Archive for December 2014

Still Salary Contretemps in South Korea’s KBO

December 30, 2014

Yamaico Navarro, a player who played oh-so briefly for four major league teams through 2013, just re-signed with the Samsung Lions of South Korea’s KBO.  No big deal, really — Navarro had a terrific rookie season in the KBO in 2014 at age 26, so he was virtually certain to return for at least one more year at a substantial raise over 2014.

The Samsung Lions reported re-signing him for $850,000.  However, ESPN reports that Navarro actually got $950,000 plus another $400,000 in performance bonuses.  What’s the difference, you’re probably saying to yourself.  However, It’s apparently a big difference in South Korea, based on the media reports.

The back-story is that until last year, the KBO had an official cap of $300,000 per year for foreign players which everyone who follows the KBO knew most of the teams weren’t obeying.

The KBO did away with the cap this year, but their are still rumors that KBO teams are under-reporting what they are paying their foreign stars. It’s a little hard to understand why anyone cares, but I suspect it has something to do with east Asian concepts of fair player, which perhaps value fairness among teams more than fairness to individual players.

As with every other top professional league in existence, the KBO has its rich teams and its poor teams.  The Samsung Lions have won the last four championships and led the league in wins each of those regular seasons.  They are clearly one of the wealthier teams in the KBO, probably due to subsidies from the Samsung Corporation.

The idea behind the salary cap is that by limiting the salaries of foreign players and restricting them to one-year contracts, the KBO would have more competitive balance.  Of course, the rich teams simply under-reported the salaries they were paying to foreign players.

The removal of the salary cap for foreign players was supposed to do away with all the past nonsense, but it seems that teams are still under-reporting salaries, most likely not to create a backlash among KBO fandom and the less wealthy team owners.

To an American, it just doesn’t make a lot of sense.  Teams want to get the best talent they can to help them win and put a product on the field that fans want to see.

KBO is growing fast, adding a second expansion team in 2015, bringing the league up to ten teams from eight in 2012, and they will be playing a 144 game schedule, up from 128 the last two seasons and 133 before that.  Attendance was up in 2014 from 2013 at about 12,000 fans per game, but did not reach its high set in 2012.  While the KBO attendance is still affected by South Korea’s play in international competition, all signs indicate that it is a growth industry that is working hard to put a high-level product on the field and build up its fan base.

Whatever money Yamaico Navarro actually got, it’s entirely reasonable given the 2014 season he had, his age, and what even fairly pedestrian KBO free agents are now getting.  The best foreign players deserve to get paid more, because of their out-size contributions to their teams, and the fact that only one bad season is likely to get them dumped in favor of someone new.

What a lot of this comes down to, I think, is that the KBO has done an excellent job of holding down salaries for most players.  As a result, salaries for potential difference-makers, whether in the form of KBO free agents or foreign players, are increasing rapidly as team revenues or the advertizing value to the league’s corporate owners that come with successful teams is increasing.

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What About Jonny Gomes?

December 29, 2014

With Michael Morse having moved on the Marlins, the Giants are in a need of a right-handed power bat to fill a left field platoon with left-handed hitting Gregor Blanco.  How about Jonny Gomes?

Gomes is from Petaluma, so he’d probably jump at a competitive offer to play for the Giants.  He’s also coming off a relatively poor season at age 33, so he can probably be had for a very affordable one-year deal for no more than the $5 million the Giants gave Morse last year.

Gomes was dreadful against right-handed pitchers last season, as he usually is, but he still hit lefties reasonably well.  The Giants have no shortage of left-handed hitters for Gomes to platoon with, since aside from Blanco, there’s also Travis Ishikawa, who proved during the post-season he can play left-field if the Giants need him to.

mlbtraderumors.com suggests that Gomes may sign with the Cubs to provide some veteran leadership on a young team.  However, insofar as 2015 is concerned, his chances of going to the post-season would be better with the Giants.  The Cubs have a lot of young talent, but I don’t think they’ll go from 73 wins to the post-season in one year, even with Jon Lester fronting their rotation.

Two other outfielders who are still available are Nori Aoki and Colby Rasmus.  However, neither seems as good a fit for the Giants as Jonny Gomes.  Aoki might be had relatively cheaply, but his skill set doesn’t look significantly different from Gregor Blanco, and he’s also a left-handed hitter.

Colby Rasmus comes into his free agency with his value down after a poor 2014 season.  However, he’ll be only 28 in 2015, and he has some power, so someone will almost certainly give him at least a three-year deal at at least $10 million per.  Also, as a left-handed hitter, his power would probably drop playing his home games at AT&T Park.

Hiroki Kuroda Returns to Japan

December 27, 2014

Hiroki Kuroda signed a deal today with the Hiroshima Toyo Carp of the Japan’s NPB for a reported 400 million yen ($3.32 million).  Given that Kuroda could easily have gotten a one-year deal from an MLB team for a full $10 million more, Kuroda’s decision can only be explained as a desire to finish his career in Japan where it all began for.

Kuroda’ 2014 campaign was his least effective since 2010, but it was still right within the range of his remarkably consistent seven year major league career.

The Carp and their fans must be overjoyed, but the deal represents a tremendous bargain for them even by the standards of NPB.  The Carp finished third in the Central League in 2014, making the play-offs for the second year in row and improving their record for the fourth year in a row.  With Kenta Maeda also coming back, the Carp look like a great bet to challenge the Yomiuri Giants and the Hanshin Tigers for league dominance.

The fact that Kuroda will not be returning to the Yankees certainly makes me think the Bombers will get in on the Max Scherzer bidding to fill that rotation slot.  Signing Scherzer certainly won’t solve all the Yankees’ current woes, but it’s hard to imagine the Yankees not making a splash this off-season, particularly when their team salary was down below $200 million in 2014 for the first time in seven years.

The Yankees will be paying Alex Rodriguez $21 million this year for what is anticipated to be very little production, $20+ million they didn’t to pay last year because of ARod’s suspension.  Still, signing Scherzer might be the one thing that keeps them above .500 in 2015.

Aces Chihiro Kaneko and Kenta Maeda to Remain in Japan at Least One More Year

December 25, 2014

Both Kenta Maeda and Chihiro Kaneko re-signed with their old teams, the Hiroshima Carp and the Orix Buffaloes.  I feel fairly certain we will see Maeda posted next off-season, but it looks like Kaneko has decided that his best future lies in Japan’s NPB.

The Carp gave Maeda a one-year 300 million yen deal ($2.49 million) which makes Maeda the first player in team history to make 300 million yen in a season and the youngest player in Central League history to accomplish this feat.   However, it represents a raise of just 20 million yen ($166,000) over 2014, in spite of the fact that Maeda has been one of the top starters in NPB since 2010 and the Carp set a single-season attendance record in 2014.

Given the Carp’s stinginess, I fully expect the team to post Maeda next off-season, rather than risk him becoming an unrestricted free agent.  Like Kaneko, Maeda is a small right-hander, but seems to hold more interest for MLB clubs, probably because he’s several years younger.

Kaneko has seemingly cast his lot with playing out the remaining prime years of his career in Japan.  He signed a four-year 2 billion yen deal ($16.6 million), which should keep him in Japan through his age 34 season.

It’s possible that Kaneko could opt out after a year or two and try signing with an MLB team.  However, now that he’s 31, his value to an MLB team should decline each year he remains in Japan.

I suspect that Kaneko did indeed test the waters regarding MLB interest this off-season and didn’t get enough positive feedback to give up the guarantees of remaining in Japan, where he should continue to be a major star and likely has or will get a lot of endorsement deals.  Kaneko’s two billion yen deal matches the contract the Yomiuri Giants gave Toshiya Sugiuchi three off-seasons ago and is probably the maximum deal a veteran pitcher can get from an NPB team.

Keeping an Eye on the Waiver Wire

December 24, 2014

With many teams making a lot of moves recently, the waiver wire is extremely active, with at least six players filched from other teams today.  The two who impress me the most are both named Preston — Preston Claiborne, whom the Marlins claimed from the Yankees, and Preston Guilmet, whom the Padres claimed from the Orioles.  Both Prestons will be 27 next year.

Preston Claiborne has done more in the majors.  He has a career 3.79 ERA in 62 career relief appearances with a pitching line of 71.1 IP, 75 hits, eight HRs, 24 BBs and 58 Ks.  He missed some time last year with a shoulder injury, which may have been why the Yankees were willing to drop him from the 40-man roster.

Preston Guilmet hasn’t done much at the major league level, but his minor league numbers are sensational.  Despite a 3.91 ERA in his second season in the AAA International League in 2014 and a 4.09 ERA as a starter in his first minor league season in 2009, his numbers have been eye-popping.  He has a career minor league ERA of 2.76 with a pitching line of 346 IP, 274 hits, 29 HRs, 74 BBs and 378 Ks.

The home run total is a little high, and the long ball hurt him in 2014, but his strikeout and strikeout/walks rate are terrific.  He apparently still needs to learn how to be effectively wild, meaning knowing when not to give in to hitters.

Guilmet had a 5.23 ERA in ten major league relief appearances in 2014, but he struck out more than a batter per inning, and had a 6/1 K/BB ratio.  Pitching in Petco Park, Guilmet has a great chance of establishing himself as a major league pitcher in 2014.

In waiver news closer to home, the Cubs claimed former Giants’ prospect Michael Kickham.  Kickham has great stuff, but at age 25 in 2014, he still lacks major league command.  I’d suggest that the Cubs move Kickham to the bullpen (he’s been a starter throughout his minor league career).  However, in 30 major league innings to date, mostly in relief, Kickham has had his brains beaten out.

Collective Bargaining Agreement Foo, Part II

December 23, 2014

Continuing on with my series on interesting tidbits in the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the teams and the players’ association:

The CBA specifically provides that players cannot be made to ride buses to their games if the ride would be more than 200 miles one way.  I imagine that for most rides this short, the players simply drive themselves in most instances, except perhaps in the Northeast or Southern California, where it may be simpler to travel together due to traffic congestion.

Major league players get first class airfare and a meal/tip allowance to travel to Spring Training and to their off-season home cities at the end of season.

The daily meal and tip allowance for players on the road was $92.50 per day in 2012, with cost of living increases (COLAs) every year since then.

During Spring Training, players get a weekly allowance of $291.50 (Murphy Money) plus $51.50 a week if not living in team facilities, $82.50 per day meal allowance and $40 a day room allowance, if not living in the team’s facilities and eating the meals provided by the team, if any.  Most teams provide lunches or sandwiches to training players, which don’t come out of the allowances listed above.  Again, these are 2012 rates subject to COLAs in subsequent years.  I think at this point only minor leaguers making peanuts stay in the team dormitories during Spring Training.

All major league players now get a single hotel room when traveling on the road.

All-Stars get a $1,000 stipend to be in the All-Star Game in addition to whatever bonuses their specific contracts might provide.

If a player is traded mid-season to a team more than 50 miles away from his current team, he gets $850 to $1,450 for travel expenses depending on the distance.

The Post-Season player pool breaks down as follows:

World Series Winner = 36%

World Series Loser = 24%

League Championship Series Losers = 24%

Division Series Losers = 13%

Wild-Card Series Losers = 3%

Since the total adds up to 100%, this must mean that each LCS loser gets 12% of the total, Each LDS loser gets a little over 4% and each Wild-Card loser gets 1.5%.  Clearly, it pays to win, but that is obviously the idea.  The rules are very specific about how the vote by players to split the post into shares is made, with the intent to prevent management from having much say in what the players elect to do.  The vote is cast on or before the last day of the regular season, so there is no way to reward players who perform exceptionally well in the post-season, even if they joined the team late in the year.

The only persons other than players who may receive any portion of a share from the players’ pool are two Club Certified Athletic Trainers and one strength and conditioning coach from each team.

You can find Part I of this series here.

Someone Wins Bidding on Jung-ho Kang

December 20, 2014

An as yet unannounced MLB team won the bidding on South Korean shortstop Jung-ho Kang with a bid amount just over $5 million.  Kang is said to be seeking a deal that pays him at least $5 million a year for as much as four years.

That will almost certainly not happen based on the winning bid amount.  My guess is that if Kang agrees to sign, it will be a two-year deal with $6 million or $7 million guaranteed in total, with an option for a third season at about $6 or $7 million.  I just don’t see how he gets more than an $8 million guarantee max at this bid amount.

All that said, $3 million a year is a lot more than anyone is making in the KBO, and the contract I’m proposing is also right about the high end of what Kang could get presently from an NPB team.  In short, if everyone behaves rationally Kang will be playing in MLB in 2015.