Archive for November 2015

One of the More Disappointing Baseball Careers in Recent Memory

November 19, 2015

Remember Lastings Milledge?  He was the Mets’ 1st round draft pick 12 years ago, but his major league career quickly flamed out.  It now looks like his career in Japan’s NPB has gone the same route.

Milledge first became known to the baseball world at the age of 12, when he was a star in the Little League World Series.  He was widely expected to be one of the first three players drafted in 2003, the year he graduated from high school.  However, it was reported in the summer of 2002 that he had been expelled from the Christian high school where he spent his junior year for having sex with a 15 year old girl (Milledge would have been 16 or 17 at the time).

Milledge ended up falling to the Mets with the 12th pick of the 2003 Draft and eventually signed him to a $2.2M bonus.  After he signed, reports came out that he’d also had sex with a 12 year old and a 13 year old, and that these liaisons were the real reason for his expulsion.

Milledge rapidly worked his way through the Mets’ system, reaching the Show in 2006, his age 21 season.  He was a little over-matched at first and was sent back to the minors.  However, he had a very strong last two months of the 2007 season, after being called back up.

However, off-the-field issues had already made the Mets decide that they’d be better off without him.  The Mets traded him that November to the Nationals for two players, Ryan Church and Brian Schneider, who are probably best described as role players.

In 2008, Milledge had what turned out to be his only MLB season as an every-day player, and at age 23 it was extremely promising, as Milledge batted .268 with a .731 OPS as the Nats center fielder.

The Nats and Milledge got off to a poor start in 2009, and at the time I thought the Nats gave up on Milledge way too quickly, first sending him down to the minors on April 13th, only seven games into the season, and then trading him on June 30th to the Pirates along with Joel Hanrahan for Sean Burnett and Nyjer Morgan.

At the time, I thought the deal made no sense for the Nats.  In hindsight, it seems pretty obvious that the Nats thought they had to rid themselves of some talent in order to improve team chemistry — trading for Njyer Morgan to improve team chemistry really says something about what the Nats must have thought about Milledge.

Milledge spent the next year and a half in Pittsburgh, and while he hit for average, he didn’t hit for power or draw any walks.  He also didn’t really have a major league centerfielder’s range.  Milledge became a free agent after the 2010 season when the Pirates elected not to tender him a contract rather than going to salary arbitration with him.

Milledge signed a minor league contract with the White Sox and made the club out of Spring Training, but was designated for assignment after appearing in only two games.  No one claimed Milledge on waivers, and he accepted an assignment to AAA, possibly because his contract had vested by making the team out of Spring Training.

Milledge elected to become a free agent after the 2011 season, and quickly signed a reported one-year $570,000 deal with the Yakult Swallows of Japan’s NPB with a team option for a second year.

Milledge’s first year in Japan was excellent.  He hit .300 with an .865 OPS in his age 27 season, and he looked like a guy would go on to be a huge star in Japan and finally live up to some of his potential.  The Swallows certainly thought so, exercising their 2013 option and immediately agreeing to extend the contract for the 2014 and 2015 seasons at a total price of $4.4 million for the three seasons.  The Swallows are one of NPB’s low-revenue teams, and they thought it was a good risk to lock Milledge into a multi-year, guaranteed deal while they could still afford him.

However, as in America, Milledge’s Japanese career quickly went down hill at an accelerating rate.  In 2013, he hit .251 with a .765 OPS and missed about 40 games to injury.  He then suffered a major shoulder injury that limited him to all of 19 games played in 2014.  In 2015, Milledge managed to play in 66 games, but most of them were in NPB’s minor league, and he hit very poorly.

While the Swallows have not officially cut ties with Milledge, it’s hard to imagine the team bringing him back after the way his contract has blown up in their face.

Milledge will be 31 next April, and there are at least 26 MLB teams where he hasn’t had the opportunity to wear out his welcome, so it’s still possible that he’ll find someone to give him a minor league deal.  There is also the Independent-A Atlantic League and its $3,000-a-month salaries where Milledge can try to work his way back to MLB.  At this point, however, it looks almost certain that Milledge’s once great potential will be almost entirely wasted.

By my calculations Milledge has made more than $9 million during his professional baseball career, so his time hasn’t been totally wasted.  However, what little I know about the man suggests he probably hasn’t invested his money wisely, and there may well be some very lean years between now and when he can start collecting his major league pension at age 45.

San Francisco Giants Extend Brandon Crawford for Six Years and $75 Million

November 18, 2015

The Giants signed SS Brandon Crawford to a six year extension for a total of $75M.  The contract buys out Crawford’s first four free agent seasons and provides him with a full no-trade for the life of the contract.

The deal strikes me as a major home town discount by a player who wants to stay in the Bay Area where he grew up with the organization that drafted him.  The contract is particularly a bargain for the Giants if Crawford’s power surge in 2015 wasn’t a one-year fluke season.  A no-trade clause has value and is part of the reason why Crawford’s deal isn’t bigger.  However, Crawford clearly would have made a lot more if he had become a free agent, at least so long as he didn’t have a major injury first.

Crawford’s contract is a good example of just how loyal some modern ballplayers can be.  If players are treated well by their organizations, the salaries in the game are now so high that players often take less money than they’d get as free agents in order to stay on a team where they are happy/comfortable.  Of course, after about the first $50 million, the security of a long-term guarantee is a lot more enticing than the risk of even a much bigger pay-out that one might never see due to injury.  Just ask Mike Trout.

I had a disagreement with an in-law, who’s a Cubs fan, some months back regarding whether it was appropriate for the Cubs to keep Kris Bryant in the minors just long enough to hold onto his contract rights for one more season, when he was obviously ready and deserving of starting the 2015 season in the majors.  He absolutely felt that the Cubs made the right move, particularly given the fact that Bryant is represented by Scott Boras, who isn’t known for giving teams a home-town discount.

I’m not so sure.  Boras is an attorney who at the end of the day will do what his client asks him to do.  Boras doesn’t give out many home-town discounts, because the players who retain his services are generally out to get the biggest contracts they can possibly get.

Anyway, I’m old school in the sense that I still agree with the philosophy that when a prospect is clearly ready to be promoted to the majors, he should get promoted to the majors so he can start his career and begin making some real money.  I will admit that this is less of an issue with a former bonus baby like Bryant.

I wonder though whether teams aren’t hurting themselves in the long run by taking the kind of action the Cubs took with Bryant.  Management didn’t even have the decency to be honest about the real reason why they didn’t promote him either last September or for opening day this year.  If I were Bryant and Boras, I sure wouldn’t forget how the Cubs treated him.

At this point in time, there’s no way of knowing what Bryant will do when he gets close to free agency.  If the Cubs win three world series in the next six seasons, as the Giants have done, Bryant may decide he wants to stay in Chicago badly enough to give the Cubs a discount.  However, if Bryant becomes a free agent at the first opportunity or ends up insisting on a $300M contract to remain a Cub, I sure won’t be surprised.

Free Agents the San Francisco Giants Might Pursue

November 13, 2015

Someone also recently asked me who I thought the San Francisco Giants might pursue from this year’s free agents.  The obviously most likely possibility is starting pitchers. predicted that the Giants will sign Jeff Samardzija and Mike Leake, each for five years and $80M.  Those predictions make a lot of sense to me.  The Giants have long been reported to be hopeful of re-signing Mike Leake, and Samardzija seems like an excellent candidate for the Giants to pursue.

I don’t see the Giants ponying up enough money to win the sweepstakes for either David Price or Zack Greinke, and it seems fairly obvious the Giants would be better served getting two capable starters for the price it would take to sign either Price or Greinke alone.

What with this being a very deep free agent class, there may be some relative bargains to be had.  Samardija in particular looks like a good bet, because he’s coming off a bad season in terms of his usual performance standards.

The only thing I don’t like about signing Samardzija is that he will cost the Giants the No. 19 pick in the 2016 Draft.  Most of the other starters available will also cost this draft pick, and the few who won’t can reasonably be expected to have their forthcoming free agent contracts reflect this extra value, which may well amount to as much as another $20M to $25M.

What the Giants typically do is identify the players they want to target and go after them hard as soon as the free agent season opens in order to get players signed before the market really explodes.  My guess is that Price and Greinke will get very large contracts indeed, and this will raise the prices for all the other free agent starters down the line, because while there is a deep starting pitcher pool this year, every team could use at least one more starter, and there are fewer proven free agent starters than there are MLB teams. links the Giants to just about every one of the free agent starters in its top 50 free agents list, so there are a lot of possibilities as to whom the Giants end up signing.  If they do spend big to sign two free agent starters, I doubt they’ll spend much anywhere else.

Assuming the Giants sign two free agent starters, and do not re-sign either Ryan Vogelsong or Tim Lincecum, the Giants will go into Spring Training with five starters, plus Matt Cain and Yusmeiro Petit, and the team’s closest starting pitcher prospect Clayton Blackburn starting the year back at AAA Sacramento.  That sounds pretty reasonable.

San Francisco Giants Prospects in the Arizona Fall League

November 13, 2015

Someone recently asked me to write something about what Giants prospects are doing in the Arizona Fall League this year.  Reason enough for a post.

I generally don’t pay a whole lot of attention to the AFL.  The main reason is that its schedule is so short (30-32 games), that it doesn’t leave me particularly confident about what it all means.  Plus, there is a mix of higher minors and lower minors players in the league, which again tends to suggest that the stats generated don’t necessarily mean a whole lot, at least for those participants with more high minors experience.

What the AFL has going for it is that it is limited to 6 to 8 players from each MLB organization, meaning that it tends to be elite prospects that get a chance to play there.  Thus, strong performance means something, even if not a whole lot (a strong season at the AA level means a great deal more in my opinion), and it gives promising youngsters a leg up on the next season compared to most minor leaguers, who spend the winter six months training on their own.

The Giants have seven prospects playing for the Scottsdale Scorpions this year.  With the AFL season about three-quarters of the way through, the most impressive by far is 2013 1st round pick Christian Arroyo.  In 16 games, Arroyo has hit .323 with an .891 OPS.  For a minor leaguer who has yet to play above the A+ level, this is a strong performance indeed.

By and large, the Giants have made good selections with their 1st round picks during the Sabean Era.  Arroyo seems to be another good one.  Injuries limited him to 90 games during the regular season at A+ San Jose, so the Giants obviously figured he could use the extra play the AFL affords.  The major knock on Arroyo going forward is that he doesn’t walk much, which may slow his development when he reaches the high minors next season.

Mac Williamson is actually having the strongest season of any Giants’ prospect in the AFL.  He’s currently hitting .375 with a .999 OPS in 15 games played.  However, Williamson is five years older than Arroyo, spent half of the last regular season at the AAA level and has already played in the major leagues.

Williamson is overqualified for the AFL in terms of experience, and one has to think the Giants sent him to the AFL mainly to make up for the almost full season he lost to injury in 2014.  My guess is that the Giants are trying to give Williamson every opportunity to have a strong start to the 2016 so they can decide if he’s a legitimate prospect going forward, or just another marginal major league of the kind that is a dime a dozen.

Austin Slater is the third position player the Giants sent to the AFL this year. A 2Bman and an 8th round pick out of Stanford in 2014, Slater has hit well, at least in terms of batting average, in his two regular seasons of professional baseball.  He doesn’t have much power or walk much, but the Giants apparently want to give him a chance to prove he’s a legitimate prospect.  In 14 AFL games he’s slashing .255/.344/.333.  No power, but at least he’s getting on base a little.

None of the Giants’ four pitching prospects in the AFL this year impresses me as much as Arroyo.  Dan Slania has probably been the most impressive, in terms of looking like a guy who is ready to advance through the Giants’ system.  He has a 2.70 ERA in seven relief appearances (10 IP).  He has 12 Ks and only two walks allowed.  Slania turns 24 next May and will presumably start that 2016 at AA Richmond.

Ray Black, who will be 26 next June, continues to show major league stuff without major league command.  He has an ERA of 1.29 in the AFL based on a pitching line of 7 IP, three hits and six walks and 12 Ks.  I presume he will also start the 2016 season at AA Richmond.  It’s anyone’s guess if he’ll ever develop the command necessary to become a major league pitcher.

Adelberto Mejia has a 4.09 ERA after five starts with a pitching line of 22 IP, 18 hits and 13 walks allowed and 18 Ks.  His command throughout his minor league career has been better than what he’s shown in the AFL, and he’ll be only 23 next year, so he’s still definitely a prospect.

Last and probably least, the Giants gave 27 year old lefty Phil McCormick an AFL opportunity, apparently because he’s pitched pretty well throughout his minor league career and appears to be an extreme groundball pitcher.  After seven appearances, he has a 5.14 ERA because he’s allowed ten hits and four walks in only 7 IP.

Bargain Basement Watch: Jhoulys Chacin

November 7, 2015

Jhoulys Chacin is now a free agent after the Arizona Diamondbacks designated him for assignment because he was projected to make $1.8M as an arbitration eligible player.  Penny wise and pound foolish.

In this age of outrageous salaries, it’s hard to understand why the D’backs wouldn’t think Chacin is a good risk at $1.8M.  Chacin will be 28 next year, and he had three outstanding years as a starter for the Rockies in 2010, 2011 and 2013.

Denver is an extremely difficult place to pitch, and not surprisingly Chacin had poor seasons in 2012 and 2014.  This past season, he pitched extremely well at AAA Reno, a very difficult place to pitch, and then pitched well in five late season appearances (four of them starts) in Phoenix, another tough place to pitch.

Chacin has an MLB career home ERA of 4.15 and a career road ERA of 3.26.  How many MLB starters with more than 600 career innings pitched have career road ERAs that low and make less than $2M per year?  I’d be surprised if there was anyone else, at least among those not currently rehabilitating after Tommy John surgery.

You never know with these things.  The Diamondbacks might announce tomorrow that they have re-signed Chacin for $1M to $1.5M, after giving him a good scare by designating him.  However, one would think that if a small market team playing in a pitcher’s park (Oakland and Tampa Bay jump right out at me) isn’t calling Chacin’s agent every 10 or 15 minutes until they reach him, something is very, very wrong.

In fact, I’d love to see the Giants jump on Chacin, even though they are likely to go after much bigger free agent fish.  Chacin looks like a guy who would be perfectly suited to blossom in a home park that favors RHPs and with a plus defense behind him.

Qualifying Offers

November 7, 2015

A record 20 free agents received the $15.8M qualifying offer this year.  Here is the list.

No qualifying offer recipient has yet to accept the QO.  Will this year be the first in which a free agent accepts?

Past history suggests not.  Brett Anderson, Colby Rasmus and Ian Kennedy strike me as the best bets to accept the QO, because all will still be relatively young a year from now, have the most to gain by big seasons in 2016 and have a reasonable possibility that they will have better seasons next year than they did in 2015, or in Anderson’s case prove he can stay healthy two years in a row.

QO recipients have consistently rejected the QO in favor of the very high probability that they will get a bigger guarantee by testing the market, even if it means in many cases they make less per season.  This makes a lot of sense, since every player knows he can get hurt at any time.  It’s hard to walk away from even an extra $5M or $10M, when the player knows it’s reasonably possible he could have a major injury in the next season.

Someone recently wrote that it’s about time for a QO recipient to bet on himself by accepting the QO, having a good season and then going on the market the next year.

Since Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales got burned by not accepting the QO two years ago, every free agent has received a bigger guarantee by refusing the QO.  That could well change this off-season, simply by virtue of the fact that this year’s class is more than 50% greater than any previous QO class.  Also, with all the prime free agents in this year’s class who are going to get big deals, the bottom tier of the QO recipients may find it difficult to find teams willing to give them the contracts they are hoping for.

San Francisco Giants Decline Nori Aoki’s 2016 Option

November 6, 2015

In a move I don’t agree with, the Giants have elected not to exercise Nori Aoki‘s $5.5 million 2016 option, instead electing to pay him a $700,000 buy-out.  Fangraphs values Aoki’s 2015 performance at $11.7M and says he has never been worth less than $11.1M in any of his four MLB seasons.  You may not agree with Fangraphs’ valuations, but they do base them on rational formulas, and it’s hard to imagine that Aoki is not worth half the Fangraphs’ valuations, which is what $5.5M roughly represents.

The Giants also elected not to exercise Marlon Byrd’s $8M option, but this makes a lot more sense to me for a number of reasons.  Byrd is 4.5 years older than Aoki, and Byrd is a lot less likely to command $8M on the open market than Aoki is to command $5.5M.

Of course, the Giants may be willing to bring either of them back if they can be signed for less than their option amounts, less their buy-outs.  In Byrd’s case, that is a certainty.  In Aoki’s, I’m not so sure.  The Giants are clearly hoping that Aoki’s age, lack of power, and small stature will keep his free agent value down.  In my mind, Aoki at $5M for one season would be an attractive option for teams like the Oakland A’s or the Tampa Rays.

The Giants are reportedly trying to clear salary space to make a run at one of the top free agent pitchers on the market this off-season.  While the Giants could certainly use another top starter, what with the flame-outs of everyone but Madison Bumgarner, you always have to pay way over value for a top free agent, while Aoki’s one-year option is almost certainly a bargain.

I recently read that the Giants might be interested in Zack Greinke.  I could see Greinke wanting to pitch in San Francisco if the Giants can beat the Dodgers’ offer.  Boy, is that going to take a lot of money.

What the Giants are clearly relying on is that there will be other bargain-rate 4th outfielder options out there, even if they don’t re-sign Aoki.  For example, Jonny Gomes had his $3M option declined by the Royals today and could possibly be signed for $1M-$2M, given his age and unimpressive overall offensive performance the last two seasons.  The Giants are always looking for right-handed hitting power bats off the bench, and Gomes is a local boy.