Looks Like the Houston Astros Were Right About Brady Aiken After All

Posted March 27, 2015 by Burly
Categories: Houston Astros, Toronto Blue Jays

Brady Aiken underwent Tommy John surgery yesterday, suggesting the Astros were right after all when they pulled their $6.5 million offer off the table last Summer.

The regressive nature of the Astros’ bargaining made the team look pretty bad last year, and I was one of the people to pile on.  However, the fact that Aiken blew out his elbow tendon without pitching even one professional inning is pretty compelling evidence that the Astros had legitimate concerns about the thickness of his elbow tendon.

Part of the problem is with the draft system.  Teams lose little by pulling offers after medical exams turn up something of concern, because they get a similar draft pick the next year (the Astros get the No. 2 pick in the 2015 Draft after not signing Aiken with the 1st overall pick in 2014).  Meanwhile, agents don’t make prospects available for physical examinations until after an offer is on the table, because what the teams don’t know increases the likely draft position of players like Aiken.

Aiken may yet be a future 1st round pick, but it’s certain he’ll never be a top-five pick again.  Jeff Hoffman went 9th overall last year after tearing his elbow tendon.  Hoffman, however, a college pitcher with a more proven track record than any pitcher tearing his elbow tendon coming out of high school.

A Dark Day for KBO Baseball Fans

Posted March 25, 2015 by Burly
Categories: Baseball Abroad

South Korea’s KBO has announced new rules barring fans from bringing in their own beer and soju (South Korea’s most popular distilled spirit ranging anywhere from about 40 to 70 proof) into the ballparks.

While it’s certainly a dark day for KBO fans, it was more or less inevitable that KBO teams would eventually bar outside alcohol because captive-market priced alcohol is simply too big a revenue stream to let go by uncaptured, particularly when you can claim that your motivation is simply to reduce excessive drinking at the ballpark and the problems that come with it.

It’s also a sign that KBO is feeling its oats and is confident in its increased expansion.  When you’re trying to bring in every last fan you can, you let them bring in their own market-priced booze.  When you are confident the fans will come regardless, you ban outside booze and charge captive-market prices inside the park.

One day soon KBO fans will get to know the joys of $8 drafts and finding creative or not-so-creative ways to smuggle in their own affordably priced 200 ml bottles of the strong stuff.  Absent a pat-down, it’s just about impossible to catch the half-pints.

Soju is clear, which raises the interesting question whether team employees will be sniffing every plastic water bottle that fans try to bring into the stadia.  My guess is not.

Enough fans will follow the new rules and pay captive market prices, making it unwise to police every water bottle entering the stadium, because of the risk of offending paying customers.   Employees may, however, insist that only factory-sealed water bottles are allowed inside the park. If so, fall back on smuggling in the half-pints.

Los Angeles Dodgers to Sign Hector Olivera for the Big Money

Posted March 25, 2015 by Burly
Categories: Chicago White Sox, Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Dodgers, Oakland A's, San Francisco Giants

The Dodgers and Hector Olivera have reached agreement on a six-year $62.5 million deal with a team option for a seventh season at $1 million if Olivera tears his elbow tendon during the first six seasons.  The deal is pending a physical, so there is still a chance the deal won’t go through.

If the deal does go through on these terms, I have to think it represents the end of major league teams signing veteran Cuban players for relative bargains.  Olivera turns 30 in early April, and he’s played only the equivalent of one full major league season over the last four years due to injuries and his defection from Cuba.

That just doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence, but he’s still going to be getting almost as much as Jose Abreu got a year ago when he was three years younger and a whole lot healthier than Olivera in the years immediately before defection.  The age alone means that this deal won’t be nearly as team-favorable as the Abreu or Yoenis Cespedis contracts.

Olivera may turn out to be worth the contract the Dodgers are reportedly prepared to pay him, but the odds seem really slim he’ll significantly outperform his salary.  At least the Dodgers can afford it, but as a Giants fan, I won’t be disappointed if this contract blows up in the Bums’ faces.

Chicago Cubs Better Bring Kris Bryant North

Posted March 21, 2015 by Burly
Categories: Chicago Cubs

There is controversy brewing in Arizona regarding the Cubs’ intentions regarding where top prospect Kris Bryant will start the 2015 season.  If the Cubs don’t want savage their rep with young players and their agents, they should bring Bryant to Chicago with them when Spring Training ends.

Last September I wrote about my surprise that the Cubs didn’t promote Bryant to the majors after the AAA season ended.  The Cubs’ stated justification for this decision was that they didn’t want to overwork Bryant, who was coming off his first full season in professional baseball.  At the time, I thought that this reason sounded like BS, since Bryant had played in 98 college and professional games in 2013, the year before.  138 minor league games in 2014 really wasn’t that big of a step up.

Bryant is now leading all of MLB with six Spring Training home runs and has an OPS over 1.800 (granted, in only nine games).  Bryant isn’t just ready now — he was ready last September.

The only reason to send him back to AAA is so the Cubs can hold onto his rights for another season.  If the Cubs do so, everyone in baseball is going to know that’s why they sent him down.  Bryant is much better on both sides of the ball at this moment than anyone else the Cubs could play at 3B.  The sooner he reaches the majors, the sooner he’s going to learn to hit major league pitching, and the sooner the Cubs can build a winner.

I think it sends the wrong message to every player in a team’s system, if players don’t get promoted when they’ve proven to everyone they’re ready for the next level.  Sure, sometimes a youngster gets blocked by another youngster ahead of him whom the organization thinks is a better prospect because they drafted they drafted the latter prospect in the first round.  And sometimes a youngster gets blocked at the major league level by a high-priced veteran who can’t be moved without the team eating salary.

In Bryant’s case, there’s nothing between him and the Show, except management’s possible desire to hold his rights for another season.  That’s just not a good enough reason to keep Bryant in the minors at this point.

Sure Tired of Elbow Injuries

Posted March 17, 2015 by Burly
Categories: New York Mets, Texas Rangers

Every baseball fan must be on their last straw when it comes to elbow tendon injuries (pun intended).  Zack Wheeler will be undergoing the Tommy John knife soon, joining Yu Darvish as the most disappointing blown elbow tendons this Spring Training.

I don’t see the pitchers’ elbow blowouts diminishing any time soon.  Sliders are too important to modern pitching, and pitchers are steadily getting bigger, stronger and training hard at earlier ages in order to develop the skills necessary to become a ridiculously well paid major league pitcher.

Something’s got to give, and it’s not surprising that it’s ligaments and joints, which you can’t build up through diet and current training regimens.  During the Steroid Era — which is still around to a lesser, quieter extent — there was a lot of talk about the effect of muscling up on ligaments and tendons, which can’t be built up through a routine of steroids intake and strength conditioning.

Even without steroids, there are a whole lot of different things modern athletes can do to get bigger and stronger, generate more torque on their pitches and put increasing strain on the parts that can’t be strengthened by lifting weights.

Someone’s going to have to figure out what can be done to strengthen and increase flexibility to joints, ligaments and tendons.  The person who figures out how to do to these body parts what has been done to muscles (and patents the idea) will make a fortune (at least until his or her patent expires).

There has to be a way to do it.  It’s mostly just a matter of someone figuring out what it is that has to be done.  Until then (and after some trial and error), it’s going to enormous numbers of blown elbow tendons every year.

Enjoying New York’s ARod Angst

Posted February 19, 2015 by Burly
Categories: New York Yankees

I’m a regular reader of the New York Times, and I have to say that I have really been enjoying the recent columns about how the Bombers are stuck with Alex Rodriguez for at least the start of the 2015 season.  Today’s article is particularly bitchy and pissy, and it just tickles me no end, as I think it should any fan of the other 29 teams in MLB.

Today’s article says the Yankees should show some intestinal fortitude and cut A-Fraud and eat the remaining $61 million of his contract.  Well, that might be satisfying for most baseball fans, but that’s just not the way MLB works.

Until Rodriguez actually shows he has nothing left, the Yankees won’t cut him.  MLB teams know from long experience that Americans in general and sports fans in particular are front-runners all the way.  If ARod posts a .900 OPS in 2015, all will be forgiven by most Yankees fans, at least until he stops hitting.  In fact, the 2015 Yankees look so offensively weak than an .800 OPS might be enough for Yankees fans to grin and bear Rodriguez, as long as he performs at that level.

If, on the other hand, Rodriguez posts an OPS below .600 two months into the 2015 season, the Yankees are going to be a hell of lot more likely to cut his sorry ass and eat all the remaining salary, particularly if he hasn’t yet reached the $6 million bonus that comes with his 660th home run (tying Willie Mays).   The team will probably arbitrate to reduce the total any amount they can, even though any qualified legal observer would say the odds are slim that the Yankees can eliminate any portion of the guaranteed $61 million.

Again, any fan of the other 29 teams should just be loving the Yankees’ current dilemma.  It’s only the team’s insistence on handing out contracts of the type that ARod got that allow the other teams to compete against the Yankees’ revenue streams.  If the Yankees drove harder bargains, paying only 10% or 15% more than any other team would pay for elite free agents, they’d lose 10% or 15% of the elite free agents they’re now signing, but their roster would be an awful lot deeper.

Influx of Cuban Players to Japan’s NPB Continues

Posted February 3, 2015 by Burly
Categories: Baseball Abroad

In an interesting piece of international news, the Yokohama Bay Stars today announced that they had not only re-signed Yulieski Gourriel for 2015, but also signed his younger brother Yunielkis (Baseball America refers to him as Lourdes).  No word yet on what they’ll be getting paid, but my guess is that Yulieski will be getting around $3 million (less whatever substantial cut the Cuban government gets) and that Yunielkis, who is only 21, will be getting somewhere between $200,000 and $500,000.

Since Yulieski will be 31 in June and isn’t likely to defect, he doesn’t hold much interest for MLB at this point, although he has long been regarded as one of the best players in Cuba.  Yunielkis, however, is still young enough that if in the next six to eight years Cuban players are allowed to play in MLB without first having to defect, he’ll still be young enough have a successful MLB career.

If I had to guess, I’d say that Yunielkis will start Japan’s 2015 season on the Bay Stars’ minor league squad to allow him to transition to the Japanese game.  How long he stays down on the farm obviously depends on how quickly he adjusts.

Cuban defector Yoslan Herrara will also be playing for the Bay Stars in 2015.

Meanwhile, the Yomiuri Giants are apparently bringing back all three of the Cubans (one defector and two non-defectors) who played for them last season.  I’m a bit surprised they are bringing back Frederich Cepeda, who hit only .194 for Yomiuri last year and turns 35 in April.  However, he did hit with power and had more walks than hits.

Pitcher Hector Mendoza is a more interesting prospect.  He reportedly has a big fastball and at age 20 pitched briefly (5.2 innings pitched) last year for Yomiuri’s minor league team.

At this point, the question is how many more Cuban players will end up in NPB.  NPB still has its four man roster limit on the major league roster, although each team can sign additional players to play on the minor league club.  In fact, this has now become the norm, so that if a foreigner gets hurt or is ineffective at the major league level, the team can immediately call up another foreigner to fill the roster spot.

However, it appears certain now that Cuba will continue to allow players to play in NPB if the money is right for all involved.  Even so, because the MLB market for top Cuban talent is astronomically high, added to the fact that many Cuban players would much rather test their skills in MLB and live in the U.S. than in Japan, there is no reason to think that the very best young prospects won’t still try to defect.


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