40-Man Roster Madness

Posted November 21, 2017 by Burly
Categories: Chicago White Sox, Miami Marlins, Minnesota Twins, Minor Leagues, New York Yankees, NPB, Philadelphia Phillies, San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners, Tampa Bay Rays, Texas Rangers

I’m getting a big kick out of all the last-minute bottom-of-the-roster moves and deals as MLB teams try to firm up their 40-man rosters before tomorrow’s deadline for the Rule 5 Draft.  It’s like a crazy game of musical chairs.

I wonder if it’s stressful for marginal players to bounce from one team to the other through the post-season.  The Giants lost light-hitting, glove-tree middle infielder Engelb Vielma on a waiver claim by the Phillies today after designating him for assignment off the 40-man roster.  The Giants had claimed Vielma on September 14th when the Twins placed him on waivers shortly after the minor league season ended.

I’m sure the players know that it’s part of the game and that since there is nothing they can do about it, they shouldn’t worry about it.  Just wait until February to see which team tells you where and when to report for Spring Training.  Still, it would be nice for players with minor league contracts (major league contracts pay enough to ameliorate such inconveniences) to get a small bonus, say $5,000, each time they are traded to a new team or a new team claims them off waivers.  For minor league players making minor league salaries even $5,000 bonuses would smooth away any anxiety over changing organizations.

I’ve also been interested in the trades involving international bonus money.  Teams can trade away up to 75% of their international bonus money allotments in $250,000 increments each off-season.  It’s really an exercise in capitalism in action.

What I mean by that is that because the bonus pools are capped, they achieve a value greater than their actual dollar amounts, at least for the teams seeking extra bonus pool money, much the way that free agent contracts are excessive because relatively few major league players become free agents in any one off-season.  Supply and demand, baby!

The Mariners traded 24 year Thyago Vieira to the White Sox for $500,000 in international bonus money.  Vieira had a pretty good minor league season, mostly in the AA Texas League, and he pitched an effective major league inning in August.  I can’t imagine that a team would sell Vieira for $500,000 cash, even though the move has the added benefit for the M’s of opening a spot on their 40-man roster.

The Yankees made an even more lop-sided deal with the Marlins for $250,000 of the Fish’s bonus pool money.  The Marlins received soon to be 27 year old 1Bman Garrett Cooper and 26 year old  LHP Caleb Smith in exchange for RHP Michael King, who will be 23 next May.

Both Cooper and Smith look like reasonable bets to help the Marlins’ major league club in 2018, while King doesn’t look like a realistic shot to have a major league career because his strikeout rates in the low minors are poor.  Again, the Yankees have cleared two spaces on their 40-man roster, but the deal is completely lop-sided in favor of the Marlins in terms of the talent exchanged.

Of course, what the Yankees and Mariners are trying to do is get as much money as possible together to try to win the Shohei Otani sweepstakes.  If Otani does not end up getting posted, because, for example, the MLBPA won’t agree to allow the Nippon Ham Fighters to get $20 million for Otani’s rights while Otani only gets a $3.5 million signing bonus at most, the Yankees and the Ms will find some high profile 16 or 17 year old Latin players to throw the extra money at, but these trades will look even more one-sided than they do now.

Meanwhile, the Phillies have designated for assignment former No. 1 overall draft pick Mark Appel, in part to make room for Glove-Tree Vielma.  Appel had a mediocre age 25 season in the AAA International League in 2017, and it’s starting to look like he could become a draft bust of historic proportions.  Still, Matt Bush righted his professional career at the age of 30, so anything is possible going forward.

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Will We Ever See Livan Moinelo in MLB?

Posted November 20, 2017 by Burly
Categories: Baseball Abroad, Minor Leagues, NPB

Livan Moinelo is a soon to be 22 year old, small Cuban lefty who took Japan’s NPB somewhat by storm in 2017.  He had impressed mightily pitching in Cuba’s team in the Independent-A Can-Am League in 2016, and after a strong 2016-2017 winter campaign in Cuba’s Serie Nacional, the Cuban government allowed him to sign with the SoftBank Hawks in May 2017.

Moinelo is indeed small.  Baseball Reference lists him as 6’0″ and 139 lbs.  NPB’s website lists him as a more plausible 5’10” and 152 lbs.  For whatever reason, left-handed pitchers can get away with being small, while small size is held against righties.  Moinelo is small even by NPB standards, but there are a lot more small pitchers there than in MLB.

Moinelo was promoted to the Hawks’ major league team in June and given a 20 million yen ($179,000) salary.  He rewarded the Hawks with a 2.52 ERA, 15 holds and a pitching line of 35.2 IP, 21 hits, one HR and 14 BB allowed and 36 Ks.  The Hawks were NPB’s best team in 2017 NPB regular season and then won the Japan Series convincingly.

By pitching in Japan, Moinelo may never have a reason to defect in order to play in MLB.  $179,000 isn’t MLB money, but it’s still a tremendous amount of money for a 21 year old Cuban to be making.  I don’t know what kind of cut the Cuban government takes from the players it allows to play in Japan — I would bet it is substantial but leaves the players with enough so that they don’t defect.  A 50-50 split, maybe?

Alfredo Despaigne played in his fourth NPB season in 2017 and earned a cool 400 million yen ($3.6 million).  Despaigne will probably receive a 500 million yen contract for 2018, as he also plays for the Japan Series champion Hawks and led NPB Pacific League this past season with 35 home runs.

Moinelo should at least double his 2017 salary in 2018, and once he puts in the years and if he establishes himself as a top NPB closer, he can also reasonably expect to make a 500 million yen salary one day.  That may be reason enough for him to stay in NPB indefinitely.

Thoughts on Winter League Baseball

Posted November 17, 2017 by Burly
Categories: Baseball Abroad, KBO, NPB, Pittsburg Pirates, Uncategorized

I’ve been following the Caribbean Winter Leagues more this off-season than I ever have in the past.

The one big surprise for me is that more Independent-A League pitchers play in the Winter Leagues than I expected.  The other groups I expected — not quite major leaguers from the countries (Mexico, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Venezuela) where the leagues are located; aspiring minor leaguers and North American minor leaguers trying to get better; Latino players who have recently left the MLB-system but still have something left; Mexican League (Summer) players (the most favored summer location to play for post-MLB system Latino players); and injured players trying to make a come-back.

The Caribbean Winter Leagues pay better than the minor league salaries without at least one game of major league service and a lot better than the Independent-A Leagues.  The best veteran players in the Winter Leagues can make $10K to $15K per month (for a two or 2.5 month season) compared to the maximum of $3,000/month paid by the Atlantic League.

The Indy-A players can play for well less than this max and still make more than their summer wages.  Even the Mexican League only pays $8K per month max to foreign players.  Also, the more you play (as long as you’re healthy), the better your baseball skills should get.

The Indy-A pitchers are pitching pretty good, or at least there are a significant number that have pitched well in this year’s Winter Leagues.  Reinier Roibal, Bryan Evans, Logan Darnell, Tyler Alexander, Ryan Kussmaul and Zack Dodson to name more than a few.

The Mexican Pacific League appears to have some kind of working relationship with the American Association, because the last three listed players all played in the AA this past summer.  The Venezuelan and Dominican Winter Leagues draw primarily from the better playing Atlantic League.  However, the Can-Am League. which has a designed Cuban League team and other Cubans playing on regular Canadian and American teams, has generated Cuban players who are playing in the Winter Leagues this season.

That brings us to the Cuba Serie Nacional.  Cuba’s Winter League plays a 90-game split-season.  The league has 16 teams in a country of only 11 million, but produces players like Aroldis Chapman and Jose Abreu.  In other words, the talent distribution in Cuba is perhaps similar to the old Negro Leagues which fielded players of wildly different abilities.

In the first half of the Serie Nacional season, veteran star Frederich Cepeda (he likely has a German somewhere in his not too distant ancestry) batted a ridiculous .480 in the season’s first half. By way of comparison, World Series semi-hero Yuli Gurriel batted .500 with an OPS proportionately better than Cepeda’s this season, in Gurriel’s last season in the Serie Nacional before defecting.

Few people outside of Cuba and greater Tokyo have heard of Cepeda; he couldn’t cut it in Japan’s NPB at ages 34 and 35; but he has been a truly great player in Cuba both before and after.  The now 37 year old is batting a more modest .340 with an OPB just barely over 1.000 in the Cuban League’s ongoing second half.

The top pitcher in the Serie Nacional this year is Yoanni Yera, a small left-hander (5’7″, 187 lbs) who is electric in Cuba, but was erratic/ineffective in 39.1 Can-Am League innings over last two seasons.  Some players are creatures of the county and league that developed them.  Cepeda and Yera probably haven’t defected for this reason.

It sure does seem like the Cuban player that haven’t defected are the ones who haven’t convinced anyone (even themselves) that they can play outside of Cuba.  Even Alfredo Despaigne, who has become a super star in Japan’s NPB, seems like a player who is playing where his value is absolutely maximized.  Another triumph for capitalism?

As a final note, Jung-ho Kang is currently the worst hitting qualifier in the Dominican Winter League.  He’s slashing a brutal .137/.224/.205.  He’s got one year left on his MLB contract, so he won’t be leaving MLB just yet, but it may well be time for him to return to South Korea’s KBO for everyone’s sake.

Asian Teams Don’t Show Their Mercenaries Much Love

Posted November 16, 2017 by Burly
Categories: Baseball Abroad, KBO

The Asian major leagues (NPB, KBO and CPBL) are an avenue for players who don’t quite have what it takes to be MLB stars to make big money and become big stars playing baseball.  However, being a foreign ballplayer on an Asian team is a tenuous existence that doesn’t provide much room for error.

This is on my mind today because the NC Dinos of South Korea’s KBO have announced that they won’t be bringing back Eric Hacker in 2018.  Hacker has over the last three seasons established himself as one of the best foreign pitchers in the KBO’s history, and he pitched well in 2017.

Hacker’s 3.42 ERA was third best among qualifiers in a ten-team league, and he went 12-7.  His strikeout rate dropped sharply last year from 7.6 the year before to 5.4 in 2017, but he still had a K/BB rate of 3.3.  His other numbers, his KBO history and his relatively low salary ($650,000 in 2017) all suggest that he should have been given a contract for 2018.

Eric Hacker will be 35 in 2018, and the Dinos may have decided that he’s likely to drop off in 2018.  The Dinos also elected not to re-sign Jeff Manship, who will be 33 next year, in spite of the fact that Manship went 12-4 with a 3.67 ERA in 2017.  However, Manship was at the top of the KBO salary scale for foreign pitchers, making a reported $1.8 million in 2017, and he missed eight or nine starts due to injury.  KBO teams expect exceptional performance and health from foreigners being paid what Manship was paid.

The Dinos have signed Logan Verritt for $800,000 instead.  Verritt will be 28 in 2018.  There’s no guarantee, though, that he’ll be an adequate replacement for either Hacker or Manship, in light of the fact that his 2017 performance in the International League and his career minor league record aren’t particularly impressive.

Earlier this off-season, the Nexen Heroes made a similar decision not to bring Andy Van Hekken back for 2018.  Van Hekken also has a tremendous career KBO record, and while he will be 38 in 2018, he struck out just better than a batter per inning in 2017.  Van Hekken missed qualifying for the KBO ERA title by 5.2 innings pitched, but his 3.77 ERA was 10th best in the circuit among pitchers who pitched at least 135 innings (the KBO plays a 144 game schedule).  He made a reported $930,000 in 2017, which is also affordable for a pitcher of his KBO accomplishments.

Instead, the Nexen Heroes elected to sign 32 year old Esmil Rogers to a $1.5 million deal for next season.  Rogers had a great half season in the KBO in 2015, but then blew out his elbow tendon in 2016.  He pitched well in seven late season starts for AAA Syracuse this past season, but hasn’t been particularly impressive in five starts in the Dominican Winter League so far.  Trading in Van Hekken on Rogers seems like a case of the grass always being greener to me.

There is certainly a reasonable possibility that either or both Hacker and Van Hekken will receive offers from other KBO teams this off-season.  Still, it is mystifying to see pitchers who pitched as well as they pitched in 2017 for the amounts they were paid not to get invited back for another season.

Best Pitching Prospects for MLB in South Korea’s KBO

Posted November 13, 2017 by Burly
Categories: Baseball Abroad, KBO

I don’t see any KBO pitchers making the jump to MLB this off-season, unless Hyun-jong Yang surprises and decides he is willing to take less money to pitch in MLB than he’d continue to make in the KBO.  Still, there is something to be said for keeping track of the most promising pitchers in an increasingly strong league.

Hyun-jong Yang (30 in 2018) and Woo-ram Jung (33).  Yang and Jung are the two most MLB-ready pitchers in the KBO, but it doesn’t look like either will join MLB in 2018.

Yang was posted three off-seasons ago, but his team, the Kia Tigers, wisely rejected the $1.5 million top bid it reportedly received.  Yang was a free agent last year, but after failing to find a foreign deal to his liking, he returned to the Kia Tigers on a record-setting one-year 2.25 billion won ($1.89 million) deal, principally because top KBO free agents typically sign four-year deals.

Under KBO rules, Yang apparently cannot become a free agent again for three more years.  However, he was the KBO’s 2017 MVP, going 20-6 and leading the Tigers to a Korea Series victory over last year’s champs, the Doosan Bears.

Yang’s most recent statements are that he can’t imagine himself playing in another team’s uniform. He would command a four-year deal from the Tigers approaching the roughly $13 million guarantee that Dae-ho Lee received last off-season if he were a free agent again this off-season.

However, it is possible that he could still command a three year deal from the Tigers this off-season in the $6M to $8M range to prevent him from going to NPB or MLB, since I could easily envision an NPB team making him a two-year $3M to $4M offer with substantial incentives this off-season.  At least one NPB team reportedly made him an offer last off-season.

Woo-ram Jung had his KBO career interrupted for two years in 2013 and 2014 due to his obligation to provide two years of service to the South Korean army (all healthy young men owe the South Korean state two years of military service), although he may well have played for the Army team in the KBO’s minor league those two seasons.  He came back to the KBO’s major league better than ever, striking out 253 batters in 210 relief innings pitched.

MLB teams looking for the next Seung-hwan Oh are no doubt well aware of Jung.  However, Jung signed a four-year free agent contract two off-seasons ago, so he won’t be available until his age 35 season, which is probably too old to tempt MLB clubs.

The best thing to be said for Yang and Jung remaining in the KBO (at least insofar as MLB fans are concerned) is that it’s players like them that make the KBO good enough to produce the even better players who will one day play in MLB.  The same can be said for the many great players who remain in Japan’s NPB, even though they might possibly have MLB starter talent in their prime seasons.

Chang-min Shim (25).  Shim is a reliever we might well see in MLB in a few years’ time.  He has 406 career Ks in 343.1 innings pitched, and at least five full years of KBO experience through his age 24 season.  The questions with him are whether his arm stays healthy and whether he still needs to do his South Korean military service, which is a killer for KBO players hoping to play in MLB one day.

Chang-min Lim (32).  Another top KBO closer, Lim has recorded 343 Ks in 323 career KBO innings pitched.

Jae-hak Lee (27).  A starter with a good arm, Lee needs to improve dramatically in 2018 and prove he’s a top KBO starter to have any chance of pitching in MLB.

A bunch of young guys worth keeping an eye on are:  Chang-mo Koo (21), Duk-joo Ham (22), Se-woong Park (22), Min-ho Lee (24), Jin-hyung Park (24) and Chan-kyu Im (25).

Best Hitting Prospects for MLB in South Korea’s KBO 2017-2018

Posted November 10, 2017 by Burly
Categories: Baseball Abroad, KBO

There aren’t currently many hitters in South Korea’s KBO that I see making the jump to MLB success in the next couple of seasons, but these players are the best around at this moment.

A-seop Son (30 in 2018) and Wilin Rosario (29).  Two fine players who I don’t really see as being MLB regulars, they get listed first because they are both available this off-season.  My guess is that Rosario moves up to Japan’s NPB this off-season, and Son signs a four year $10 million deal to play for a KBO team.

Jeong Choi (31). Choi is probably the most worthy current KBO player in terms of MLB regular player talent, and there was talk a couple of years ago of him coming to MLB.  However, he had a couple of down seasons and then signed a four year deal to stay in KBO.  He has another year on that contract, so he won’t be available for MLB until his age 32 season, at which point he just won’t be a good bet.

Ja-wook Koo (24).  A fine young player we might see in MLB 2022 or 2023.  He gets on base, which I think is probably the most important skill for any Asian player who hopes to make the jump to MLB.  His batting average and OPS were down in 2017, but he added power, which you like to see in a player his age.

Jung-hoo Lee (19) and Ha-seong Kim (22).  A couple of really young players who are many seasons away from MLB, you look for really young players playing at a very high level to one day be able to move up to a better league.  Kim is a shortstop, but the KBO doesn’t provide defensive numbers to baseball reference or on its English-language website.  Still, one would think he’d eventually be able to play 2B or 3B at the MLB level if his SS defense isn’t MLB worthy.

Min-Woo Park (25).  He’s shown steady improvement as a hitter and would likely be available to MLB in 2021 or 2022.  Park has no power, but as a 2Bman with a career KBO on-base percentage of .415 through his age 24 season, he may not need power to be an MLB player if his defense is good.

Sung-bum Na (28), Jae-hwan Kim (29) and Kun-woo Park (27) are three sweet-swinging KBO hitters currently in the prime of their respective careers.  I expect they will stay in the KBO, because they’ll be relatively old before their teams feel compelled to post them or they become true free agents.

Rule 5 Draft Candidates Tyler Rogers and D.J. Snelten

Posted November 7, 2017 by Burly
Categories: Minor Leagues, Oakland A's, San Francisco Giants

The San Francisco Giants have a couple of relievers at AAA Sacramento whom the team has not added to its 40-man roster, both of whom would make great Rule 5 Draft candidates.

Tyler Rogers had a 5.06 ERA over his last ten 2017 appearances, but still finished the AAA season with a 2.37 ERA and 10 saves.  He is a low side-arm pitcher who has allowed only nine career home runs in 349 minor league innings pitched.  His other ratios weren’t so hot this season and he’ll be 27 next season, but at least one forward-looking team might be intrigued by his ability to prevent home runs in this homer-happy era.

D.J. Snelten is a year younger than Rogers and has better strikeout stuff.  Snelten is not as good as Rogers at preventing the home run ball, but he’s still awfully good, allowing only 14 home runs in 363.1 minor league innings pitched.

Because of his age and better strikeout stuff, Snelten might well be an even more inviting Rule 5 selection than Rogers.  Snelton posted a 2.20 ERA in a 2017 campaign split between AA Richmond and AAA Sacramento.

One would think that this will be an off-season in which at least a few teams will be actively looking for inexpensive pitching candidates who prevent home runs.  Rule 5 draftees now cost their drafting teams $100,000 a piece and have to be offered back to their old team for $50,000 if they don’t make the new team’s roster.  That’s still small potatoes for a couple of pitchers as close to the majors as Rogers and Snelten seem to be.

The Giants still have time to add either or both pitchers to their 40-man roster.  However, nothing that I’ve seen suggests the Giants intend to do so between now and the November 20th deadline for setting their roster in advance of the December 14th Rule 5 draft date.

I expect the Oakland A’s will be particularly likely to claim one of these two on December 14th.  The A’s have typically kept an eye on the Giants’ AAA players since it is so easy for the A’s to scout them playing in either Sacramento or Fresno, and the A’s are the literal “Money Ball” team.