catchers.  It just doesn’t make sense to me.

The old baseball term “glove-tree” refers to the fact that it has typically been much easier to find a player who can provide above-average major league defense than it is to find a player who can provide adequate major league defense at a defense-first position who can also hit.  If you need one of the defense-first players, you just go shake the glove-tree, and one will fall out.  You sure don’t give these guys multi-year contracts at more than three times the league’s minimum wage, at least not if you hope to be competitive.

In this age of sabermetrics, where defensive values are more accurately known than ever before, but defensive performance is still largely undervalued, it is hard to understand why players whose defense analytically does not make up for their lack of offense should get be getting $4 million contracts.

San Francisco Giants Retain Non-Tender Candidate Ehire Adrianza

Posted December 3, 2016 by Burly
Categories: Uncategorized, San Francisco Giants, Milwaukee Brewers

The Giants reached an agreement with Ehire Adrianza to keep him in the organization for a 12th season.  It is a split minor league contract that calls for him to be paid $600,000 per annum for major league service time and $300,000 per annum for minor league service time during 2017.

What is interesting about this contract is that the minor league amount is so high relative to the major league amount.  Traditionally, minor league split contracts for players with at least one day of major league service time provide for very low minor league money relatively to major league money — major league money typically being 4 to 6 times as much as the minor league money, the pay-for-play incentive being obvious.

The Giants have long liked Adrianza, even though he hasn’t yet turned into the major league player they were hoping he would.  After having spent parts of four seasons in the Bigs, Adrianza must be out of options, and I strongly suspect that the relatively high level of minor league pay was offered both so that Adrianza would be more likely to accept a future minor league assignment and so that other teams will be less likely to claim him as he passes through waivers.

In my mind, it is always a good thing to find a way to re-sign a marginal major leaguer going into his age 27 season, because if he is ever likely to contribute significantly at the major league level, that is the most likely age for him to do it.

I noticed possibly a new trend earlier today when the Milwaukee Brewers re-signed one of their non-tender candidates, three-way outfielder Kirk Nieuwenheis, on a split minor league contract calling for $900,000 at the major league level and $257,000 at the minor league level.  In fact, this may very quietly be one of the most team-friendly contracts signed this off-season, as fangraphs valued Nieuwenheis’ 2016 performance as being worth $8 million, mainly on his defense.  In fact, fangraphs values his five season, 1,085 plate appearance major league career at more than $25 million.

During the 2013-2014 off-season, eight minor league free agents were able to command major league deals for the 2014 season, which looked like the start of a new trend.  Not one of the eight ended up being worth a damn, and that was the last time I heard anything about minor league free agents getting major league contracts.

That said, I’ve been surprised that I haven’t heard about players like Adrianza and Nieuwenheis getting minor league contracts that paid them this much for minor league service time before this off-season.  I suspect similar contracts have been signed in previous off-seasons, but I just haven’t heard about them.

Meanwhile, the Giants also reportedly re-signed another of their non-tender candidates Cory Gearrin for $1.05 million.  mlbtraderumors.com predicted he’d get $1.1 million through the arbitration process, so the Giants and Gearrin appear merely to have beaten the rush.

In my mind, Gearrin was just good enough for the Giants in 2016 to be worth bringing back, and the Giants can certainly afford what they’ll be giving him in 2017.  Fangraphs values his 2016 at $4.4 million, although the Cory Gearrins of the MLB world have been pretty fungible as far as the Giants have been concerned.  The team never seems unable to come up with at least one or two marginal major league pitchers each off-season who will pitch well for at least one season in AT&T Park, a strong pitchers’ park.

Owners and Players Agree to New CBA

Posted December 1, 2016 by Burly
Categories: Baseball History

The word out tonight is that the MLB players and owners have reached agreement on the basic terms of a new five-year collective bargaining agreeing, meaning that all hard-core baseball fans can let out a small sigh of relief.  It seems crazy that the two sides couldn’t reach an agreement in an industry undergoing rapid revenue expansion, but the more money that’s at stake the more people will fight even when there is enough to go around for everyone.

Ultimately, the changes from the last CBA seem pretty minor.  The luxury tax amount is moving up from $189 million in 2016 to $195M in 2017 and increases to $210M by 2021.  There will still be draft pick compensation for free agents given a qualifying offer, but it now looks like the compensation will be second or third round picks, depending on whether the signing team is over the luxury tax cap, instead of first round picks.

This is actually a huge win for the players because a second or third round pick doesn’t have nearly the value of a first-round pick and thus will have very little effect on a free agent’s true market value.  Of course, if the owners were really concerned about compensating teams that lose elite free agents, there would have been an agreement to give the losing team a extra draft pick at the end of the first round, rather than taking away a draft pick from the signing team.  As far as I’m aware, that isn’t in the new contract, because the real purpose of draft pick “compensation” is to reduce free agents’ values on the open market, rather than to compensate a team for losing a star player to free agency.

There will be no international draft, but the signing bonus cap for international players will become a hard cap.  Also, MLB rosters will remain at 25 with no changes creating a limit on the number of September call-ups.

MLB players from the Dominican Republic and Venezuela were reportedly strongly opposed to an international draft, since most of these players received big signing bonuses in their day.  In my mind, an international draft in exchange for 26-man MLB rosters would have been a win for the union, because that 26th roster spot on each of the 30 teams would most likely mean that well more than 60 professional players would receive substantial major league earnings (totaling about $12 million a season at the current MLB minimum wage) they wouldn’t otherwise get.  Also, an equal number would be earning service time on their MLB pensions, which means a whole lot to the marginal major leaguers who would be filling those 26th roster spots.

Another idea that might make sense for future CBAs would be to raise the roster limit to 26 on August 1st each season.  That would cost teams a total of only about $2.5 million more (plus future pension obligations) a season and would address the collective fatigue that teams experience by that point in the season.

The biggest problem with any roster expansion beyond 25 men is that it would almost certainly mean even more pitching changes and thus delays each game than we see now.  The 25 man roster limit is effectively the only limit on the continuous trend throughout MLB’s almost 150 year history of using more pitchers each game.