Archive for March 2016

Glad to See Cory Gearrin Make SF Giants out of Spring Training

March 30, 2016

I’m glad to see that Cory Gearrin made the Giants out of Spring Training.  I always like to see at least one veteran scrub have a strong spring and get rewarded for it.  I also think it sends the right message throughout the organization that strong performance will be rewarded.

Gearrin won’t be given a whole lot of leash, but at least he’s on a club that should play to his strengths.  He is a ground ball pitcher, and he has good infield defense behind him.  Now it’s up to him to establish himself as a major league pitcher at age 30.

I’m not thrilled about the Giants starting the season with 13 pitchers and only four subs at the positions.  This has more or less been forced on the team by the schedule makers, who didn’t give the Giants many off-days in April.

In any event, the Gints sure aren’t going to have many late inning pinch hitting options with this line-up.  In fact, expect Madison Bumgarner to get some pinch-hitting opportunities against lefties, particularly if what the Giants need is someone to drive in runs, rather than get on base.  He’s certainly got more power than any of the four bench players who have apparently made the team.

There’s been some silly talk about Madison Bumgarner batting 8th in the games he starts, and I hope it is just that.  However, MadBum could bat 8th if Kelby Tomlinson gets the start at 2B, since I’m not yet convinced that Tomlinson is really a major league hitter.  That same can, of course, be said about Ehire Adrianza, who is the same age as Tomlinson and was almost exactly the same kind of hitter in the minors.

I suspect that I am not the only Giants fan left a little anxious about how badly the starters pitched down in Arizona.  I hope it has something to do with the park they were playing in down there and the fact that the veterans were all working on stuff rather than just trying to get Spring Training hitters out.  The poor pitching from the starters probably also has a lot to do with why the team decided to start the season with eight arms in the bullpen.

A Thought on Posting Fees for Asian Players

March 23, 2016

A few days ago I wrote a post commenting on the fact that MLB is trying to force South Korea’s KBO to accept an $8 million cap on posted KBO players.  Today I read at the end of an mlbtraderumors.com article on the top prospective free agents for next off-season a statement to the effect that Shohei Otani won’t be posted next off-season, but if he were, he would totally blow up mlbtraderumors’ list.

I think the odds of Otani being posted by his current team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, next off-season and pitching in MLB in 2017 are roughly the same as the odds of my pitching in MLB in 2017.  With the $20 million cap now in place on posting fees, I just don’t see why an NPB team wouldn’t hold onto a top player for the full eight seasons, unless (1) the team is one of NPB’s four or five bottom-feeders and really needs the $20 million now, or (2) the player performs so well in NPB, like Masahiro Tanaka did in 2013, when he went 24-0 and helped his team, the less well-to-do and usually out of contention Rakuten Golden Eagles, win the Japan Series, that the team looks bad to the Japanese baseball public by standing in the way of the player moving up to MLB’s much greater riches and fame.

Here’s a proposal that would make it more likely that the top NPB players would come to MLB sooner:  raise the posting cap by $5 million for each season before the end of year 8 that an NPB team is willing to post their superstar.  In other words, if a team is willing to post its best player after seven NPB seasons, the team would get a maximum posting fee of $25 million, and if after six seasons, the team would get a max posting fee of $30 million, etc.  All but the three truly wealthy NPB teams would certainly find this a strong incentive to post their superstars sooner than they otherwise would.

One reason for the current cap is that MLB feels that it allows more MLB teams to compete for the best NPB players.  I doubt that is true, since at the end of the day, the richest MLB teams are still going to make the biggest contract offers, and the posting fee plus contract amounts are going to bigger than under the old system, since there will be more MLB teams competing to sign the player, instead of just the team that made the highest posting fee bid.

The real reason for the current cap probably has more to do with the fact that the MLBPA hated the old system since almost half of the player’s value went to the NPB team, rather than the player.  Under the new system, the most elite NPB players get the lion’s share of the value for their future services, in Tanaka’s case almost 90%.

My proposal addresses this concern, however.  Every year sooner that a Shohei Otani or Shintaro Fujinami gets to sell his services to MLB is going to be worth a lot more to the player than the $5 million he loses to his old team as a higher posting fee.  Nippon Ham posted Yu Darvish much sooner than they had to because they got a $51.7 million posting fee for his services, which was realistically as high as it was going to get, given the time value of money and the fact that Darvish was only going to get older and put more mileage on his arm before earning an MLB salary.

Higher posting fees would certainly incentivize NPB teams for posting their superstars sooner than they otherwise have to to avoid losing them to true NPB free agency.

Does Trevor Brown Get the San Francisco Giants’ Back-Up Catcher Spot?

March 22, 2016

I saw this article on the San Francisco Giants website today, suggesting that Trevor Brown has a real shot at beating Andrew Susac out for the Giants’ back-up catcher spot behind Buster Posey.  Brown has hit better this spring, and he can potentially play 2B also, because he played there some in the minors.

I don’t really see it.  While Brown has hit better this spring that Susac, he hasn’t hit that much better, and certainly not enough to make me lose sight of the fact that Susac has a career minor league OPS of .792, compared to Brown’s career minor league OPS of .616.  Also, Susac threw out 35% of  attempted base-stealers in the minors, compared to Brown’s 30%.

Brown did play well enough in just under 100 minor league games at 2B to make his versatility interesting, especially with Kelby Tomlinson hitting very poorly this spring, but I would hate to see the Giants give up on Susac, who I think still has a lot of upside, for a guy who strikes me as kind of flavor of the month.

It just makes a lot more sense to me, and I suspect it will to the Giants also, to return Susac to the major leagues, and send Brown to AAA Sacramento to find out if his better hitting starting with his call-up last September is the real thing or just a statistical fluke based on limited playing time.  If Brown performs well at AAA, he can always be promoted later, since he’s only 24 this year.

If Brown can’t be denied come the trade deadline, Susac could give the Giants a potentially valuable trade chip, assuming that the Giants are buyers come the end of July.

Peskiness and Posting Fees

March 19, 2016

Japanese infielder Takuya Nakashima drew an 18 pitch walk to lead off a Spring Training game recently.  He fouled off 13 pitches in the at-bat.

Nakashima led the NPB in pitches per plate appearance last year.  He must be both exceptionally good at fouling off pitches and have an exceptionally sharp eye, because he’s a career .249 hitter with a career .275 slugging percentage.  In other words, he has absolutely no power, so there is little reason for pitchers not to just throw him one strike after another, since the best he’s likely to do with any pitch is hit a single.

Nevertheless Nakashima managed to draw 66 walks last year in fewer than 600 plate appearances, excluding the 34 times he intentionally sacrificed, something that is a much bigger part of the Japanese game, especially among light hitting middle infielders, than it is here.  Nakashima is only 25 this year, and his bat control and plate discipline are such that I expect he’ll one day be at least a .290 hittter, if not a .300 hitter.

Meanwhile, MLB is trying to force South Korea’s KBO to accept an $8 million cap on posting fees for KBO players wanting to join MLB.  The two league organizations are currently in negotiations.

MLB teams paid posting fees of $25 million-plus for Hyun-Jin Ryu and $12 million-plus for Byung-ho Park.  MLB forced  NPB to accept a $20 million posting fee cap for Japanese players after the 2013 season.  A $10 million posting fee cap for KBO players makes more sense to me, if only because it’s a nice round number.

(Do) Some Players Have Unreasonable Expectations (?)

March 19, 2016

Marlon Byrd just signed a minor league contract with the Cleveland Native Americans, and I can’t quite understand how this right-handed power bat didn’t sign for a major league contract.  I also have to wonder whether the reason for it wasn’t unreasonable expectations about what he was worth after the Giants turned down his $8 million option.

Byrd is now 38 and doesn’t have a tremendous career platoon differential.  Even so, he has hit 24, 25 and 23 home runs the last three seasons, has a a career .802 career OPS against lefties, and had an .820 OPS against lefties in 2015.  That’s a major league player, and a major league contract, no matter how old Byrd is.

Last year, the Giants were, as far as I can tell, very fair to Byrd.  After they acquired him around the trade deadline, their position was, as long as we are in the hunt, Byrd will play, because we think he gives us our best chance to win.  But, if we are mathematically eliminated, Byrd is riding the pine, and we going to look at our young guys, who might help us for a lot less money in the future.  The Gints were eliminated, and Byrd road the pine so that his $8 million option would not vest.  That is the way it should be in this, our capitalist society.

Did Byrd and his agent(s) think that because he had an $8 million option that he was still worth $8M, or $6M or even $4M in 2016?  At any rate, I don’t understand how a proven right-handed power bat, even as a strictly platoon/bench player, particularly to an AL team, isn’t worth $2M or $3M in today’s game.

This wasn’t a good year for free agent outfielders.  This off-season, teams wanted (at least based on the contract amounts and when the contracts were signed) pitching, pitching and more pitching.  Given that pitching is only about 37.5% (fangraphs.com can probably give you the exact percentage, if you know where to look on their website) of the game, this seems like a typical MLB over-reaction to the last season (0r couple of seasons) that was.

MLB teams, like American businesses in general, are not particularly good at looking more than about three years into the future.  If teams, like the recent Giants, win with a lot of pitching, then everyone over-values pitching, until teams with great position players win.  But, of course, teams with great position players on both sides of the ball tend to make their pitching look better than it really is, so pitching remains relatively over-valued.

At any rate, I don’t understand why somebody didn’t give Marlon Byrd a major league contract, and I suspect that Byrd’s negotiating position had something to do with it.

Adam LaRoche’s Sudden Retirement

March 17, 2016

I read an article this morning by Doug Padilla of espn.com  about Adam LaRoche‘s sudden decision to retire which I found off-putting.

While I agree with Padilla’s general premise that the White Sox request that Laroche’s 14-year-old son spend less time in the locker room was not unreasonable in light of the fact that allowing LaRoche’s son Drake unlimited access opens the door to all the players having relatives in the locker room whenever they want, I strongly disagree with Padilla’s suggestion that LaRoche, by deciding to retire, is “taking his ball and going home” (i.e., being immature) and not “honoring his contractual commitment” to the team.  In light of the actual circumstances, these intimations are just full, sucking-up-to-management BS.

LaRoche is 36 years old, is coming off a poor season in 2015, and his back is bothering him this spring, limiting him to only two Spring Training games played so far.  LaRoche can smell the end of his career, he has probably earned enough money in baseball that he doesn’t really need the extra $13M, and he obviously wants to spend more time with his family.  What is wrong with that?

Padilla’s article also repeatedly states what a great kid Drake LaRoche is.  Kids who get plenty of love and attention from their parents, and the setting of appropriate boundaries that typically come with plenty of attention, by and large tend to be great kids.  Also, as Padilla’s article notes, when Adam joined the team last year, he asked if Drake could spend time in the locker room, and manager Robin Ventura gave his permission.  No wonder Adam feels like the team is going back on the prior understanding!

Finally, what I find so off-putting about Padilla’s intimations is that LaRoche’s retirement is actually a great benefit to the team.  If teams had their way, they would never sign a player like LaRoche, or just about any player for that matter, for more than one year at a time.  The only reason teams give out multi-year deals is because with the free agency and arbitration rules, they have to.

That’s the only reason why the Sox gave LaRoche a two-year $26 million deal going in to his age 35 season in the first place.  The team was hoping for a much stronger 2015 season from LaRoche than they actually got.

Even assuming that LaRoche’s agent negotiates a small buy-out of the last year of LaRoche’s contract, the Pale Hose are going to save at least $10 million they would otherwise have to pay to a most likely over-the-hill 36 year old DH/1B with back problems, who, as Padilla notes, was going to be fighting for plate appearances on this team anyway.  That’s at least $10 million the Sox can either add to the bottom line, or, if they are in contention late July, they can use to take on salary to acquire players from losing teams looking to dump salary, instead of having to give up top flight prospects.

In other words, there is just no way that LaRoche’s retirement well before the regular season has even started, is anything other than benefit to the team.  If LaRoche feels he’s accomplished enough in the game, and he’d rather spend his time trying to develop his son into the third generation of professional ballplayers in the family, rather than raking in another $13M while spending most of his time sitting on the bench or being worked on in the trainer’s room, why take little digs at him for deciding to do what is probably in everyone’s best interests?

Fighting Hard for That Last Outfield Roster Spot

March 15, 2016

The competition is fast and furious for the San Francisco Giants’ 5th outfield roster spot.  Assuming that all of Hunter Pence, Denard Span, Angel Pagan and Gregor Blanco are healthy enough to go on opening day, that realistically leaves only one more spot for what has proven to be four very real contenders.

Right now Mac Williamson, who will be 25 in 2016, is the top performer of the four guys who have a reasonable shot at that last roster spot.  He’s currently hitting .344 with a 1.195 OPS in 12 games.  He’s hit four home runs already this spring.

Jarret Parker, who hit so well in his September call-up last year, is hitting .267 with a .833 OPS and two homers in 10 games.  Parker will be 27 in 2016, and his skill set is extremely similar to Williamson’s, except that Parker bats left-handed, so if Parker and Williamson end up with roughly the same spring numbers, I would expect Williamson to get the call since he’s18 months younger and thus has more potential upside.

CF Gorkis Hernandez (age 28) is also playing extremely well, batting .346 with an .875 OPS after 11 Spring Training games.  With Pagan and Blanco almost certain to make the roster, I would think the Giants would want more power out of the 5th outfielder spot than Hernandez can provide.  Thus, I expect him to start the regular season at AAA unless someone is hurt, or Williamson and Parker both really cool off.

Kyle Blanks (29), whom the Giants signed to a minor league deal specifically for his right-handed power, is batting .400 with a 1.500 OPS, but has played in only four Spring Training games, suggesting that he’s probably dealing with an injury.  If so, his chances of making the team out of Spring Training are slim, and he’ll have to get healthy and perform at AAA to get called up later in the season.

Blanks looks like a guy whose reputation as a major league hitter has suffered playing most of his home games in San Diego.  However, his career home OPS (.770) and road OPS (.707) don’t tell that story.  However, with 33 home runs and 77 extra base hits in 933 career MLB plate appearances, I can state with greater confidence that he’s definitely got major league power.

Even if three of the four relative youngsters start the season at AAA, all are reasonably likely to play in the Show later this year if they perform at Sacramento.  With all of Pence, Span, Pagan and Blanco at least 32 this year, it defies expectations that the Giants won’t need help to deal with injuries before the season is over.