Archive for July 2017

Waiting for Draft Day 2018

July 31, 2017

The 2017 trade deadline has come and gone with the San Francisco Giants apparently making no more trades after sending away Eduardo Nunez five days ago. Sigh.

Grant Bisbee at the McCovey Chronicles points out that the Giants still have 31 days to make waiver deals, which should be easy for any Giants starter the team wishes to move, since their contracts essentially bar waiver claims.  Even so, I don’t see the Giants getting a big return on anyone the team might trade going forward.

The Giants are almost certainly a lock on top five draft picks in next year’s domestic and international amateur drafts.  The last time the Giants had a top five draft pick in the draft, they selected Buster Posey.  Their three other top five draft picks in the Draft era were Jason Grilli, Matt Williams and Will Clark.

The odds are good indeed that the Giants will get at least one player who will really help them next June.  Perhaps they’ll also be able to use their high draft slot to get some real talent in the later rounds too.

If the Giants don’t play much better in the first half of 2018, next July will be the time of the big fire sale.  Posey and Brandon Crawford will be 31 next season, and Brandon Belt will be 30.  The window built around this core will be closing rapidly, as will these players’ trade values.

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Los Angeles Dodgers Trade for Yu Darvish

July 31, 2017

The Dodgers pulled the trigger on the trade deadline’s biggest deal by acquiring Yu Darvish for three prospects right at the deadline.  The price was indeed heavy for a two-month rental, but this deal is obviously more about the Dodgers going deep into the post-season than about helping the Dodgers win their division outright.

Moving from the American League’s best hitters’ park to one of the National League’s best pitchers’ parks should help Darvish step right into the shoes of injured ace Clayton Kershaw.  I would have to think that Darvish will enjoy playing in L.A., a city with a much larger Asian presence than Dallas/Ft. Worth, not to mention the fact that he’ll get a shot a winning a World Series ring.  Also, if things go as planned for Darvish and the Dodgers, the odds are good the team will give Darvish an enormous long-term contract this off-season, unless, of course, the Yankees or the Rangers offer even more.

If Kershaw is healthy again by late September, the Dodgers will be the obvious and overwhelming favorites to go all the way.  Certainly, no one will be able to match their pitching.

The main piece in the deal for the Rangers is 22 year old 2B/LF Willie Calhoun.  Calhoun’s minor league numbers don’t suggest he’s got enough range at 2B to stick there, and the odds are effectively nil that he will displace Rougned Odor unless Odor gets hurt. However, Calhoun has enough power that he won’t be a liability as a corner outfielder, once he learns to play there.  Calhoun needs more time to learn to play positions other than second, so I don’t expect he’ll be promoted to the majors before September, although his bat is very, very close to being ready now.

The other two players the Rangers received, RHP A.J. Alexy and infielder Brendon Davis, are both in their age-19 seasons.  They have talent, but they are a long way from the majors.

It isn’t often that a team gets three prospects of this caliber for 2+ months of veteran performance, but it also isn’t often that a team as good as the 2017 Dodgers can add a pitcher of Yu’s caliber.  The Dodgers want their first World Series title since 1988 bad, and now they can absolutely taste it.

What Do Players in the Mexican League Make?

July 30, 2017

I’ve been trying to figure out exactly what the respective salary scales are throughout the world’s professional baseball leagues.  The Mexican (summer) League numbers were hard to find on line in English.  Thanks to Google Translate, I think I’ve been able to figure out what the current salary caps in this league now are.

The best information I’ve been able to find is that domestic veteran players (Mexican Nationals) max out at 150,000 pesos per month, or $8,450 per month at current exchange rates.  Foreign players cannot be paid more than either $6,000 or $6,500 per month for their first season of Mexican League baseball, but can eventually earn as much as $8,000 per month.  However, some of the Spanish language posts I read in translation asserted a belief that the best foreign players on the wealthiest Mexican League teams may be making more through rule-breaking, performance bonuses, free housing and other stipends.  Also, there are reportedly no state or federal taxes on salaries in Mexico.

The fact that Mexican League salaries are approximately 50% higher than I had previously thought they were explains a few things I had been wondering about.  Many foreign players, particularly Latin American players, play in the Mexican League for years after their careers in the MLB system end, something you don’t typically see in the Independent-A Atlantic League where salaries cap at $3,000 per month.  The talent flow is almost exclusively from the Atlantic League to the Mexican League, which makes sense if the salaries are significantly higher.

It also explains something that I had noticed this year.  Taiwanese CPBL teams seem to have a strong preference for signing Atlantic League players over Mexican League players, even though the best foreign pitchers in the latter league are succeeding against a higher level of competition.  This is particularly the case once the CPBL season has started.

Atlantic League players can presumably be signed for much lower initial contracts than better paid Mexican League foreign stars, particularly in light of the fact that success in the CPBL would eventually lead to annual or monthly contracts considerably larger than either the Atlantic League or the Mexican League, plus a chance to move up to even bigger salaries in South Korea’s KBO or Japan’s NPB.

Also, Mexican League teams typically charge much larger transfer fees for their players’ rights than do Atlantic League teams.  Part of the reason Atlantic League and other Independent-A teams are able to pay such modest salaries is that they allow their successful players to move up to better baseball pay-days for only nominal transfer fees the moment a better opportunity comes along.

I would guestimate that the current transfer fee for an Atlantic League player is around $5,000, and a small percentage of that (20-25%) may go the player.  Mexican League teams are far more reluctant to sell their players in season if they believe those players will help them make the post-season.

What’s Wrong with Tetsuto Yamada?

July 30, 2017

As of last off-season, Tetsuto Yamada was the best Japanese position player prospect for MLB purposes since Hideki “Godzilla” Matsui.  In his age 22 and 23 seasons, he hit .329 and .304 with on-base percentages of .416 and .425, blasted 38 home runs both seasons and stole a total of 64 bases in 70 attempts.   His age 21 season was almost as good, and he’s a middle infielder to boot!

In fact, Yamada was on pace to have an even better season in 2017, but nagging minor injuries slowed him down late in the season.

This year, however, Yamada has had something of a lost season.  He’s currently batting only .225, dead last among the 30 qualifiers in NPB’s Central League.  He’s still hitting for power and drawing walks, so his .759 OPS is not atrocious.  Still, it represents a tremendous drop from his output the three previous seasons.

I’ve waited all year long for Yamada to get hot, but it hasn’t happened.  He’s played in all 93 of his team’s (the Yakult Swallows) games, so if he’s still hurt, it has to be the type of lingering minor injury that hasn’t effected his ability to play every single game.

If NPB pitchers have found a hole in his swing, it was a long time coming — one has to think that they would have found it sooner, since he’s now in his fifth season as a starting player.  My go-to site for NPB baseball news in English, Yakyu DB, has been engaged in something of a conspiracy of silence about Yamada’s 2017 season, since I haven’t even been able to find even one mention of Yamada this season.

I tend to think that opposing teams have been steadfastly pitching around him, and he’s had a hard time adjusting to it.  Even hitting dead last, he was leading his league in walks until very recently when he was passed by Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, another top Japanese MLB prospect who is not playing as well as did in 2015 or 2016 but who has gotten hot recently.

The Swallows have been awful this year, holding the Central League’s worst record only two years after finishing with the league’s best record.  The Swallows’ hitting is poor, and the only other truly dangerous hitter on the team, Wladimir Balentien wasn’t hitting with his usual power until about two weeks ago.  As of today’s game, Balentien has hit home runs in five consecutive games and now has 20 HRs on the season after having only 10 or 11 fifteen days ago.

The upshot is that Yamada has probably been feeling a tremendous amount of pressure, as the team’s brightest star, to help his team win.  The fact that he’s played every single one of his team’s games in spite of his struggles suggests his team believes they can’t give him even one game off to clear his head and rest his body.

NPB pitchers have also had no reason to throw Yamada any more strikes than they absolutely had to, and Yamada has probably been swinging at pitches he shouldn’t be swinging at in order to make something happen for his team.

Now that Balentien is finally slugging again, it’s possible that Yamada may start seeing better pitches and will hit better in the Swallows’ remaining 50 games.  However, no matter how hot Yamada might get, his final season numbers are going to seem very anomalous with his career to date.

The thing is, Yamada only just turned 25 thirteen days ago.  So long as his 2017 season isn’t the result of a physical problem, this lost season could actually be good for Yamada’s development as a player.  There was a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth during and immediately after Bryce Harper‘s 2016 season, but a year later he’s right back to where he was in 2015 when he was the National League’s undisputed MVP.  As a recent gatorade commercial points out, players and people generally tend to learn more from their failures than their successes.

San Francisco Giants Trade Eduardo Nunez to Red Sox for Prospects

July 26, 2017

Thankfully, the Giants traded Eduardo Nunez to the Boston Red Sox last night for two right-handed pitching prospects, Shaun Anderson and Gregory Santos.  Both Anderson and Santos look like Grade B prospects to me, but Nunez is only a two month rental before he becomes a free agent this coming off-season, so I’m glad the Giants pulled the trigger and got something.  Right now, the Giants need organizational depth, even if they can’t get anything more.

Anderson is 22 this year and a former 3rd round draft pick.  He’s roughly split the 2017 season so far between full-season A and A+ ball, not surprisingly pitching a lot better in the former than in the latter.  Anderson’s strikeout rates at these levels aren’t particularly impressive, but it’s hard to know, because he pitched only 2.2 professional innings before this season.  I wouldn’t be surprised, however, if his strikeout rate drops dramatically when he reaches AA.

I like Santos better as a prospect, mainly because he hasn’t even turned 18 yet.  He’s pitching very well in his second season in the Dominican Summer League, where he has an 0.90 ERA after seven starts.  His strikeout rates are not impressive, but he may still be learning how to pitch, and his strikeout rates may improve once he learns how better to set hitters up for his strikeout pitches, or he improves his strikeout pitches.  He’s listed as 6’2″ and 190 lbs, which sounds like he’s got a projectable body for this age.

The odds that either Anderson or Santos will eventually have a significant major league career probably aren’t great.  With Santos in particular, he’s got a lot of years in which to potentially blow out his arm before he ever reaches the majors.

Giants’ management has talked about “reloading” for 2018, rather than “rebuilding” this trade deadline, but this is much more a “rebuilding” move, as the odds are slim and none that either Anderson or Santos will contribute anything to the major league club in 2018.

Assuming the Giants intend to keep Brandon Belt, I was kind of hoping that a Nunez deal with the Red Sox might include Chris Shaw, a Massachusetts native and Boston College star, whose minor league defensive numbers suggest he’s an American League 1B/DH type, in exchange for at least one Grade-A prospect.  However, Shaw has gone cold again at AAA this past week, and it’s possible the Giants still value him more highly than anyone else does, since they drafted him only two years ago.

I hopeful that Nunez won’t be the only veteran the Giants move for prospects of almost any caliber before the trade deadline passes.  The Giants need all the additional young talent they can get and then some.

Japhet Amador Slugs Three Home Runs in NPB Game

July 24, 2017

Two days ago huge Mexican slugger Japhet Amador launched three home runs in a game in Japan, making him the fourth player to have a 3-HR game in NPB this season.

Amador is fairly well known to those who follow international baseball the last five or ten years as one of the few young players in the Mexican League (summer) who could really hit but who never broke through to MLB success.

MLB teams didn’t like Amador for a couple of reasons.  First, his Mexican League team, the Mexico City Red Devils, wanted a couple of million dollars for his rights.  MLB teams generally didn’t think Amador was worth it because of his size (he’s listed as 6’4″ and somewhere between 297 and 310 lbs), his lack of defensive value, and the suspicion that his hitting prowess in Mexico was based primarily on the fact that he rarely, if ever, saw major league stuff.  Any young Mexican pitcher with a major league fastball and any semblance of command gets acquired by an MLB organization very quickly.

Amador had brief trials in the Houston Astros’ system in 2013 and 2014, but he generally failed to impress.  In 2016, the Rakuten Golden Eagles acquired his rights (I’d guess the Mexico City Reds received close to $1 million for Amador’s rights from Rakuten, on top of a likely $1.2M-2M they got from the Astros in 2013, of which Amador probably received somewhere around 25%).   Amador has been paid roughly $275,000 for each of his two NPB seasons, which is low for a foreign major league NPB player, but is likely about ten times per year what he was making playing in Mexico and likely reflects that the Golden Eagles had to pay a significant amount for his rights.

Amador hit with enough power in 2016 for Rakuten to bring him back in 2017.  This year has been a struggle for Amador, as Japanese pitchers have learned to pitch to his weaknesses.  Even with the 3-HR game, giving him 13 dingers on the season, he’s still slashing only .229/.305/.404.

What has kept Amador around this long is that Rakuten is having a great season this year in spite of Amador’s relatively modest contributions and also that NPB teams want their foreign imports to hit for power, which Amador certainly does.  Over parts of two seasons in Japan, he’s slugged 22 HRs in 407 plate appearances.  However, Amador has only eight other extra base hits, including a surprising two triples, and has also grounded into 18 double plays.

I’m doubtful that Amador will return to Japan in 2018, unless the recent 3-HR game truly constitutes real improvement, rather than the more likely one-off great game from a hitter who can certainly hit the ball a long way if he squares a mistake pitch up.  If his Japanese career ends, Amador can always return to Mexico, where he’ll likely be able to play professionally until his big body can’t handle the strains any more.

Kenta Maeda — Every 10th Day Starter?

July 21, 2017

I’ve been a fan of the Dodgers’ Kenta Maeda for a long time.  I followed his career closely in Japan, where he was a great pitcher at the top of the class just behind Yu Darvish and Masahiro Tanaka.  I definitely thought he was good enough to be a successful major league pitcher.

I also liked Maeda because he was a small right-hander, and I was a small right-handed player in my playing days, now oh so long ago.  Like Tim Lincecum, Maeda was small, but he could pitch, and I felt there ought to be a place his talents in MLB.

From the beginning MLB teams were suspicious of Meda because of his size.  The Dodgers signed him on a deal that guaranteed him only $25 million over eight years, but was chock full of incentives if he could prove he could be a successful MLB starter.

Last season, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts decided pretty quickly that Maeda’s innings had to be strictly limited.  While at the time I thought that this might reflect some latent MLB prejudice against small right-handers, on further analysis, I was probably wrong.

Roberts is literally the product of an American Marine and a Japanese woman his father met while serving in Japan.  (I, and probably lots of other baseball afficionados, had assumed that the Dodgers’ manager was the son of Panamanian ball player Dave Roberts, who was playing in Japan the year and the year before the now manager was born.)  The Dodgers’ manager was a below average sized major leaguer in his own day.

Instead, Roberts decided quickly and probably accurately that it would be tough for a pitcher Maeda’s size to start every fifth game.  In fact, this has been a problem for all Japanese pitchers moving to MLB, including those with MLB-sized bodies like Darvish, Tanaka and Hisashi Iwakuma (it’s been a problem for a lot of American-born pitchers too.)  In Japan, starters typically start only once a week, because so many games are washed out during the wet Japanese summer months.

This season, Maeda has been the victim of the new home run trend, and he’s been in and out of the Dodgers’ talent-packed starting rotation.  He’s become basically a spot starter (and spot reliever), starting when the team doesn’t have an extra game off to rest the other starters.

Maeda has been remarkably successful in this role.  Through June 9, pitching as part of the regular five-man rotation, Maeda had a 4.95 ERA.  Since then he’s made five starts on average eight days apart, and he’s allowed more than one run in a start only once, on a day when he had only four full days’ rest since his previous start.

I’ve been following MLB since 1978, which is pretty much the entire era of five-man pitching staffs.  Many is the time I’ve seen teams try to use 4+-man rotations, basically skipping the fifth man every time there was an extra day off that allowed the other four starters their normal rest.

This strategy has almost never worked.  The fifth starter was routinely skipped because he really wasn’t an adequate starter at all.  The fifth starter, who wasn’t any good to begin with, tended to be even worse when he didn’t pitch regularly.  Also, one of the other four adequate or better starters tended to get hurt at some point in the season, which rendered the strategy completely ineffective.

This season, the Dodgers are so deep with talent that they have the starters, the bullpen, and the pitcher in Maeda to make this strategy work well for the first time I can remember.  Maeda is a veteran pitcher who can be still be effective starting every eight to 12 games, plus the occasional one or so inning relief appearance in between, who may well benefit from starting half as often as the typical MLB starter.

Maeda has also been willing to give the team whatever it needs, even though the infrequent starts hit him directly in the pocketbook because of his incentive-laden contract.  Apparently, Maeda is mature enough to realize that he’s making more in the U.S. than he would have made if he’d stayed in Japan.  Plus, the reasonable likelihood of a World Series check and ring probably do a great deal to assuage any hurt feelings Maeda might otherwise have.

I’m a strong believer that managers need to be extremely flexible in terms of using the actual players they have on their rosters, with their specific skill sets and specific weaknesses, in order to tease out as many regular season wins as they possibly can in any given season. Managers’ jobs are too tenuous not to do every single thing within their power to win ball games.

Managers often aren’t flexible in large part because the players demand consistency in their roles (and the players are now well better paid than the managers), and because there are certain well-established notions about how managers should use their players, built up over generations, and known to the sportswriters who cover the games like professionals.  It’s the reason that teams without great closers generally do not elect to use bullpens-by-committee based on match-ups, even though this would make a great deal of sense if you don’t have a true closer.

Roberts may well end up sending in Maeda for every fifth start if somebody else in the starting rotation gets hurt.  I’m just trying to point out that using Maeda on a less regular basis seems to be working very well for the Dodgers and that Maeda might be exactly the pitcher to make such a strategy work.  The 2017 Dodgers are currently on a pace to win 113 games.  It’s hard to find fault with that.