Shohei Otani Rumors

Posted September 15, 2017 by Burly
Categories: Baseball Abroad, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees

mlbtraderumors.com reported a few days ago that the rumors out of Japan are that phenom Shohei Otani will ask to be posted by his NPB team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, so that he can start his MLB career in 2018.  My own opinion is that it would make a lot more sense for Otani to wait until 2020 to join MLB.

Under the new MLB collective bargaining agreement, a veteran player from another professional league needs to be at least 25 to be exempt from the signing bonus and reserve clause rules when signing his first contract.  Otani only turned 23 this past July.

Right now, Otani’s potential signing bonus is capped between $3 M and $3.5M, and can only be offered by teams that have not had their signing bonuses capped by past over-spending.  Teams may try to find some kind of loophole around these limits, but it’s unclear if MLB would accept any attempt to get around the recently negotiated new rules.

Also, Otani hurt his hamstring early this year, causing him to miss half of the 2017 season.  He is hitting like a fool in 53 games, slashing .341/.411/.563, but has pitched very little.  He’s made three appearances for a total of 10.1 innings pitched and has an ugly 6.97 ERA after getting bombed in the first two outings.

Teams will still line up to sign Otani if he is available, given his raw talent both on the mound and at the plate, but he would be in a much stronger position to negotiate an agreement that would let him both pitch and hit if he returns to form on the mound the next two seasons in Japan.  He can then agree to take less money on a deal that would otherwise make the seven year $155 million contract Masahiro Tanaka signed in January 2014 look like peanuts.

Of course, there is always the possibility that Otani could hurt his arm in the meantime, although that won’t effect his value as a hitter.  However, the fact that Otani barely pitched this year, and has never been overworked in his NPB career, means that the odds of his blowing out his arm in the next two years are not high.  In fact, given his age, the odds are higher that he will improve either or both his hitting and his pitching over two more seasons in NPB.

Even MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has suggested by his comments that Otani should wait two more years before coming to MLB.  These are somewhat strange comments from a guy who represents MLB ownership, but I think they arise from the fact that professional baseball is about making money, and it makes the most sense for Otani to come to the U.S. when his value is at its absolute peak.

Finally, if I were part of Fighters’ management, I’d be extremely reluctant to let Otani go now.  A year after winning the 2016 Japan Series, the Fighters have been brutally bad this season, and a big part of that has been because of Otani’s injury.  There is no way that the current $20 million posting fee is worth two years of Otani’s service to the Fighters, who are one of NPB’s better drawing teams.  Also, in the next two years the posting fee might well be increased to, say, $25 million.

NPB teams are in a difficult position with players as rarely talented as Otani.  They don’t want t0 be seen as standing in the way of the player going on to greater fame and fortune in MLB, but it is also unheard of for a Japanese team to post a player after only four full years of NPB service.  By way of comparison, Yu Darvish pitched more than six full seasons, and Tanaka pitched seven full seasons in NPB’s major leagues, before they joined MLB.

In the past, NPB teams have typically been able to brow-beat Japanese players to stay in Japan as long as reasonably possible.  That has to be getting harder, as players with Otani’s talent can’t help but see for themselves the enormous fame and riches that come with a successful transition to MLB.  Of course, the fact that Otani’s great riches are still at least two years away, even if he comes to MLB in 2018, is a reason for Nippon Ham to insist that he stay put.

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Dennis Sarfate Sets NPB Saves Record

Posted September 9, 2017 by Burly
Categories: Baseball Abroad

It’s been quite a year for American ballplayer Dennis Sarfate.  Earlier this year, he became NPB’s all-time saves leader among foreigners, and on September 5th he set the single season NPB record for saves with 47.

Sarfate now has 49 saves on the year, and with 17 games left in the SoftBank Hawks’ season, he’s virtually certain to break the 50 save barrier.  It hasn’t been an accident.  He has a 0.90 ERA this year, and his team is running away from everyone else in NPB’s Pacific League.

Closers are highly valued in NPB, and Dennis Sarfate’s 500 million yen ($4.6 million) salary in 2017 ties him for the most in NPB this season. My guess is that he’ll get 600 million yen ($5.5 million) next year.

Sarfate is 36 years old this season, so it’s anyone’s guess how long he’ll be able to keep dominating Japanese hitters.  However, no matter what he does going forward, he’s firmly established his place in NPB history.

Tyler Alexander

Posted September 8, 2017 by Burly
Categories: Minor Leagues

Tyler J. Alexander was the best starter in the Independent-A American Association this season.  His 2.07 ERA was the circuit’s second best, and his 167 strikeouts (in 148 IP) led the league by 35.  He will be 26 years old next season.

2017 was Alexander’s third season in the American Association, and although he has pitched well all three seasons and steadily improved, no MLB organization has come calling.  It’s one of those mysteries that I find difficult to understand.

Alexander was originally a 27th round draft pick by the Brewers, and he spent two seasons in their systems.  His ERAs weren’t impressive, and he’s a bit wild, but his strikeout rates were terrific.  In 2014, his 10.1 SO9 was the best of any the ten pitchers to make at least six starts for his full season Class A team in the Midwest League.  Usually, teams want to keep around left-handers with stuff, but the Brewers let Alexander go that off-season.

Since there is apparently something that MLB organizations just don’t like about Alexander, his best option for 2018 would be to move up to the Atlantic League to show what he can do against a higher level of competition.  Even if that doesn’t attract MLB interest, there is always the reasonable possibility that strong performance in the Atlantic League will get him a crack at Asian baseball and at least living wages playing pro baseball.

Why Is Mark Melancon Still Pitching?

Posted September 7, 2017 by Burly
Categories: San Francisco Giants

A few days ago, it was reported that Mark Melancon needs surgery to release pressure in his forearm.  Apparently, it is something he can still pitch through, and Melancon reportedly wants to finish out the season with the team and have the surgery in the off-season.  I don’t understand why the Giants think it’s a good idea for Melancon to do so.

Melancon lasted pitched on September 5th, giving up two earned runs and bumping his ERA for the season up to 4.50.  Theoretically, allowing Melancon to continue to pitch could keep the Gints from finishing with MLB’s worst record.  There is something to be said for that.  However, there is more to be said for receiving next year’s overall No. 1 draft pick and getting the first selection in each of the next four or five full rounds, particularly when the team’s farm system is as short on talent as the Giants currently are.

Now that we are in September, there is no argument to be made that the team needs Melancon to keep the other arms in the bullpen fresh.  Just call up another minor leaguer to take his place.  If Melancon can be put on the 60-day disabled list this late in the season, the Giants could open up another spot on the 40-man roster and promote either D.J. Snelten or Tyler Rogers, both of whom deserve a look after fine years at AAA Sacramento.

I also don’t see a down-side in having the surgery as soon as possible, so Melancon has that much more time to recover and begin rehabilitation before Spring Training 2018.  It’s not like a veteran pitcher like Melancon, who has now made 32 appearances this year, needs the extra work to keep himself sharp going into 2018.  Better to call this season a wash and hope that Melancon can be the pitcher in 2018 the team hoped it was signing when they gave him the big money last off-season.

Chris Sale’s Tired Wing

Posted September 5, 2017 by Burly
Categories: Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants

I read this article on espn.com this weekend regarding Chris Sale‘s history of pitching poorly after September 1st, and in fact, his first September start this season was not up to his pre-September standards.

It is hardly surprising that a pitcher listed at 6’6″ and 180 lbs would get tired late in the season.  I found a couple of articles on the internet from March 2016 about how Sale was trying to get his weight up to 200 lbs in order to improve his strength and stamina later in the season, based largely on a diet of cheeseburgers, steaks and his wife’s “taco nights.”  He was able to get his weight to 190 lbs when he reported to camp that year, but at least one teammate opined that he thought Sale would never reach 195 lbs, let alone 200.

My guess would be that Sale probably arrived at training camp closer to 200 this year.  Sale is 28 this year, and his metabolism has to slow down eventually.

I also think that Sale will pitch better this September than he has in the past, his Sept. 3 start notwithstanding.  Sale is experienced enough now that he should be able to get hitters out even when he doesn’t have his best stuff.  Also, this is his first opportunity to pitch in the post-season, and secure his status as one of MLB’s absolutely best pitchers.  I have to think he will rise to the occasion, even it has longer term consequences on his career going forward.

One of the reasons that even the best major league pitchers don’t last longer is that in contending years like this one, the pressure is on them in spades to do more than any one pitcher can reasonably be expected to do.  Despite the fact that Sale is not built to be a workhorse, he’s currently leading MLB in innings pitched and is second only to Rick Porcello, another pitcher already showing the signs of prolonged overwork, in number of pitches thrown this season.

On that note, I wonder if Madison Bumgarner‘s injury this year won’t end up being a positive thing.  But for the dirt bike accident, it’s almost certain MadBum would have pitched 220+ innings this season.  At the very least, it would have been his seventh consecutive season throwing at least 200+ innings.

Bumgarner has only recently turned 28 and with all of those innings pitched under his belt already, I wouldn’t count on him to last too much longer.  Maybe being limited to half his typical innings pitched total this year will mean at least a season or two longer that he’ll remain one of MLB’s top arms.

In fact, I am less sanguine at this moment about Clayton Kershaw‘s future prospects than I am about Bumgarner’s.  This will be the third year in the last four that Kershaw hasn’t pitched 200 innings, but his lost time has mostly been due to back problems rather than freak accidents.  It’s hard to imagine those back issues not cropping up again in Kershaw’s professional future.

As a final note, in these days of eight-figure annual salaries for front of the rotation starters, it’s a whole lot harder to feel sorry about the fact that they are routinely overworked and that their careers don’t last longer.

Detroit Tigers Trade Justin Verlander to Houston Astros

Posted September 1, 2017 by Burly
Categories: Detroit Tigers, Houston Astros

In a surprising, truly last minute move, the Astros acquired Justin Verlander and $16 million from the Tigers for three prospects and a player to be named later.  It’s a good deal for the Tigers, and while I think the Astros overpaid, it isn’t surprising they’d go all in to give themselves the best possibility of winning the World Series this year.

The move makes nothing but sense for the Tigers.  The three prospects — Franklin Perez, Daz Cameron and Jake Rogers — all look to be legitimate, and the Tigers also get a PTBNL and shed $40 million in salary they were obligated to pay Verlander for 2018 and 2019.  It’s hard to imagine them getting a better deal for Verlander at this stage in his career and this late in the season.

Obviously, only a team guaranteed to make the play-offs already would give up this much for only one month of regular season performance left.  This move is about the post-season exclusively, and one can see why the Astros would want to wager this much on Verlander.  Anything can happen in short post-season series, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to add a veteran of Verlander’s talent level to an already extremely strong team.

This is a move the Astros may well regret mightily as early as next season, but there is at least a reasonable possibility that Verlander will step up and have a great post-season this year, which is what the Astros are paying for.

Meanwhile, there is a good chance Tigers fans will be looking forward to a 100 loss 2018 season, now that the team has traded away its three best players and are still stuck with several unproductive huge contracts.  Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Jordan Zimmerman are owed a total of $72 million in 2018, while fangraphs values their total 2017 contributions so far as not even at replacement value.  I expect that Cabrera and Zimmerman will play better in 2018, and the Tigers are only on the hook with Martinez for one more season, but the team sure isn’t going to get enough value from these players to make even a .500 season likely.

Will Miles Mikolas Return to MLB in 2018?

Posted August 30, 2017 by Burly
Categories: Baseball Abroad

In recent off-seasons, I have written posts about the best prospects who may eventually move from Japan’s NPB to MLB.  In terms of joining MLB in 2018, the best candidate is probably former MLB pitcher Miles Mikolas, who has had a great deal of success pitching for the Yomiuri Giants the last three years and will still be only 29 years old next season.

In three NPB seasons so far, Mikolas is 29-11 with a 2.21 overall ERA.  This season, he has struck out 150 batters in 153.2 innings pitched while walking only 17.  Mikolas went to Japan for the guaranteed money, and it has worked out extremely well, not only for him, but also for his wife Lauren, who has reportedly become as a big a celebrity in Japan as her ballplayer husband.

Mikolas is finishing up a two-year $5 million deal with the Yomiuri Giants, and my best estimate is that he will command a two-year one billion yen (currently $9.1 million) guarantee this off-season if he elects to stay in Japan.  Yomiuri could certainly afford to pay more than that, but I very much doubt that they would given NPB’s unwritten salary scales which even the rich teams roughly follow.

By way of comparison, given what starting pitchers now command in MLB, it seems likely Mikolas would be a good risk on a two-year $12 million guarantee with a club option for a third season from an MLB team.

Obviously, the most recent proto-type for the American pitcher who went to NPB after failing to make it in MLB and pitched so well in Japan that he was able to successfully return to MLB is Colby Lewis.   Mikolas’ NPB numbers look very similar to Lewis’s numbers there almost a decade ago.  Lewis’ strikeout rates were a little better, but Mikolas has had lower ERAs and will be a year younger in 2018 than Lewis was when he returned to MLB in 2010.

For what it’s worth, Mikolas may be best remembered in the States for eating a lizard in the bullpen back in 2011.  Since then, he’s been known as the Lizard King.  No doubt, a lot of people will find that off-putting, but that’s something that will earn a young ballplayer a lot of respect from his teammates.