NPB Signings

Posted December 14, 2017 by Burly
Categories: Baltimore Orioles, Baseball Abroad, KBO, Minnesota Twins, New York Yankees

The biggest signing of a new foreign player by an NPB team was formally announced today.  The Hanshin Tigers signed Wilin Rosario, formerly of the KBO’s Hanwha Eagles.

Rosario will be receiving a reported $3 million salary in 2018.  He may have also received an additional $500,000 signing bonus.  There are rumors that there is a second year of the deal that will pay Rosario $4 million in 2019.  However, that may be a team option, or what is for all intents and purposes a team option if only the first year of the contract is guaranteed.

NPB teams don’t report contract amounts, so it’s always something of a mystery exactly what each player is getting paid.  I also believe that not every contract is guaranteed.

Rosario is what NPB teams are all looking for: a power hitter with a significant MLB track record who is still reasonably young.  Rosario will be 29 next season.

Rosario has also proven his ability to produce in Asia, as he’s coming off two great seasons in the KBO, in which he slashed a combined .330/.393/.625 and launched 70 home runs.  However, that is no guarantee, as Yamaico Navarro had two huge seasons in the KBO in 2014-2015 and then fell flat on his face in NPB in 2016.

Still, there are reasons to think Rosario can make the transition that Navarro couldn’t.  Rosario is a better pure hitter and had a much more impressive MLB record.

With the Tigers having committed to Rosario, the seemingly obvious candidate to sign the Central League’s 2017 home run champ Alex Guerrero, who it has been announced will not be returning to the Chunichi Dragons, is the Yomiuri Giants, mainly because the Giants are the only team with the money and the need to sign Guerrero.

With Miles Mikolas having returned to MLB, the Giants have the roster space to add another foreign every-day player.  Also, with no 2017 Giant hitter hitting more than 18 HRs, Guerrero would seem to fill an obvious hole in Yomiuri’s line-up.

To date, the next biggest contract to a new foreign player in NPB this off-season, is the two-years and $2.1 million (plus another $500,000 in performance incentives) the Nippon Ham Fighters gave to former Minnesota Twin Michael Tonkin to become their closer.  NPB foreign veterans Scott Mathieson, Wladimir Balentien, Rafael Dolis, Marcos Mateo, David Buchanan, Casey McGehee, Arquimedes Caminero, Zelous Wheeler, Carlos Peguero, Spencer Patton and Joe Wieland have also reportedly signed new deals that will pay them more than $1 million in 2108, led by Mathieson’s two-year deal that pays him $3.2 million in 2018.  Higher paid foreign veterans Alfredo Despaigne, Ernesto Mejia and Dennis Sarfate are in the middle of three-year deals that will pay each of them at least $4.4 million (500 million yen) in 2018.

As a final note, there are rumors that big-time MLBer Pedro Alvarez might be playing in NPB in 2018.  He could potentially hit a lot of home runs in NPB, but he’d be expensive and he was looking like an old, old 30 in a 2017 season spent mostly in the AAA International League.  I still think we could see Chris Carter playing in NPB in 2018, although I haven’t heard any rumors to that effect.

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New York Yankees to Acquire Giancarlo Stanton

Posted December 9, 2017 by Burly
Categories: American League, Denver Rockies, Miami Marlins, National League, New York Mets, New York Yankees

And the rich get richer still.  In what amounts to mostly a salary dump, the Yankees get Giancarlo Stanton for Starlin Castro and two prospects, neither with an elite pedigree and both a long way from the majors.  There is already talk that the Marlins may flip Castro to the Mets before the off-season is over.  The Yankees will be paying all of Stanton’s contract through 2020, and the Marlins will send the Yankees $30 million if Stanton does not opt out of his contract after the 2020 season.

Suddenly, the Yankees look like they’ll be the team to beat in the AL East in 2018 if they can find any pitching whatsoever.  The current Yankees’ management’s concerns about staying under the salary cap never made a lot of sense to me, since the potential revenue streams and franchise value for a New York City based-team are so high.

George Steinbrenner didn’t pay all the money he paid for decades to free agents because he was a generous man or particularly concerned that his players lived well.  It was all about what a team stocked with the best players would be worth to him.

The 2018 Yankees will surely have another Murderers’ Row, even with Aaron Judge and possibly Gary Sanchez due for sophomore slumps.  American League pitchers are going to hate traveling to New York the same way National League pitchers hate going to Colorado.

San Francisco Giants No Otani No Stanton

Posted December 8, 2017 by Burly
Categories: San Francisco Giants, Anaheim Angels, St. Louis Cardinals

The San Francisco Giants and the rest of us found out today that the Giants won’t be signing either Shohei Otani or Giancarlo Stanton.  Otani elected to sign with the Angels, and Stanton wasn’t willing to waive his no trade clause for either the Giants or the Cardinals.

The Giants never had better than a one in seven chance of signing Otani, at least far I know, but I really thought the Giants had a chance to get Stanton, since he’d be a lot closer to his home in Southern California.  I guess it’s Southern California or nothing for Stanton in terms of his willingness to waive his no-trade clause.

The Marlins can’t be happy about being stuck with Stanton’s ginormous contract, but they were the ones who gave it to him, along with a no-trade clause, so it’s hard to feel sorry for the Fish.

The Giants are reportedly going to make a run at free agent J.D. Martinez now that Stanton has put the kibosh on San Francisco.   Martinez is two years older than Stanton, but suddenly even the $200 million guarantee Scott Boras is seeking for Martinez doesn’t seem outrageous compared to the $295 million most of which the Giants would likely have been assuming to bring in Stanton.  The news that Stanton won’t be going to SF probably made both Martinez’ and Boras’ day.

Bringing in the 30 year old Martinez on a high value contract, however, might be more likely to dig the Giants into a long-term hole than to make them a play-off contender in 2018 or 2019.  As I said in my last post, the awful 2017 Giants need more than one player to turn the team around, and they sure won’t be able to afford another high-end starter if they bring in Martinez for the $175M to $200M he’s now likely to command.

Shohei Otani San Francisco Giants

Posted December 7, 2017 by Burly
Categories: Uncategorized, San Francisco Giants, Baseball Abroad, Baseball History, Miami Marlins

I hope that the Giants in their recent meeting with Shohei Otani pointed out that the SF Giants were the first MLB team to sign a Japanese pitcher, when they inked Masanori Murikami before the 1964 season.  Otani is potentially a historic player, both in terms of his multi-talents and the relative bargain that the winning MLB team will sign him for.  A little significant history might be just the thing to convince him that San Francisco is the right landing spot, among his many options.

It would indeed be exciting if the Giants could both sign Otani and trade for Giancarlo Stanton in the same off-season.  No one player can turn the 2017 Giants into 2018 contenders.  But Otani, Stanton and a healthy Madison Bumgarner?  At least it would give Bay Area money-bags a good reason to buy 2018 season tickets and a little hope for the rest of us.

Marshall Bridges and Joe Stanka

Posted December 7, 2017 by Burly
Categories: Baseball History, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, KBO, Minor Leagues, Negro Leagues, New York Yankees, NPB, Oakland A's, San Francisco Giants

Marshall Bridges crossed my consciousness for the first time yesterday.  He came up while I was reviewing Joe Stanka‘s years with Sacramento of the Pacific Coast League — see below.  I hit a link for Bridges’ major league numbers and found out that he was the 1962 World Champion New York Yankees’ top fireman.

Bridges went 8-4 with 18 saves, while Luis Arroyo, who had a break-through year for closers generally in 1961, was next on the Bombers with seven.  Arroyo’s 1961 season was so great, in fact, that it appears to have a cast a dark shadow over Bridges’ merely impressive 1962, even though the ultimate outcome, a World Championship, was the same.  Bridges had a big fastball and was hard to hit but wild, and his 1963 campaign was similar to Arroyo’s 1962.

The thing that really did in Bridges’ Yankees’ career, perhaps, was that he got into an altercation with a female patron in a Ft. Lauderdale bar during Spring Training 1963, and Bridges ended up getting shot in the leg.   According to baseball reference, “21-year-old Carrie Lee Raysor claimed Bridges had repeatedly offered to drive her home and, after repeatedly not taking ‘no’ for an answer, ‘took out [her] gun and shot him'” below the knee.

I hope she was good-lucking.  Bridges eventually made a full recovery, but since he was already 31 in 1962, he again recaptured his 1962 magic.

Bridges was an African American lefty (Ms. Raysor was a married black woman, according to my sources) from Jackson, Mississippi who started his professional career with the Memphis Red Sox of the Negro Leagues.  Bridges started his MLB-system career as a two-way player, but pitched better than he hit in the low minors and became a full-time pitcher.  He didn’t reach the majors until his age 28 season, and still pitched in seven major league seasons.  He passed away at the age of 59 in 1990.

Bridges also pitched for the NL Champion Cincinnati Reds in 1961, but had been sent down to the minors for good long before the Reds reached the post-season.  Bridges pitched in two games of the 1962 Series, but allowed three runs, two earned in 3.2 innings pitched and did not receive a decision.

More famously, he allowed Chuck Hiller’s 7th inning game-winning Grand Slam in Game 4, with Jim Coates‘ runner on first the run what cost Coates the decision.  This website says that Marshall Bridges was the last Negro Leaguer pitcher to pitch in the World Series.

I was surprised the Bridges’ name rang no bells and his photo on baseball reference was not familiar, after I saw his record.  I knew about Chuck Hiller’s Grand Slam, but obviously not the pitcher that served it up.  I fancy myself pretty knowledgeable about pitchers, including relievers, who had at least one great season in the 1960’s, and I was sad to be disabused of that notion.

I think that a big part of the reason I had never heard of Bridges is because he appears to have appeared on only one Topps baseball card in his seven seasons of major league play.  Topps apparantly elected not to put out a card for Bridges in either 1962, the year he had the great season, or in 1963, the year after.  The shooting incident in before the 1963 season was almost certainly why there was no baseball card for 1963, since he was on the Yankee’s major league roster for all or most of the 1963 season.

I never had Bridges’ 1960 Topps card, and I couldn’t have seen his card for any other year since there weren’t any.  Anyway, that’s my excuse for my shameful ignorance.

Joe Stanka was a pitcher who appeared in only two major league games, but was one of the first two great American pitchers in NPB history.  Stanka was also probably the first “modern” player in Japan’s NPB, in the sense that he was exactly the type of 4-A player just past age 27 which ultimately became the bread-and-butter of NPB recruiting of foreign players.

Stanka pitched reasonably effectively in his 5.1 major league innings during the September of his age 27 season, but when he got an offer to play in the Japan that off-season, he jumped at it.  Stanka pitched four full seasons for the Pacific Coast League’s Sacramento Solons before his 1959 major league cameo, when the PCL was still the best of the three AAA leagues.  In those four seasons, he was one of the Solons’ top two starters in three of those seasons and was the third best out of six in the fourth year, his rookie year in the league.  Marshall Bridges was the best starter on the 1958 Solons.

Stanka won 100 games against 72 losses in seven NPB seasons.  He was generally a No. 2 starter in Japan, except for 1964, when he was one of the Central League’s top three starters, going 26-7.  More importantly, he had one of the all-time great Japan Series, pitching shut-outs in Games 1, 6 and 7 (ya think?), beating fellow American Gene Bacque, the 1960’s other 100 NPB game winning foreigner, in Game 6.  Bacque had had an even better regular season than Stanka in 1964.

I got to thinking about Stanka while I was researching foreign players in NPB in the 1960’s.  1962 was roughly the year that NPB teams routinely began to bring in foreign players throughout each NPB league’s six teams.

Most of the foreign MLB-system players in 1960’s NPB were players over the age of 30, who were finishing out their relatively/marginally successful MLB-system careers and wanted to keep playing for top dollar once their future MLB major league hopes were dim indeed.  The next largest group was younger players who played in the MLB low minors and somehow made their way to NPB to continue their careers.

There were few 4-A players of Stanka’s type in the 1960’s, but Stanka’s success wasn’t really acted upon by NPB teams until the 1970’s.  Today, NPB teams (and now KBO teams) like best foreign players going into their age 27 season, with ages 26 and 28 a close second.  Teams will still sign older players with substantial major league records, but it’s not nearly as common as it once was.

Casey McGehee is an example of a current generation older player.  McGehee has had the talent level, good luck and good sense to use two separate stints in NPB to have what must be his most successful professional career possible.  He’s returning to the Yomiuri Giants in 2018 for a reported $2.4 million, which beats by far what most 35 year olds make.

In reviewing the NPB 1960’s, one thing that struck me is that by the 1960’s, NPB was already a pretty good league.  The older major league veterans mostly had a couple of good years and then were too old to succeed in NPB.  Relatively few foreign players during this period were either No. 1 starters or No. 1 hitters (per each of each league’s six teams) in any of their many, collective seasons.

Foreign hitters provided power, which NPB teams highly valued.  By the late 1960’s, it was mostly foreign sluggers that NPB teams were signing.

As a final note, in 1962 saves was still not an official statistic, although it was the third season that the Sporting News had been reporting save totals based on a formula created by Jerome Holtzman.  Bridges’ 18 saves were second best behind The Monster, Dick Radatz.  As far as I know, there is no (close) family relationship between Jerome and Ken Holtzman, another fine pitcher who fell victim to early success and 1970’s pitch counts.

Kansas City Royals Non-Tender Terrence Gore

Posted December 2, 2017 by Burly
Categories: Baseball History, Kansas City Royals, Oakland A's, Uncategorized

The Royals non-tendered Terrance Gore today, apparently ending his career as a Royal, because he is out of minor league options and still isn’t much of a hitter in the minor leagues. In parts of four regular seasons, Gore played in 49 major league games, had 14 plate appearances and 14 runs scored, and stole 21 bases in 25 attempts.

His career highlights so far were in the 2014 and 2015 post-seasons, when he played in eight games with no plate appearances, but nevertheless scored two runs and stole four bases in five attempts.

Gore is still young enough that he may make it back to the majors when someone needs a late-inning defensive replacement/pinch base runner.  It’s also still within the realm of possibility that he could learn to hit in the high minors, although that kind of seems unlikely.

Gore is exactly what a team should look for in a late-inning defensive replacement/pinch-runner.  He’s a real baseball player, who can do everything well except hit for average or for power.

Once upon a time, A’s owner Charlie Finley tried a track-and-field sprinter, Herb Washington, as the A’s designated pinch runner, but it didn’t really work out, since Washington really didn’t know enough about baseball to be a great base runner or stealer.  Finley and the A’s had a lot more success with players like Gore, who were elite minor league base-stealers but couldn’t hit enough to play regularly in the majors.

Rex Brothers’ Unusual Contract

Posted December 1, 2017 by Burly
Categories: Atlanta Braves

The Atlanta Braves avoided arbitration with soon-to-be 30 year old left handed reliever Rex Brothers today.  Brothers signed a minor league deal that will pay him $1.1 million for major league time and $450,000 for minor league time.  mlbtraderumors.com describes the $450,000 amount as “an unusually healthy amount on the minor league side.”

Brothers had been an extremely talented if rather inconsistent left-handed short man before missing the 2016 season to a shoulder injury.  He was dreadful in limited major league action in 2017, but pitched well in the high minors.

You can see why the Braves would want to keep him around and effectively guarantee him enough that he would not force the Braves to non-tender him and become a free agent.  It still begs the question why the contract was structured this way, rather than say giving him a major league contract for, say, $600,000 or $650,000.

Unfortunately, the salary rate for minor league service under split contracts is typically not reported, which is a shame.  My understanding based on limited information is that minor league service time under the vast majority of split contracts is compensated at no more than $150,000 per season, with major league service compensated at somewhere between six and nine times the minor league rate.  However, since the rates are rarely released, I really have no way of knowing for sure.

Minor league players with at least one day of major league service who are still under the control of their teams and still have minor league options have no choice but to accept what the team in its discretion offers them.  However, it seems to me that there ought to be a fair number of players similar to Rex Brothers each off-season: players who are or could potentially become free agents that aren’t quite good enough to get any major league contract offers but are sufficiently in demand by multiple teams that they can obtain a minor league contract that pays them more than $150,000 for minor league service time.  Players who based on their own personal circumstances would prefer a higher minor league salary and lower major league salary, i.e., a ratio similar to that in Brothers’ contract, so that they can be certain of a minimum income paying baseball.

Traditionally, MLB has always focused on rewarding major league performance (the only performance that actually makes teams money), and minor league players are certainly used to making peanuts (topping out at about $2,700/month for a 5.5 month season) until they actually reach the major leagues or become minor league free agents.  However, in recent years players, agents and teams have become increasingly more creative in putting together contracts that serve all of the contracting parties’ particular needs and wants.

Unfortunately, without better information on what minor league contracts pay for both major and minor league service for veteran players who receive offers from more than one team, there’s really no way to know how unusual Rex Brothers’ contract actually is.