Archive for November 2016

What Do Foreign Players in South Korea’s KBO Make?

November 24, 2016

Here’s an article from South Korean media source Joonjang which lists the five biggest one-year salaries foreign players have earned in South Korea’s KBO.  While there is always some controversy regarding what KBO teams are actually paying their “mercenaries,” i.e., foreign stars, Joonjang’s numbers look accurate based on what I’ve heard reported before.

Esmil Rodgers reportedly received the largest one-year deal at $1.9 million last year.  However, his team, the Hanwha Eagles cut him half way through the 2016 after injuries limited him to a 4.30 ERA in six starts, meaning most likely that Rodgers received no more than half of the $1.9 million.

Foreign players are reportedly limited to one-year deals in the KBO, which makes them a relative bargain compared to KBO domestic free agents, the best of whom are now receiving deals of about $8 million over four years.  However, it was widely reported that Eric Thames signed a two-year deal for $3 million total before the 2015 season.  Given the season he had in 2015 when he was KBO’s best hitter, the fact that he only made $1.5 million in 2016, and didn’t jump to Japan’s NPB or back to MLB for more money tends to confirm that he did indeed have a two-year deal with the NC Dinos.

Hector Noesi and Dustin Nippert, who were two of the KBO’s three best starters in 2016, are expected to make $2 million each in 2017.  Nippert in particular deserves the raise.  He was the KBO’s MVP in 2016, led the Doosan Bears to their second consecutive Korean Series victory, and he’s now put in six full KBO seasons, a tremendously long time for a foreigner in a culture and league that highly value long years of service.

Add to these facts that the Doosan Bears are probably the KBO’s wealthiest team, and you would think that they’d have no problem giving Nippert a record-setting deal.  You would then be guessing wrong.  Doosan Bears’ officials have been carping and back-biting Nippert in the South Korean media over his agent’s salary demands, which is more than a little unfair given the loyalty and performance Nippert has shown the team over the last six years.

It would be a shame if Nippert’s relationship with the Bears went south due to the team’s stinginess and lack of class.  However, in the KBO, unlike in NPB, the teams own their foreign players’ rights for nine seasons, which does not allow Nippert to seek a deal with another KBO team.

Nippert could jump to the NPB, but going into his age 36 season, he’s old to be making the jump to a better league.  Also, Nippert married a South Korean woman in 2015 after divorcing his first wife several years ago, and he has publicly stated that he wants to end his professional baseball career with the Doosan Bears.

Mid-November Musings

November 19, 2016

With the World Series long over, but with the off-season signing period not yet hot and heavy, there hasn’t been much I’ve really felt like writing about.  I’ve reached a point in my blogging career where I feel like it’s only worth my writing about something if I have something truly meaningful to say that isn’t being contemporaneously beaten to death by all the hundreds or thousands of other baseball blogs out there.

As such, I write about a lot of obscure topics precisely because you’re not going to find dozens of other sites providing similar infotainment.  It also frees me to write about darker corners of the baseball world that I find interesting, but not a lot of other people care much about.

For example, I am endlessly fascinated about the American players who play in Asian leagues.  Every off-season I follow who the new crop of players moving their careers there and wondering about how Asian teams identify these prospects.  Do Asian teams regularly contact specific players (or their agents) whom Asian teams have identified based on their own research, or do the players and their agents contact Asian teams advising of their interest in playing abroad.  Is it some combination of the two?  Do Asian teams contact the MLB players’ association and MLB organizations at the start of every off-season to get the players informed about the possibilities of playing in Asia?

My guess is that a lot of the border-line MLB players who are most likely to succeed in Japan’s NPB or South Korea’s KBO simply have no interest in playing in Asia unless they get an offer they can’t refuse.  The dream of major league success dies hard for a lot of these guys.  It must, or otherwise the caliber of American players going to Japan or South Korea would be higher than it actually is, since NPB and the KBO certainly pay better than a year mostly spent at AAA.  Also, it’s a big adjustment to live and work in a foreign culture, which is exacerbated if the player has a family in the U.S.  Do you bring the wife and kids to Japan or South Korea once the school year is over, or do you live apart for six months?

The players who make the leap usually have to reach a point where they are convinced that they aren’t going to get even a fair shot at becoming major league players, usually because they’ve aged out, but sometimes because they are guys who were low draft picks who have outperformed expectations but still haven’t necessarily been shown a whole lot of respect or as many opportunities as their on-field performance alone might merit.

Something that got me thinking about this today was the KC Royals’ decision to sign catcher Drew Butera to a two-year $3.8 million contract.  Butera strikes me as a guy more lucky than good, a player who got a major league opportunity when a team (the Twins) was desperate for a catcher who could at least field the position and who then stuck around long enough that other teams began thinking of him as a major league player, even though his performances were generally poor.

Butera, at age 32 in 2016, had the first season of his major league career in which his offensive performance was not dreadful, and he was able to parlay it into a two-year deal, that, while modest by current MLB standards, is still not chump change.  It is worth noting that while fangraphs rated the value of Butera’s 2016 performance at $5.3 million, the site still gives him a negative value for his major league career.

Butera is a good defensive catcher, but not nearly good enough to make up for his typically dreadful hitting.  I strongly suspect his batting will regress toward his mean in 2017.

Anyway, the existence of long-term major leaguers like Butera who aren’t as good as a replacement level player, means that there are guys stuck in the minors who aren’t getting all the opportunities they deserve.  I’m a little surprised that even more of these guys aren’t fighting among themselves to play for major league money in Asia, in large part because the idea of getting paid big money to play baseball and experience a foreign culture for six months sounds so appealing to me.  Also, being in my late forties, it’s a lot easier for me to see the long view of a player’s professional career.

World Series Notes

November 3, 2016

What a great game!  In theory, I was routing for the Cubs, but without a dog in the fight I reverted to my usual no-dog-in-the-fight mindset: I found myself rooting for individual players in individual situations based on my own personal prejudices.  In other words, I was rooting for the guys I like against the guys I don’t like, or at least like less, and I was rooting for my own hunches to be proven true.

For example, I’m a fan of Rajai Davis based on personal history, so I was thrilled about his big home run.  A former 38th round draft pick, the SF Giants acquired Davis for what was basically a pure salary dump of Matt Morris‘ contract back in 1997.  I expected little from Davis and was very pleasantly surprised when he turned out to be a useful piece in what was otherwise a dreary season.

Through his own hard work, Rajai turned himself into a legitimate major league regular, and I couldn’t be happier for him.  It’s easy to root for guys who no one ever expected anything from but who turn out to be something.

For all the talk about what great managers Terry Francona and Joe Madden are, their performance in the World Series didn’t impress me and was arguably cowardly, or at least overly safe.  There is obviously a lot more to managing than in-game decision-making and roster management, but Game 7 was pretty much a testament to which manager had overworked his best pitchers too much.  25 players get you to the post-season, and you get to pick your 25 for each post-season series, so there is pretty much no excuse for not using every player on that 25 roster to your advantage.

I also didn’t like Francona’s decision to pitch around Anthony Rizzo to face Ben Zobrist in the top of the 10th inning.  No matter what the past history of the individual match-ups suggested (and they had to be very small data sets given the players involved), Zobrist struck me as the player on the Cubs’ line-up with the single best likelihood of a productive at-bat in that scenario.  I also thought that putting Rizzo on base could mean a critical second run, and this time I turned out to be entirely right.

Managers have the least secure jobs in major league baseball, and it puts a lot of pressure on managers, even the best ones, to make safe decisions that won’t be second-guessed to the nth degree if they don’t go as hoped.  Of course, precisely because managers’ continuing tenure is based solely on results is the very reason why this strategy/tendency is so self-defeating.  If you are judged solely on results, you have to make the decision that is most likely to get the win, no matter how much it goes against conventional wisdom or what the sportswriters think is inside baseball.

I will admit that my own opinion that Francona in particular, but also Madden with Aroldis Chapman, overworking their best pitchers would likely blow up in their faces was based on my own subjective observations.  I remember all too well how Dusty Baker rode his excellent bullpen horses as hard as he possibly could and how they just didn’t quite get him to the finish line in the 2002 World Series.

Even assuming that you go into the World Series with fewer pitchers on the 25-man roster than you carry during the regular season, you have to find a way to steal outs here and there with the bottom of your World Series bullpen so your race horses don’t run out of gas.  Madden “stole” two crucial bottom of the tenth outs with Carl Edwards, Jr. (I hope that Senior is still around and proud of his son tonight), which was a gutsy and ultimately successful move.

I also have to say that the Giants’ World Series victories in 2010, 2012 and 2014, after 32 long years of personal disappointment and suffering (I became a die-hard fan in 1978), have given me a certain equanimity that I wouldn’t possess otherwise.  I enjoyed the shots of Cubs and Indians fans looking miserable each time the game turned against their squad.  I’ve been there, brothers and sisters, but now that the Giants have won a few, I will likely never experience that level of misery ever again.

In fact, if the Giants never win another World Series again in my life time, I will still have 2010, 2012 and 2014.  It will be so much easier to see the glass as half full going forward.