Archive for November 2014

The Big Josh Donaldson Trade

November 30, 2014

The A’s traded off their best player with four years of control left for Brett Lawrie and a whole lot of young talent.  It’s yet another one of the A’s money-ball moves, but it’s got to disappoint A’s fans, who almost never get a chance to develop a long-term relationship with the team’s best players.

On paper, the A’s clearly got as much talent as they gave away.  Josh Donaldson is a terrific player, but Brett Lawrie will definitely get better, unless he gets hurt.  Franklyn Barreto was the top 16-year old out of Venezuela two years ago and has done nothing as a professional to date to tarnish his luster, doing all the things (hitting for average, showing alley power and stealing bases) you would want to see from an elite 18 year old in a short-season A league.

The two pitchers the A’s got, Sean Nolin and Kendall Graveman, are B-grade prospects, but right on the verge of becoming major leaguers, meaning they could have some value for the A’s right away. Nolin, who will be 25 in 2015, has major league stuff, but has had trouble staying healthy.

Graveman will be 24 in 2015, and he looks like the kind of control pitcher who could have one big major league season and then blow out his arm.  However, that one big year will probably be 2015 or 2016.

I have to think that the A’s are betting that Donaldson won’t age well and that Barreto is going to be the real deal.  The A’s are also convinced that winning is lot more important to their box office than letting its fan base fall in love with individual players.

P.S. With the additions of Russell Martin and Josh Donaldson, Blue Jay pitchers are going to very excited about the coming of the 2015 season.

Many KBO Free Agents Re-Sign with Old Team

November 27, 2014

Eight of this year’s class of 19 KBO free agents have signed with their old teams.  Seven of these players received new four-year contracts and the last one received a three-year deal.

The biggest contracts went to SK Wyverns 3Bman Choi Jeong, who got 8.6 billion won ($7.73 million at current exchange rates) and Samsung Lions pitcher Yoon Sung-hwan, who received 8 billion won ($7.19 million).  Both of these deals broke the record set last off-season when catcher Kang-min Ho signed for four years and 7.5 billion won (valued at the time at about $7 million).

Choi is one of the KBO’s biggest stars, and a year ago he was talking about playing in MLB in 2015.  However, he got off to a terrible start this year and was briefly sent down to KBO’s minor league.  He ultimately hit .305 with a .903 OPS in 361 plate appearances, which is still pretty good even if offensive numbers were insane in the KBO last season.  Apparently, his down year made him re-think going elsewhere.

At nearly $2 million a year for four seasons, it’s highly unlikely Choi could have gotten a better offer from an NPB team or an MLB team.  The same certainly goes for Yoon, who is a fine KBO pitcher (career 82-55 record) but hasn’t been on anyone’s radar as a pitcher with the talent to move on to NPB or MLB.

The amount of these free agent deals again make me wonder what the top foreign veterans like Dustin Nippert and Andy Van Hekken are making.  They typically receive only one-year deals, but their out-sized performance would suggest contracts, if not as much per year as the more experienced KBO free agents, of well over $1 million.

For what it’s worth, KBO’s English and Korean language websites list 2014 salaries for Nippert and Van Hekken of $387,000 and $350,000, which just don’t sound the least bit credible in light of multiple reports the last two off-seasons that foreign KBO newbies were getting as much as $900,000.  If these numbers are in any way accurate, I assume it means that these figures don’t include “bonuses,” which I again assume are up-front guarantees, while the amounts listed on KBO’s website are “salaries” which are discontinued if the player is cut before the season ends.  “Bonuses” of anywhere from $300K to $800K or even $1M for these two stars would probably be accurate.

The major argument against foreign stars making over $1 million a year is the fact that pay closely tracks the number of seasons of league experience, as it does in NPB, and the fact that foreign KBO stars don’t necessarily have a lot of options.  They can return to the MLB minor leagues for somewhere between $100,000 and $200,000, or they can see if an NPB team will sign them, which is certainly not guaranteed.  However, I would tend to think both Nippert and Van Hekken could draw interest from NPB teams this off-season if they announced their availability.

Some KBO Signings

November 26, 2014

Three foreign players recently signed with KBO teams.  Lucas Harrell, who had a good year for the Astros in 2012, and then pitched his way out of MLB the next two seasons, probably for good, signed a $900,000 one-year deal with the LG Twins.  Jim Adduci, who played briefly for the Texas Rangers the last two seasons, signed with the Lotte Giants for a reported $650,000.  Finally, Brad Snyder signed a $380,000 contract with the Nexen Heroes after getting dumped by the LG Twins for whom he played briefly late last season.

Of more interest to me than the names of the particular players is the amounts they signed for, as it provides a good idea of the salary structure for foreign players in the KBO.  After years of lying about the salaries they were paying foreign players, because almost all the teams were paying foreigners well more than official cap, the cap has been eliminated, and the numbers now reported are probably pretty accurate.

Salaries in the $600K to $900K range for new recruits seems pretty comparable to what new foreigners get in Japan’s NPB.  Even so, NPB seems to still be signing more of the best of the 4-A prospects.  I suspect that this has to do with the fact that success in NPB promises higher salaries in the future than KBO success does.  However, without knowing what foreign KBO veterans like Dustin Nippert, Andy Van Hekken and Rick Vanden Hurk made in 2014 and will be making in 2015, it’s hard to say with certainty how much of an advantage NPB actually has.

It is likely, however, that the recent dramatic rise in KBO salaries, coupled with two foreign players on KBO rosters (compared with one a year ago) and two recent expansion teams, is creating sharp upward pressure on salaries for 4-A players looking to play in the Far East.

A Sad Day for San Francisco Giants Fans

November 25, 2014

Pablo Sandoval‘s agent has apparently told a number of reporters that Panda has reached a deal with the Boston Red Sox. It’s a sad day for Giants’ fans, because despite his imperfections, Pablo was loved in San Francisco.

I have to think that Pablo felt disrespected by the Giants’ low-ball offer of about three years and $40 million early in the 2014 season.  The Giants were reportedly willing to roughly match the Red Sox offer, but that was no longer good enough.

There are definitely questions about whether Pablo is worth $100 million, and he better get off to a good start in Boston in 2015, because I don’t think Red Sox fans are going to have a lot patience with him if he doesn’t play well from the get-go.

The Giants now need a 3Bman.  The best move, at least if Hector Sanchez is healthy enough in 2015 to split catching duties with Andrew Susac, might be to move Buster Posey to 3B.  Posey played 65 games at SS his freshman year at Florida State, and I think he could play third at the major league level with some practice.

That isn’t likely to happen, so the Giants may sign young Cuban Yasmany Thomas and try to convert him from an outfielder to a 3Bman.  A more likely scenario is the Giants sighing Chase Headley in the hopes that he can regain some of his former glory returning to the NL West.  Signing Headley to play 3B makes the most sense to me, but he’ll also be a big over-pay in a free agent market short on third-sackers.

The Giants will be getting an extra draft pick, although its certainly hit or miss that the Giants will draft a major league player with what amounts to a sandwich pick.  Giants fans will have to remind themselves that it’s just a fact that Pablo won’t age well and they’ve just been saved from at least two seasons of no production at a price high enough to prevent the team from filling other holes elsewhere.

Still, I can’t imagine many Giants’ fans not missing the big, lovable goof-ball after his six-plus year run.  There were certainly a lot of moments that won’t ever be forgotten.

Somebody Wins Bidding on LHP Hyeon-Jong Yang

November 24, 2014

The second left-handed starter to come out of the KBO this off-season, Hyeon-Jong Yang, has been posted and a winning bid submitted.  The questions, however, by whom and for how much are still being worked out.

Originally, the Twins were said to be the winning team, with a winning bid amount somewhere between $700K and $1.5 million.  Today, reports that the winning team may have been the Rangers for about $1.5 million.

The $1.5 million seems just about right, given that the other KBO lefty, Kwang-hyun Kim, received a posting bid of $2 million from the Padres a week or so ago and the relative KBO statistics of the two pitchers.  I had read an English-language Korean media report suggesting that Yang had better stuff and thus better upside than Kim, but if the $1.5 million winning bid is correct, MLB teams apparently considered the stats more important than the scouting reports.

It is also an open question whether Yang’s KBO team, the Kia Tigers, will accept this paltry bid.  From what I know about the current value of KBO players to their teams, I would think that Yang has to be worth more to the Tigers than $1.5 million.  Yang wants to try his luck in MLB, however, we’ll see if the Tigers consider that a good enough reason to let him go.

From what I have read, I understand (but am not entirely certain) that the SK Wyverns have decided to accept the $2 million bid on Kim, again mainly because Kim wants to play in MLB.  I very much doubt that Kim is worth less than $2 million to the Wyverns even if they only have another year or two of his services before he becomes an unrestricted free agent.

This is one of the reasons why we don’t see more South Korean and Japanese players in MLB.  Until the players reach true free agency after nine seasons, all but the very best are worth more to their respective teams than the posting amount they receive for letting them leave a year or two early.

Neither Kim nor Yang will get an MLB contract any better than they’d make in the KBO if they agreed to a three or four year deal this off-season with their current teams.  They won’t make the big money unless they prove to be major league successes and sign a second MLB contract a few years from now.  The situation for these players is nothing like that for Cuban defectors, for whom a $1 million MLB contract is easily 100 times what they made playing in Cuba.

On that topic, Cuban super-stars Yulieski Gurriel and Alfredo Despaigne, who played briefly but very successfully in Japan’s NPB in 2014, are rumored to be receiving offers of as much as $2M or $3M to return to Japan for closer to a full season in 2015.  The Cuban government’s decision to let them play in Japan in 2014 was basically to reward them for not defecting and to give them an incentive not to defect in the future.  The $200,000 or $300,000 each of them made playing in Japan this past season (less whatever percentage the Cuban government received) goes a long way in Cuba.

While allowing them to play in Japan gives these elite players a strong incentive not to defect and provides the Cuban government with some badly needed foreign exchange, it has to open up a whole can of worms, in terms of who in Cuban society gets to go abroad to make the big money for some period of time.  For example, you’d have to think a lot of Cuban doctors would relish the opportunity to travel abroad and get paid market-rate salaries.

San Francisco Giants Designate Juan Gutierrez for Assignment

November 22, 2014

The Giants designated Juan Gutierrez for assignment today, which is hardly surprising.  He has enough major league service to be eligible for arbitration, and he’s not a guy you go to arbitration with.  The Giants paid him $850,000 in 2014, and he was projected to make about $1.7 million through the arbitration process.  He’s at most a $1 million a year pitcher.

It remains to be seen if the Giants attempt to re-sign him at the afore-mentioned $1M.  The Giants saw something in Gutierrez last off-season, and signed him to be the last guy in their bullpen.  That’s exactly what he was.  He came cheap, and he was just good enough to stick around all season and pitch in 61 games regular season games.  He didn’t pitch in even one post-season game, and likely wasn’t on the post-season rosters.

The good news for Gutierrez is that after the 2014 season he had, someone will give him a major league contract for 2015.  He’s only 31 years old, and no real risk at $700K to $1M.

It seems like for about the last decade, the Giants have been exceptionally good at identifying this class of pitcher — the guys who get cut loose every off-season because they’re arbitration eligible but haven’t performed well enough for a team to go to arbitration with.  Some of that is good scouting, the same good scouting that has allowed the Giants to get so much production out of their recent 1st round draft picks.

Some of it is also the ballpark.  If you can’t succeed as a right-handed pitcher out of the bullpen at AT&T Park, you probably aren’t going to succeed anywhere in MLB.


The Jason Heyward for Shelby Miller Trade

November 19, 2014

This move strikes me as one the Braves could end up regretting for a really long time.  Shelby Miller‘s strikeout rate dropped sharply last year and his walks rate was up.  That could be a sign that that he’s going to have arm troubles, if not in 2015, then in 2016.  Also, I hate betting against a position player as young and talented as Jason Heyward.

Sure, Heyward had some injuries in 2011 and 2013, and he didn’t hit enough either of the last two seasons.  Even so, position players who establish themselves as major league regulars at age 20 almost always go on to have some pretty huge years in their peak seasons.

Also, except for the injury history, Heyward doesn’t have a lot of red flags.  He doesn’t strike out too much, he gets on base and he still runs well.   Fangraphs considers Heyward’s 2014 right field defense to be the best in MLB by an extremely large margin.

I also like the throw-in player the Cardinals got better.  The odds that established reliever Jordan Walden is going to have future major league success is a lot higher than Tyrell Jenkins, a 22 year old with unimpressive strikeout rates in A-ball the last two seasons.

In about 10 years, Cardinals fans probably won’t feel as bad as they do now about the tragic death of Oscar Taveras, since this deal wouldn’t have happened had he lived.