James Loney Going to South Korea

James Loney has signed a contract with the LG Twins of South Korea’s KBO on a deal that will pay him $350,000 for the remainder of the 2017 season.  Loney is a relatively high profile signing for the KBO, and $350,000 is a relatively high salary for a player signing this late in the KBO season.

It’s worth noting, though, that the money Loney is being paid is probably not his primary motivation in going to South Korea to play.  Loney has made more than $37 million in his pro career to date, so he probably doesn’t need the extra $350,000 that much.  Instead, Loney just wants to keep playing, since at age 33, he’s not especially old for a player of his past career accomplishments.

I have no idea whether Loney’s got much left in the tank.  He played relatively well in 2016, but was pretty awful in trials totaling only 18 games with the Tigers’ and Braves’ AAA teams earlier this season (.218 batting average and .608 OPS in 70 plate appearances).  The LG Twins will surely find out if he can still compete at the KBO level.

I’ve been following Taiwan’s CPBL closely this season.  It’s a league that, like the KBO a few years ago, signs almost exclusively pitchers for its three foreign player roster spots per team.  These pitchers pretty much all come to the CPBL after great performances in the Mexican League (summer), the independent-A Atlantic League or the Latin American winter leagues or after washing out of AAA, the KBO or Japan’s NPB.  One or two great seasons in the CPBL, and these pitchers generally move up to the KBO, NPB or back to AAA.

The CPBL pays well better than the Mexican or Atlantic Leagues, roughly the same or a little more per month than the Latin American winter leagues (but for a much longer summer season) and considerably less than the KBO or NPB.

The competition for talent across the three Asian major leagues is fierce and largely defined by each league’s salary structure.  NPB is far wealthier than the KBO, but has more roster spaces available for foreign players; and many NPB teams stash additional foreign players on their minor league clubs so that they can quickly fill an available roster space if a foreign player on the major league roster gets hurt or is ineffective.

NPB and the KBO compete for the 4-A players who aren’t quite good enough to play with any regularity in MLB.  The KBO is now offering as much or more to rookie foreign players as NPB teams are, although success in NPB (which is harder to achieve than in the KBO, since it is a better league) can ultimately mean annual salaries three times what KBO teams can or will pay its best foreign veterans.

Also, KBO and CPBL teams no longer sign foreign relief pitchers, because their salary scales are such that they want more valuable starting pitchers for the money required to sign foreigners and to fill the restricted number of roster spaces.  NPB, which is considerably wealthier and which finds it more difficult to find 4-A players good enough to succeed in NPB (the world’s best leagues after MLB), routinely sign foreign relievers.  In fact, this has been an extremely successful strategy for NPB, with several NPB teams sporting foreigners as both their closers and top set-up men this season.

The most money ever offered to foreigners in the CPBL is the $60,000 per month the EDA Rhinos offered Manny Ramirez to remain in Taiwan for the second half of the 2013 season (which Manny turned down), and the $56,000 per month ($6,000 of which was performance incentives) to Freddy Garcia in 2014.  Manny had a huge impact on attendance and merchandise sales during his half-season in Taiwan, leading to the relatively huge second half offer (he was paid only $25,000 per month for the half season he actually played), and almost certainly being responsible for the huge offer Garcia, another big-name former MLB star, received the next season.

However, although Garcia’s first start drew about three times the typical CPBL game attendance, Garcia pitched well but was not completely dominant after that, and no CPBL team has signed a foreign player with Garcia’s MLB credentials since 2014.  It’s worth noting that while both Ramirez and Garcia played well in Taiwan, neither one was head and shoulders above the other top players in the league in their respective seasons.  The CPBL has apparently decided that for the time being, it can find pitchers who are good enough from the sources I mention above, who do not command the kind of salaries former major league stars command.

 

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Explore posts in the same categories: Atlanta Braves, Baseball Abroad, Detroit Tigers, KBO

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