KBO and NPB Signings, Part I

While things have been slow in MLB this off-season with no major free agents yet signed as I write this, the Asian major leagues have been more active in filling their roster spaces reserved for foreign players.  The roster limits for foreign players in South Korea’s KBO and Japan’s NPB are as follows.

The KBO allows each of its ten teams to sign three foreign players, at least one of whom has to be a position player.  In fact, all KBO teams have signed two foreign starting pitchers and one position player since the league expanded foreign player roster spaces from two to three a few years ago.

The NPB allows only four foreign players on each of its twelve teams major league active roster at any one time, but has no limits on the number of foreign players who may be signed by an organization.  Thus, NPB teams now average about six foreign players per organization, with at least two stashed in NPB’s lone minor league in case a foreigner on the major league roster gets hurt or becomes unproductive.

The trend in recent years has been for NPB to sign foreign relief pitchers in greater numbers to serve as closers and top set-up men, roles that are more highly valued in Japan in terms of NPB’s salary scale compared to that of MLB.  Further, there are more MLB-system, borderline major league relief pitchers who have a high probability of success in NPB than at any other position.

Because the KBO has tighter limits on the number of foreign players their teams can sign and also the fact that MLB-system 4-A players have a higher probability of success playing in the KBO than in NPB due to the lower overall level of play in the KBO, KBO teams are now offering starting salaries to foreign players comparable to NPB starting salaries; and the two leagues are now largely competing directly to sign many of the same foreign players, subject to the fact that the KBO hasn’t signed any relief pitchers in several years.

A foreign player who succeeds in NPB can look forward to much higher salaries down the road than a foreign KBO star.  NPB salaries max out at around $5.5 million, while Dustin Nippert‘s 2017 contract that paid him a reported $2.2 million is the highest salary a foreign player has earned in the KBO’s history.  I also suspect that more first year contracts in NPB are guaranteed than first year KBO contracts for foreign players.

With all that said, here is a run-down on some of the contracts signed by foreign players in the KBO this off-season.

After a 20 win season for the Korea Series champion Kia Tigers, Hector Noesi just signed a $2 million deal for 2018, a $300,000 raise from last year, making him only the second foreigner in KBO history to receive a $2 million annual salary.  Noesi will probably be the KBO’s highest paid foreign player in 2018, because it is anticipated that Dustin Nippert will be forced to accept a significant pay cut after going “only” 14-8 in 2017 and not pitching particularly well in the season’s second half.

KBO teams are expected to bring back at least 60% of the foreign players who finished the 2017 KBO season for their teams, higher than usual.  Brooks Raley, Roger Bernadina, Darin Ruf, Mel Rojas Jr., Ryan Feierabend and Merrill Kelly all re-signed with last year’s teams for at least $1 million, topped by Ruf and Kelly who will make respectively $1.5M and $1.4M in 2018.  Esmil Rogers will also be returning to the KBO after a year away recovering from Tommy John surgery for a cool $1.5 million.

The most notable new players who signed contracts to play in the KBO in 2018 are starting pitchers Angel Sanchez and Tim Adleman.  Sanchez will make a reported $1.1 million in 2018 and Adleman a reported $1.05M.

I like the signing of Adleman more than those of either Sanchez or Esmil Rogers.  I’m not sure how much Rogers has left, and I’m surprised that the SK Wyverns gave this much money to Sanchez given his skimpy MLB record.

Adleman, on the other hand, has made 33 MLB starts and pitched a total of 192 innings at the highest level over the last two seasons.  He led the Cincinnati Reds in innings pitched in 2017, which says more about the sorry and re-building state of the Reds 2017 rotation than it does about Adleman’s abilities as an MLB pitcher.

However, Adleman pitched well enough that I would expect him to pitch great in the KBO so long as he stays healthy next season.  He’ll be taking all he’s learned in what amounts to more than a full year as an MLB starter into what is a decidedly inferior league.  Adleman just turned 30 years old, but on a one year deal, that doesn’t much matter.  I would guess that Adleman’s contract is guaranteed, while Sanchez’s is not.

The lowest salary I’ve seen a rookie foreign player so far to sign to play in the KBO in 2018 is the $575,000 that the Hanwha Eagles gave Jason Wheeler.  $100,000 of that amount is a signing bonus, which I assume means the remaining $475,000 is not guaranteed but will have to be earned by remaining on the Eagles’ roster.  However, Wheeler is only 27 in 2018, which means if he can hack it in the KBO, he’s got a good chance of making a lot more money in the future.

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6 Comments on “KBO and NPB Signings, Part I”

  1. Burly Says:

    Other sources say that Merrill Kelly will be paid $1.7 million or $1.75 million in 2018. These numbers are quite likely given the season he had in 2017, which made him a candidate to move up to NPB or back to MLB.

  2. Burly Says:

    Dustin Nippert won’t be returning to the Doosan Bears in 2018 after seven terrific seasons. The Bears today signed Josh Lindblom for $1.45 million, after Lindblom’s old team, the Lotte Giants, was unable to reach a deal with him and released his rights so he could sign with another KBO team.

    After making a record-setting $2.2 million in 2017, Nippert was probably reluctant to take the significant pay-cut the Bears likely wanted him to accept, and when Lindblom suddenly became available, the Bears moved on to Lindblom, who is six years younger than Nippert, at a lower salary than the team was probably hoping to re-sign Nippert.

  3. Burly Says:

    The LG Twins have reportedly signed veteran Henry Sosa to a $1.2 million contract for 2018, a raise from the $900,000 he made last year. The Lotte Giants signed newbie Felix Doubront to a $1 million deal for 2018.

  4. Burly Says:

    Dustin NIppert will be pitching in the KBO in 2018. He signed a deal with the KT Wiz for $1 million, which is probably less than the Doosan Bears would have paid him if Nippert had agreed to the pay cut the Bears wanted.

  5. Burly Says:

    The KBO just set a new maximum salary for new foreign players of $1M, including signing bonuses and incentives. There is no cap on veteran foreign players.

    I don’t know what this really accomplishes, except that it means some of the most desirable 4-A players/sometime MLB major leaguers will have less incentive to sign with KBO teams. Only the very best foreign players willing to play in the KBO get more than $1M their first season now. I think it will hurt KBO teams in competition with NPB for the best available foreign players, since NPB salaries for veteran foreign players are higher.


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