Archive for January 2015

San Francisco Giants Sign John Bowker, Travis Blackley to Minor League Deals

January 27, 2015

The Giants have signed a couple of NPB refugees and old faces, OF/1B John Bowker and LHP Travis Blackley, to minor league deals.

John Bowker played semi-regularly for the Giants in 2008 at age 24, but he wasn’t the real deal and had the good sense to try his luck in Japan after his age 27 season.  He hit a big home run for the Yomiuri Giants in the 2012 Nippon Series and turned it into a three-year NPB career.  He hit pretty well in 2013, but faded playing for the Rakuten Golden Eagles in 2014 and finished the season in the Mexican League.  He turns 32 in early July, so it’s unlikely he’ll be anything more than AAA roster-filler at this stage of his career.

The same is true unfortately for Blackley.  An Australian, Blackley has played professional baseball just about everywhere.  Aside from MLB and the minor leagues, he played in the Mexican League in 2010, South Korea’s KBO in 2011, and Japan’s NPB in 2014.

The NPB stint didn’t work out too well, so he’s back in the Giants’ organization hoping to become the next Ryan Vogelsong.  I don’t see it happening, but at age 32 also in 2015, it’s not entirely outside the realm of possibility.  He pitched pretty well in NPB’s minor league, and a decent 2015 season in AAA could at least get him another shot at pitching in the KBO for more money than he’ll make in AAA.

Atlanta Braves Sign Jonny Gomes

January 23, 2015

The Braves signed Jonny Gomes today for one season at $4 million.  I had written at least once this off-season that I thought Gomes was a good fit for the Giants, who were in need of a right-handed power bat to replace Mike Morse.

I’m a little surprised Gomes got this much, given that he’ll be 34 next season and didn’t hit particularly well in 2014.  The Giants signed Nori Aoki for $4.7, and I think Aoki is clearly the better player going into 2015.  Of course, what it’s really about is how the player’s skills fit into the rest of the team, and Gomes’ ability to hit lefties with power is a very useful skill.

The Giants just re-signed Gregor Blanco for two years and $7.5 million, so it seems the Giants are going all in on speed and defense.  The Giants are also reportedly close to re-signing Ryan Vogelsong, after a deal with the Astros fell through.  The Giants are likely to need plenty of defense for at least some of their starters in 2015.

Never Say Die

January 22, 2015

A couple of my old favorites — Dontrelle Willis and Pat Misch — are back from the baseball wilderness, having signed minor league deals with the Milwaukee Brewers and Miami Marlins respectively.  Neither has pitched in the major leagues since 2011, and both are 33 years old.  While that certainly doesn’t sound promising, you never know.

Misch is a pitcher who always struck me as taking a very modest talent as far as he possible could.  However, he was a fifth round draft pick (by the Astros) in the 2002 draft  and a seventh round pick (by the Giants) in 2003, which is not low as draft picks go.  However, both his major and minor league numbers suggest a guy who made his living by throwing strikes and knowing how to pitch, rather than featuring any kind of good stuff.

Misch last pitched in AAA in 2013 and appears to have been cut on merit (he had a 5.07 ERA in the pitcher-friendly International League) about half way through the season.  After more than a year off, he’s attempting a comeback, and the Marlins at least are game.

Willis made two brief relief appearances for the AAA Fresno Grizzlies early last Spring, got hurt again and was promptly released.  He made two starts in the Independent-A Atlantic League where he’d pitched much of 2013, I assume late in the season, and was hit pretty hard.

The fact that Pat and Dontrelle are still trying to resurrect their professional careers after so many seasons of what can only be regarded as failure is either a testament to perseverance or an indication that they should look into becoming coaches so they can stay in the game in some capacity.

Houston Astros Sign Colby Rasmus for $8 million

January 21, 2015

I was a bit taken aback today when I saw that the Astros had signed CF Colby Rasmus for one year and $8 million.  That seemed like way too little for a player of his age and potential performance.

On further consideration, it is pretty obvious that this is just a hold-over contract designed to get Rasmus another shot at free agency at a still young 29 after next season if he plays well for the Astros in 2015.  Choosing the Astros for a one year rental also makes a great deal of sense for Rasmus, because he’ll likely get a lot of playing time in Houston even if he has some cold spells.

This kind of contract worked extremely well for both the Orioles and Nelson Cruz and also for the Giants and Mike Morse in 2014, and it’s certainly got the potential to work just as well for the Astros and Rasmus in 2015.  It’s also a savings for the Astros, in that Dexter Fowler was guaranteed to get more in arbitration based on the numbers exchanged than the ‘Stros are paying Rasmus.  While I’m not particularly impressed with the players the Astros got for Fowler and his high on-base percentage, the Astros effectively get three players for the price of one (not quite, but Luis Valbuena and Dan Straily aren’t going to cost the team a whole lot in relative terms).

What Do Foreign Players in South Korea’s KBO Get Paid?

January 20, 2015

A few days ago, myKBO.net published a list of the foreign players currently signed to play in South Korea’s KBO in 2015 and what their salaries will be.  As you can see, at least four players are reportedly making at least $1 million, with KBO and former MLB veteran Dustin Nippert topping the list at a cool $1.5 million.

Only six of the 30 players signed so far (the SK Wyverns have one foreign player roster spot still unfilled) will be making less than $500,000 in 2015.  Former major leaguer and CPBLer (Taiwan) Andy Sisco has the smallest reported salary at $320,000.

There’s still some question whether or not all KBO teams are accurately reporting the amounts for which they are signing their foreign players, even though the league has eliminated the official $300,000 cap on foreign players which a majority of KBO teams had been ignoring.  Specifically, there is some question whether Yamaico Navarro, who had a terrific KBO rookie campaign in 2014, is really getting a few hundred thousand more than what the Samsung Lions have reported.

However, based on what I know about KBO salaries, the reported numbers are probably for the most part accurate.

I am a little disappointed, though, that Mike Loree will not be pitching in the KBO Championship (major) League in 2015.  He pitched along with Andy Sisco for the expansion KT Wiz, who played in the Futures (minor) League in 2014, but are joining the Championship League in 2015.  My research indicates that Loree was the Wiz’s most effective starter in 2014, but it appears he may have suffered an injury, as he clearly missed five to eight starts during the season.

The San Francisco Giants’ Off-Season

January 19, 2015

Here’s a good article from the San Francisco Giants’ Henry Schulman about the Giants’ quiet off-season.  He makes a point that the Giants may simply wait until the start of the 2015 season to see how things shake out and what their actual needs turn out to be before making any deals.

One point Schulman hints at but doesn’t actually make is that by waiting until a couple of months into the 2015 season before pulling a trigger on a deal, the Giants may be in a good position to pay less in prospects if they are willing to take on salary instead.  By not spending a lot of money this off-season following their third World Series win in five years, the Giants can afford to take on salary for veteran stars of teams that don’t perform as hoped and have management looking for a way to dump their salaries.

Also, I saw a post on mlbtraderumors.com stating that the Giants are in on young Cuban super-prospect Yoan Moncada.  They’ve held a private workout for Moncada already, one of a number of teams to do so.

Moncada is widely expected to blow up the record for a signing bonus for an “amateur” player, with sources projecting that his signing bonus plus signing bonus overage penalty could cost the team that signs him $70 to 80 million.  The Giants certainly have the money for that kind of a signing, if they think Moncada is worth it.

There are certainly reasons for the Giants to wait and see what shakes out.  However, unless the Giants tank the first two months of the 2015, it seems inevitable that they will have to trade for a right-handed power bat some time before the August trade deadline.

Washington Nationals Sign Max Scherzer

January 19, 2015

The Washington Nationals have reached an historic deal with ace Max Scherzer that will pay him a total of $210 million for seven seasons of service, but will pay the money out at $15 million a year for 14 years.  Reportedly, the contract has been drafted so as to take advantage of Washington D.C. tax law to save Scherzer as much as $20 million in taxes, and the deal saves the Nationals about $25 million compared to paying the same amount over seven years.

I’m generally not a huge fan of Scherzer’s agent Scott Boras, but I think he hit a home run with this contract.  He got what looks like a maximum package for Scherzer, and Scherzer gets the kind of security he had obviously hoped for.

No matter how much money a ballplayer makes, quite a few of them still find ways to piss through it, thanks to mega-homes (and property taxes) for themselves and their family members, children born to multiple mothers and the resulting child support obligations, divorces, automobile collections, hangers-on, etc.

In fact, more than a few professional athletes who had successful and lucrative careers end up nearly broke and struggling in the years between their early 40’s and age 50 when they can start to draw on their player pensions.  The more money you make, the more money you tend to spend, and it’s quite a come-down to go from making $10 or 20 million a year to less than $100,000 in as little as a year or two.

Scherzer has now assured himself that he will be making $15 million per through age 45.  That’s the kind of security even most professional athletes can only dream about.

Needless to say, relatively few players have the foresight to make these kinds of deferrals during their professional careers.  In 2000, Bobby Bonilla and his agent worked out a deal with the Mets to defer $5.9 million owed to Bonilla, to be paid as $1.19 million a year for 25 years commencing in 2011.

Bonilla’s career ended in 2001, and I don’t know if he had any financial problems in the decade before the deferred payments kicked in.  However, he’ll be getting more than $1 million per through age 72, by which point he will already have had to start receiving his Social Security and players’ pension payments starting at age 70.  One can only hope that Bonilla lives a long life to take full advantage of the way he has set up his golden years.

The players with the foresight to defer income to later years when their careers are over are most likely the players who least need to do so, since they likely have the foresight to make substantial and prudent investments during their playing careers.  Even so, the tax benefits of spreading out free agent contracts over a lifetime are only too obvious.