Archive for January 2018

San Francisco Giants Sign the Blanchos

January 31, 2018

The Giants are bringing in Gregor Blanco and Andres Blanco on minor league deals.  It’s good to see Gregor come back, and he’s depth at AAA Sacramento, since Jarrett Parker is out of options and Gorkys Hernandez is a younger, better fielding version of Gregor.

Andres plays 2nd, 3rd, in an emergency shortstop, and other positions as needed.  He had a really good year in 2015 at the age of 31, but then got old fast as he now enters his age 34 season.

Andres needs to have a great spring.  His contract promises him $1.1M if he makes the team plus $400,000 in incentives.  If he doesn’t make the team, he can opt out of his MiLB career (I’d guestimate $125,000 per annum for minor league service time) if an Asian team comes calling.  This is probably a common term for older players willing to play in the Asian leagues and signing minor league agreements.

It seems likely Andre was signed to push Kelby Tomlinson and in case Tomlinson gets hurt, because with Tomlinson going into his age 28 season, that role has to be his to lose.

KBO Increasingly Using Options for Foreign Players

January 27, 2018

As the 2018 season approaches, South Korea’s KBO has already filled 29 of the 30 roster spots available to foreign players.  Today, mykbo.net published a schedule of the foreign players signed so far with the known details of their contracts.

What I found interesting about the contract details is that both the SK Wyverns and the NC Dinos each signed all three of their foreign players to contracts that contain options for a second season.  As background, the KBO allows its teams to sign foreign players to only single year contracts.  This keeps KBO teams from getting stuck with albatross contracts, but it’s also very hard to build a successful ball club when several of your best players may well leave after only one season.

If a foreign player has a big season in the KBO, he may elect to move to Japan or return to the MLB system the next season.  Also, the player may feel he deserves a raise bigger than what the KBO team wants to pay, resulting in the player and team unable to reach an agreement, forcing the team to find a new, unproven foreign player to fill that roster spot.

Also, new foreign players controlled by MLB teams require the KBO team to pay the MLB team a buyout, usually in the $500,000 range if the MLB team still deems that player to have some value.  [Note that the Angels allowed the Hanwha Eagles to sign the soon to be 29 year old Jared Hoying for a token transfer payment of only $1 because of a specific arrangement Hoying and his agent made with the Angels at the time the Angels signed him.]

Finally, there’s no guarantee that each time a KBO team brings in a foreign player, that player will succeed in the KBO.  Even though the odds of success are better than for rookie foreigners in NPB, a lot of highly paid foreigners who looked like great bets don’t perform in South Korea as hoped.

At least two KBO teams (I think it’s a lot more) have now decided that an option for a second year is a way to avoid the pitfalls of single season contracts while still obeying the KBO’s one-year contract limit.

The first such foreign player I am aware of who agreed to give his KBO team a second year option is Eric Thames.  After his big first season in the KBO, the NC Dinos signed him to what was in many reports referred to as a two-year contract.  It was almost certainly a one-year deal with an option for a second season.

The deal ended up working well for both player and team.  The NC Dinos were able to hold onto Thames for three full seasons, in each of which he performed at an MVP caliber level, instead of having him run off to NPB for a better deal after two big KBO seasons.  Meanwhile, the deal ended up working out for Thames, who performed so well that he was able to get an MLB deal for more money guaranteed than he could have gotten from either a KBO or NPB team.

The option payments SK and NC handed out to their foreign players this off-season are fairly generous relative to the players’ salary amounts.  My guess is that in all six contracts, the amount to be paid in the second season is roughly the same amount of money as the first year of the contract plus the option amount.

For example, after a big year in 2017, Xavier Scruggs received a contract from the Dinos that could pay him as much as $1.3 million in 2018 in the form of a $400K signing bonus, a $700K salary (probably not guaranteed) and a $200K option for 2018.  My educated guess is that the 2019 contract will give Scruggs a $400K signing bonus and a $900,000 salary.

Scruggs is older than Thames was at the same point in their respective KBO careers, so it’s unlikely that Scruggs will get a future MLB contract anything like the one Thames signed last winter.  However, another big season in the KBO in 2018, and the likelihood that Scruggs would jump over to the NPB’s greener pastures is relatively high.  Now, the Dinos have Scruggs locked into a third season, if they want it, and Scruggs is guaranteed an additional $200,000 in 2018 if his option is not picked up.

The Wyverns handed out bigger option guarantee amounts than the Dinos did, but the thinking appears to be the same.  The Wyverns locked in Merrill Kelly, who was a threat to jump to NPB this off-season, for two seasons, at prices near the top of the KBO foreign player salary scale, which an NPB team might have been willing to beat for Kelly’s 2019 season, if Kelly pitches as well in 2018 as he did in 2017.

These options obviously give SK and NC more time and opportunity to build or field a winning team since they’ve now locked in some of their best players for two years.  The option deals also prevent any player-team arguments over the amount of the second season, since the contract amount was agreed to already.  I’m certain we’ll see more of these options contracts going forward, unless the KBO changes its rules and allows teams to sign foreign players to multi-year contracts.

The Virtual Travels of Engelb Vielma

January 26, 2018

Engelb Vielma‘s virtual odyssey this off-season continued today as the San Francisco Giants traded Vielma to the Baltimore Orioles for a player to be named later or cash considerations.  Vielma finished the 2017 season in the Twins’ minor league system.  He was claimed by the Giants off waivers, then by the Phillies, then by the Pirates, then by the Giants again, and after the Giants designated Vielma for assignment for the fifth time this off-season, the Orioles presumably claimed him and a modest deal was worked out.

Of course, all of this movement has been solely on paper, as Vielma played winter ball in Venezuela, his homeland, and almost certainly hasn’t left Venezuela since the winter season began there.  He’ll instead just wait until Spring Training until his agent or his then team tells him where to report.

Vielma’s “come here-come here-come here-go away-go away-go away” status is almost entirely due to his specific situation.  He is an excellent defensive middle infielder who doesn’t turn 24 until late June 2018.  In 508 AA level plate appearances, Vielma has slashed .275/.350/.321, which is just fine for a quick middle infielder who defends as well as he does.  However, in 314 plate appearances at the AAA level in 2017, Vielma slashed an absolutely brutal .206/.233/.260.

A player his age with his glove who has proven he can hit AA pitching is still a prospect.  That’s why teams keep claiming him off waivers.  The reason why teams keep designating him for assignment is because he will almost certainly become a minor league free agent after the 2018 season if he is not on a major league roster at that time.  He’s thus not a guy that’s worth keeping on the 40-man roster, because the odds aren’t particularly good that he can contribute at the major league level in 2018 before he may well become a free agent.

The reason he’s moved around so much this off-season is that teams keep trying to slip him through waivers in order to protect somebody else on the 40-man roster, but another team with roster space keeps coming in and claiming him.  From Vielma’s perspective, it’s good to know that many teams want him enough to keep claiming him, because it means that when/if he becomes a minor league free agent, there will be multiple teams competing to sign him to minor league deal, at least so long as he shows some meaningful improvement with the bat (an OPS of at least .590 or .600) at the AAA level in 2018.

Has the Dam Broken?

January 26, 2018

The Milwaukee Brewers are reported to have signed Lorenzo Cain for five years at a total of $80 million.  It’s far and away the biggest signing of the post-season so far and leads one to wonder if the ducks will all start falling in a row now.  If nothing else, it proves at least one team was willing to provide a fifth season for a free agent entering his age 32 season.

The Brewers also traded four prospects for Christian Yelich today, as the Marlins continue their fire sale, which made the later announced signing of Cain quite a surprise because the Brewers now have four outfield starters.  My guess is that they trade away Domingo Santana and his four remaining years of control for a front line starting pitcher with at least two years of control left.

Domingo Santana is born to play left field, but the Brewers already have Ryan Braun and his contract no one wants there.  The Brewers’ pitching would improve significantly just by replacing Santana in right field with Yelich and Keon Broxton in center field with Cain.

Now that the Brewers have spent big money on Cain, it’s much harder to see them spending the money on any of the top four remaining starters, so another trade for pitching seems highly indicated.  If nothing else, it’s good to see the Brewers making an effort to compete for the post-season.

The rumors of offers are flying thick around Yu Darvish, and if he signs by the end of January, I think the remaining starters will sign quickly.  The rumors are building around Eric Hosmer too, although news about interest in Mike Moustakas has been muted.  Still, someone is going to sign a 3Bman coming off a 38 home run season.

Will Jon Singleton File an Appeal?

January 24, 2018

Famous bust Jon Singleton tested positive a third time for a drug of abuse, which was almost certainly marijuana since Singleton was suspended for that 50 games earlier in his career (2012).  This time he got a 100 game suspension.

I would expect Singleton and the players’ union to file an appeal if Singleton loses significant money as a result of the suspension, because Singleton is playing in the final year of his five year $10M contract, and he could potentially lose more than half of the $2 million he was slated to earn this year (he still has a $500,000 buy-out on the two option years next off-season) if he loses pay for all 100 days of the suspension.  Singleton is likely going to need most of that $2M, because there isn’t going to be much more in the future until he reaches earliest retirement age at 45, more than 18 years from now.

Unfortunately, the terms of MLB’s drug policy that I found on line are as clear as mud.  It’s possible that positive tests for marijuana can result in no more than a $35,000 maximum fine.  In any event, it’s obvious the Astros would relish any opportunity to get out from any part of the $2 million they are obligated to pay Singleton in 2018, since it’s equally obvious now that he’ll never be a major league star.

The rules regarding marijuana are whatever they are under the drug policy, so Singleton probably wouldn’t have many grounds to appeal unless he could somehow show that he smoked all his pot in California, Washington or Colorado, or the other states that allow recreational use.  He could then make an argument along the lines that if he was engaging in a legal act in the location where he got stoned, then MLB cannot legally enforce the drug policy against him.

The argument would probably be a stretch, not least because Singleton played for Corpus Christi in the Texas League, with Arkansas being the only state in the circuit that allows even medical marijuana, in 2017 when the positive sample was almost certainly taken.

The article from espn.com indicates that Singleton has an addictive personality, as he admitted in 2014 to having great difficulty breaking his marijuana habit and turned to drinking when he tried to quit smoking.  No way to tell, however, whether using marijuana has contributed in any way to the collapse of his baseball career.

San Francisco Giants to Sign CF Austin Jackson

January 23, 2018

The Giants elected to sign affordable center fielder Austin Jackson rather than the more anticipated Jerrod Dyson.  Jackson obviously provides more offensive potential, but he isn’t nearly as good on defense as Dyson.  Apparently, the Giants are figuring that with Andrew McCutchen in right field, the team won’t require a plus defender to cover the ample ground at Pac Bell/AT&T Park.  I’m still going to anticipate that Giants’ opponents will hit a lot of triples into Death Valley in 2018 if Jackson makes a majority of the team’s center field starts.

Jackson is kind of a good year, bad year hitter coming off a good year for the Indians.  He gives the Giants a little more right-handed hitting pop to go along with the recently added McCutchen and Evan Longoria.  He reportedly gets $6 million over two seasons plus significant performance bonuses (up to $2.5 million, says mlbtraderumors.com).

The Giants have now filled all of their obvious positional holes with win now players (Jackson will be 31 in 2018).  If the Giants elect to carry five outfielders, their outfield looks pretty good with both Gorkys Hernandez (defense) and Jarrett Parker (left-handed bat) filling obvious needs.

The 2018 Giants look like contenders on paper, at least until the many over-30’s start filling the disabled list.  April will be plenty exciting, and then we’ll see.

MLB Teams Want Shorter Free Agent Contracts

January 18, 2018

There has been a lot of talk this off-season about the fact that only two of the top dozen free agents has yet signed a contract. mlbtraderumors.com weighed in again on this issue today.

The one thing that seems obvious to me looking at the players who have signed free agent contracts this off-season so far is that teams want shorter contract lengths (i.e., no more than three years) and will pay more per year to get them.

No team has yet signed a player to more than three years.  However, the players who have agreed to three year deals have done pretty well, at least compared to mlbtraderumors’ predictions for its top 50 free agents, which experience has shown deserve a lot of weight.  mlbtraderumors has a formula it uses and tweaks every off-season based on the previous off-season’s signing results, and their predictions have proven to be well better than educated guesses.

Carlos Santana’s three-year $60 million deal is the biggest free agent signing so far.  mlbtraderumors correctly predicted the three-year term, but underestimated the payout by $5 million per year.  Tyler Chatwood (predicted 3 years $20M; actually received 3 years $38M). Jake McGee (3/$18M; 3/$27M), Mike Minor (4/$28M; 3/$28M), Bryan Shaw (3/$21M; 3/$27M), Tommy Hunter (2/$12M; 2/$18M), Pat Neshek (2/$12M; 2/16.25M), Michael Pineda (2/$6M; 2/$10M) and Miles Mikolas (2/$10M; 2/$15.5M) all did significantly better on two and three year deals than predicted.

Meanwhile, only Addison Reed (4/$36M; 2/$16.75M), CC Sabathia (2/$24M; 1/$10M), Yonder Alonzo (2/$22M; 2/$16M), Brandon Kintzler (2/$14M; 1/$5M) and Howie Kendrick (2/$12M; 2/$7M) have done significantly worse than predicted.  Zack Cozart (3/$42M; 3/$38M), Jay Bruce (3/$39M; 3/$39M), Juan Nicasio (2/$21M; 2/$17M), Jhoulys Chacin (2/$14M; 2/$15.5M), Welington Castillo (2/$14M; 2/$15M), Anthony Swarzak (2/$14M; 2/$14M) and Steve Cishek (2/$14M; 2/$13M) got right around what was predicted.

Finally, both Wade Davis (4/$60M; 3/$52M) and Brandon Morrow (3/$24M; 2/$21m) got one fewer year than predicted, but at a much higher annual rate, so much higher, in fact, that one has to think there wasn’t much incentive to hold out for the extra year.  I think these signings make it likely that each of Lance Lynn, Greg Holland and Alex Cobb will be forced to accept three year offers, although probably for only $3M to $6M less than mlbtraderumors predicted over four seasons.

I suspect that advanced analytics have suggested to teams something they already knew: long-term free agents contract can be a long-term albatross around a team’s neck is veteran player gets hurt or old fast.  Better to pay more per season for fewer seasons so the burden of a bad contract doesn’t hurt the team for as many seasons.

I could see Yu Darvish being forced to accept a five-year deal in the $140M to $150M range, although as the No. 1 starter available this off-season, I think someone will eventually give him a sixth season.  The reported rumors sound as if both Kansas City and San Diego have made Eric Hosmer offers close to the six years and $132M that mlbtraderumors predicted.

The market for J.D. Martinez does not seem to be developing as predicted, but the four years at $100M predicted for Jake Arrieta seems likely to be met since he is the second best free agent starter available.  Scott Boras is representing a number of top free agents this year, and his asks have been pie-in-the-sky, as they always are.  I don’t believe the reports that any free agent will wait until after the 2018 regular season starts to sign, because that is an absolute value killer for a free agent if ever there was one.

It’s likely that a majority of the mid-range free agents (Nos. 20-50) who haven’t yet signed won’t do as well as the predictions, however, based on the fact that many teams have now filled their needs by the free agent players signed to date.

 

Yomiuri Giants Sign Taylor Jungmann

January 16, 2018

It was announced today that the Yomiuri Giants of Japan’s NPB have signed former Milwaukee Brewer Taylor Jungmann for $750,000 for 2018.  What is weird about this deal is that the Giants already have four foreign stars filling up their major league roster limit: Scott Mathieson, Arquimedes Carminero, Casey McGehee and Alex Guerrero.

The Giants have the money to afford to carry spare foreign players at the minor league level, even relatively expensive ones like Jungmann.  However, I am surprised that Jungmann would elect to leave MLB without a guarantee that he would be in the Giants’ rotation to start the 2018 season.

Jungmann was the 12th player selected in the 2011 amateur Draft.  He had a strong rookie season in 2015 at the age of 25, but has regressed badly since then.  However, he pitched extremely well in 15 starts at AAA Colorado Springs, a tough, tough place to pitch, in 2017.

When I first heard the Brewers had released Jungmann to join an unnamed NPB team, I thought the move made a lot of sense.  Jungmann was a great candidate to resurrect his career in Japan, with the possibility that if he succeeded greatly enough there, he could return to MLB in a year or two, as Miles Mikolas has done this off-season.

Yomiuri clearly thinks that with McGehee at age 35, Mathieson 34 and Guererro and Caminero both at 31, there are going to be injuries.  My guess is that Jungmann will bouncing back and forth between the NPB major and minor leagues like a ping pong ball, as the Giants’ roster needs of the moment govern.

I’m not sure why Jungmann would agree to this situation, except for the fact that the Brewers weren’t willing to offer him a major league contract (and probably wouldn’t have agreed to pay him more than $550,000 for major league service time).  Still, one would think that Jungmann could have found another NPB or KBO team that would have paid him more in 2018 and guaranteed him a spot in their rotation entering the 2018 season.  It’s likely that Yomiuri guaranteed his contract, however.

Needless to say, the four foreign player roster rule that NPB employs is subject to what amounts to cheating, as the wealthiest three clubs can stock highly paid foreigners at the minor league level waiting for someone in the majors to get hurt or become in effective.  Maybe it’s time to change the rules to allow for more foreigners at the major league level.

San Francisco Giants Acquire Andrew McCutchen

January 16, 2018

The Giants today traded youngsters Kyle Crick and Bryan Reynolds and $500,000 worth of international bonus pool money to the Pittsburgh Pirates for veteran Andrew McCutchen.  The Giants get McCutchen for his age 31 season, after which he becomes a free agent.

Once again, the Giants make a move that is firmly committed to 2018 and the future be damned.  McCutchen gives the Giants some more right-handed power, although he doesn’t solve the Giants’ outfield defense problem, unless he ends up making a majority of his 2018 starts in left field or right field.

If I were Gorkys Hernandez, I’d feel good about this trade, because Hernandez is still the best defensive center fielder on the roster.  It’s good to have an obvious role to fill when your a 30 year old ballplayer who hits like a back-up center fielder.

It looks like Kyle Crick’s major league role is going to be in the bullpen, and I still think he’ll need to improve his command to be more than a middle reliever. Obviously, entering his age 25 season, he’s still young enough to find the command that has eluded him so far in his professional career.

Bryan Reynolds is a 22 year old, former 2nd draft pick who looks like he can play major league defense in right field.  His .826 OPS at A+ San Jose in 2017 means he could potentially be a future major league starter in right field if he keeps hitting as he moves into the high minors.

The Giants sure better make the post-season in 2018, because at some point in the not too distant future the current squad is going to be just too old, and the farm system has been drained to the dregs.

The Ten Best Players from Curacao and Aruba in MLB History

January 3, 2018

The islands of Curacao and Aruba have replaced St. Croix and St. Thomas as the tiny Caribbean islands that produce an oversized share of major league baseball players.  I have decided to combine players from Curacao and Aruba, because while both are governed more or less independently, both are part of the greater Netherlands, and they are part of the same island group, the Leeward Antilles.  Besides, it makes for a better list.

Curacao has produced at least 16 major league players, and Aruba has produced at least five.  To my knowledge, the third island in the group, Bonaire, has produced no major league players yet.  Almost all of these players have played recently so I’ll keep my comments relatively brief.

The first player from Curacao to play in the majors was Hensley “Bam Bam” Meulens in 1989.  He didn’t have a great deal of success in the U.S. major leagues, but he had some strong seasons in Japan’s NPB, and also played professionally in South Korea and Mexico.  After his playing career, he became a batting coach, most recently for the San Francisco Giants.

The first player from Aruba to play in the major leagues was Gene Kingsale, when he entered a game as a defensive replacement on September 3, 1996.  Five days later Calvin Maduro became the first Aruban to pitch in the major leagues.

1. Andruw Jones (1996-2012).  The big knock on Jones is that he was one of the early 2000’s steriods boys, and when the Vitamin-S spigot got turned off, his game dropped off sharply almost overnight.  Still he hit 434 major league home runs, plus another 50 in Japan.  He’ll likely remain the best player from Curacao or Aruba until Andrelton Simmons and Xander Bogaerts approach the ends of their respective major league careers.

2.  Andrelton Simmons (2012 to present).  Operating under the assumption that each generation of major league baseball players is a little better than the one that preceded it, it is possible to argue that Simmons may be the best defensive shortstop that major league baseball has yet seen.  He also had his best year with the bat in 2017, although it was his age 27 season.

3.  Kenley Jansen (2010 to present).  Through his age 29 season, Jansen has a career 2.08 ERA and 230 saves.  ‘Nuff said.

4.  Xander Bogaerts (2013 to present)  Bogaerts is no Andrelton Simmons with the glove, but he’s a better hitter, and he’s three years younger.  His bat may be what keeps him in the game long enough to pass Andruw Jones.  He’s the first Aruban on my list.

5.  Didi Gregorius (2012 to present).  Gregorius was born in Amsterdam, where his father was playing baseball professionally in the Dutch League and also working as a carpenter (the Dutch League only plays a 42 game schedule, so even with international play for the Dutch National Team, ball players need to have another job).  Gregorius’ grandfather was a great pitcher in Curacao in the mid-20th Century.  Didi and his family moved back to Curacao when he was five.  Needless to say, both the Dutch pro league and the national team are disproportionately made up of players from Curacao and Aruba.

The only other two players of any note born in Holland, Bert Blyleven and Jack Lelivelt, have perhaps even less claim to being Dutch than Gregorius, as both moved with their respective families to the New World at the age of 2.

6.  Jonathan Schoop (2013 to present).  It is little short of amazing that so many great players have come from such a tiny place (Curacao’s current population is about 150,000) all at about the same time.  Schoop is a 2Bman who hits for power and turns the double play extremely well.  That’s a combination made in heaven for a 2Bman.

7.  Sidney Ponson (1998-2009).  When I first started this blog in 2009, Sidney Ponson, along with Milton Bradley, was one of my favorite whipping boys.  It had a lot to do with his arrest in Aruba during the 2004 off-season for punching out a Judge in a dispute over Ponson’s operation of a motor boat or jet skis, and even more to do with the two DUIs he picked up in the U.S. in 2005.  Ponson had a world of talent, but he ate and drank his way out of taking full advantage of it.

Nevertheless, Ponson hung around long enough to go 91-113 with a career 5.03 ERA.  I once wrote that when Ponson retires “he will become the poster boy for talent wasted.”  I stick by this assessment, but 91 major league wins is 91 major league wins.

8.  Jair Jurrjens (2007-2014).  Arm problems did in Jurrjens’ major league career, but he’s pitching professionally.  He pitched in Taiwan’s CPBL in 2016, pitched for the Dodgers’ AAA team in Omaha in 2017 until he was hit with an 80 game suspension for testing positive for exogenous testosterone.  He’s currently pitching effectively in the Dominican Winter League as I write this.  However, his chances of returning to the major leagues in the future seem slim, particularly if he still needs to serve out any portion of the 80-game PED suspension. Jurrjens went 53-38 with a career 3.72 ERA.

9.  Ozzie Albies (2017 to present).  Albies has had only 244 major league plate appearances, but he makes my list because he was only 20 years old last summer and slashed .286/.354/.456 in those 244 plate appearances.  Unless something really awful happens to him, he’s going to be a good one.

10.  Randall Simon (1997-2006).  Randall Simon could hit, batting .303 with 19 home runs for the Tigers in 2002.  However, he walked less than 5% of this plate appearances and that’s a problem for 1Bman.

Simon famously got in trouble during the Milwaukee Brewers’ “Sausage Race” on July 9, 2003.  He hit the Italian Sausage mascot with a bat hard enough to knock the female college student inside the costume down.  He was fined by the local authorities $432.10 for “disorderly conduct” and fined by his team (the Pirates) $2,000.  Simon later apologized to the young woman and gave her an autographed bat. Even better, the Curacao Tourism Board gave her a complimentary trip to the island for two.  The next time Simon played in Milwaukee, now as a Cub, he purchased italian sausages for an entire section of fans and during that day’s race, his teammates playfully held him back while manager Dusty Baker guarded the bat rack.

Jurickson Profar turns 25 in February and has hit well in the minors, so there’s still a chance he’ll become a major league star.  Wladimir Balentien flopped in the U.S. majors, but he’s become a huge star in Japan, setting the single-season NPB record with 60 home runs in 2013 and belting at least 30 home runs in five other seasons.