Asian Teams Are Fickle

One of the advantages of having a limited number of roster spots for foreign players is that teams in Japan’s NPB and South Korea’s KBO can be as imperious with their foreign players as they want to be.

This past off-season, the KBO’s Hanwa Eagles played tough with their top 2014 position player Felix Pie.  After batting .326 with power while playing what was probably above-average KBO center field defense, Pie thought he was due for big raise.  The Eagles, who had finished in last place in a nine-team league in spite of Pie’s efforts, felt otherwise.

However, according to Pie’s agent, Pie had accepted to the Eagles’ final contract offer, when Eagles’ management, which had recently hired a new (and highly respected in the KBO) manager who decided he didn’t want Pie re-signed.  As a result, the Eagles allegedly reneged on the agreed-upon contract, leaving Pie high and dry late in the off-season.

More recently, NPB’s Yokohama Bay Stars decided to terminate their 2015 contract with Cuban star Yulieski Gurriel.  This move is something of a head-scratcher, because Gurriel has long been recognized as one of the best Cuban players not willing to defect to play in MLB.  In only 62 NPB games last year, Gurriel had 33 extra base hits, a .305 batting average and an .885 OBP.  He definitely appeared to be a keeper.

Why the Bay Stars decided to jettison a player of Gurriel’s obvious and proven talents has a lot to do with the top-down thinking in Asian professional baseball.  Gurriel had just finished the Cuban Serie Nacional season.  The Bay Stars wanted him to come to Japan immediately.  Gurriel decided he wanted to remain in Cuba to give himself time to heal a right hamstring injury he’d suffered during the Cuban season.

The Bay Stars were so eager to get Gurriel to Japan, even if his leg was still hurting, that they sent a representative to meet with him in Cuba in late March.  When Gurriel continued to insist that he’d stay in Cuba until he felt his leg was fully healed, the Bay Stars dumped him.

Gurriel hit for average in Cuba this winter and had a .376 on-base percentage, but he hit only one home run all season, leaving him with an OPS below .750.  One has to think that Gurriel was playing hurt most of the winter.  If so, his decision to remain in Cuba to rest his leg makes a lot of sense, since if he went to Japan, you would have to think that the Bay Stars would have put a lot of pressure on him to get into the line-up as soon as possible, whether his hamstring was ready or not.

In unrelated NPB news, the Hiroshima Carp just signed former Giant and Cub Nate Schierholtz to a one-year deal for a reported $1.162 million.  That’s big money for the small-market Carp for a player yet to prove himself in NPB.

It’s definitely the right move for Schierholtz, who no longer looks like even a major league bench player, at least if the contract is guaranteed.  If not, Nate better get off to a great start, because Japanese teams have no patience for foreigners who don’t produce immediately.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Baseball Abroad, Chicago Cubs, San Francisco Giants

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