Archive for February 2018

San Diego Padres Reportedly Reach Agreement with Eric Hosmer for $144 Million

February 18, 2018

The San Diego Padres have reportedly reached a deal with Eric Hosmer that will give him $144 million over eight seasons with an opt-out after year five.  The deal is front-loaded, paying Hosmer a $5 million signing bonus and $20 million a year for the first five years, but only $13 million a year for the final three.

The deal is two years and $12 million guaranteed more than predicted for Hosmer, and in my mind it tends to support management’s claims that the slow free agency period this year has more to do with advanced analytics than collusion.  Hosmer is younger than most of this off-season’s free agents and his big contract suggests that teams are just a lot more leery of over-30 free agents who are likely entering the down-phase of their careers right quick.

The biggest winners of the Hosmer, even more than Hosmer himself, are next year’s young free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado.  They will be two years younger than Hosmer is now, and they’re better players.  If Harper and Machado have typically strong seasons in 2018, I would expect both to beat the $325 million deal that Giancarlo Stanton received from the Marlins three off-seasons ago.

Even with Hosmer’s apparent signing, six of mlbtraderumors’ top ten free agents remain on the board.  Hosmer had the Padres and the Royals bidding against each other for his services.  Now that Hosmer has signed with San Diego, the Royals may decide they need to bring back Mike Moustakas to prevent their fans from revolting.  However, there hasn’t been much chatter about Moustakas or the four remaining top pitchers, and one team obviously in the market for pitching, the Minnesota Twins, just traded not a whole lot for Jake Odorizzi in what appears to be a straight salary dump by the Rays.

With Yu Darvish signing for much less than expected, it looks like Jake Arrieta is going to have to come to terms with the fact that no team is likely to give him a $100 million offer.  My guess is that Arrieta will have to accept a three year offer for a $80 million guarantee with a team option for fourth season.  As for Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb, teams will probably wait to see which of the two is the first to crack and accept what interested teams are willing to pay him.


Evidence of Collusion?

February 18, 2018

A lot has been made of the incredibly slow free agent market this off-season and the fact that teams seem less willing to spend on free agents than they were only a few years ago.  The MLBPA and player agents have expressed their concerns that teams are again colluding, and Scott Boras pointed to recent statements by Commissioner Rob Manfred that several free agents had received offers over nine figures, information he would not have unless teams were sharing information about their offers with each other or the Commissioner’s office.

However, Manfred’s statements don’t mean a whole lot, since he can claim media reports as his source of information that several free agents have received offers over $100 million.  Rumors have abounded that all of Yu Darvish (now proven), J.D. Martinez and Eric Hosmer have received offers above the golden $100 million mark.  In fact, at the start of the off-season, all three were predicted to do well better than a mere $100 million in guaranteed money.  The real dispute is that these players are only getting $100M to $126M guaranteed offers instead of the $140M to $160M guaranteed offers anticipated.

One fact that suggests teams collectively are fighting to keep player salaries down is the 22 salary arbitration cases this off-season that went to decision.  That’s the most salary arbitration cases to go to decision since the 1994 strike, and it beats the previous highs (14 in each of 2001, 2015 and 2017) by more than 50%.

The players went 12-10 in the 22 cases this off-season and went 7-7 last off-season.  Historically, the owners have won 57% of all salary arbitration decisions (319 out of 562) going back to 1974, including the results from the last two off-seasons.  There’s certainly something in both the number of salary arbitration cases going to decision and the outcomes to suggest that for the last two off-seasons at least (while there were 14 salary arbitration decisions in early 2015, the owners won eight of them, and there only four arbitration decisions in 2016) teams are taking a harder line on agreeing to raises for salary arbitration eligible players their teams intend to keep.

Obviously, one can’t make too much out of the salary arbitration results for only two off-seasons.  Each off-season features individual decisions by eligible players and teams in negotiating a salary increase or going to arbitration hearing, and the salary arbitration process is now advanced enough that both sides have fairly good ideas of what are reasonable salary proposals based on precedent and where the arbitrators can accept only one of the two numbers submitted.

At the same time, when taking this year’s exceptionally high number of salary arbitration decisions into account with the obvious drop in interest in and the bidding on free agents this off-season, it does appear that teams are as a group making greater efforts to limit the amount of revenues they have to pay out to players as compensation.  Whether that’s a result of active collusion between the owners, or merely the result of normal market capitalism as effected by better player value analytics and the terms of the new collective bargaining agreement, remains to be determined.

For what it’s worth, even though owners have won roughly 57% of all salary arbitration decisions, the players love salary arbitration while the owners hate it.  The reason is that now even the poorest, stingiest, least interested in winning teams have to pay their good salary arbitration eligible players the same amount of money as the wealthiest teams have to pay.  Salary arbitration in conjunction with free agency has caused the enormous increase in player salaries since 1974.

Also, I strongly suspect that free agents have less value today than they did, say ten years ago, is because we have had the longest period without expansion since MLB’s expansion era began in 1961.  When you add in that MLB teams are bringing in more and more foreign talent from more countries, the level of play at the major league level is extremely high and it’s relatively easier to replace or acquire talent outside of free agency.

I contend that the current circumstances are akin to MLB in the 1950’s when there had been no successful MLB expansion since 1901 and black and dark-skinned Latino stars were allowed to play in the white leagues for the first time since the 1880’s.   The addition of only two additional expansion teams would have a big impact on the relative value of free agents, because there would be more demand for the elite players good enough to reach free agency based on six full seasons of major league service.  You would also see more players like Fernando Abad, who just received a non-guaranteed deal from the Phillies despite a 3.30 ERA with the Red Sox last year, get guaranteed major league deals.

NPB Signs Another Cuban Ball Player

February 14, 2018

The SoftBank Hawks just signed Cuban Yurisbel Gracial to a one year 55 million yen ($510,000) contract.  He is a 32 year old who plays shortstop and third base.  He has only played professionally in Cuba’s Serie Nacional and for a Canadian team in the Indy-A CanAm League.

Gracial is probably a major league talent who is too old for MLB.  He makes perfect sense for an NPB team, however.

Since I think the Cuban embargo has outlived any usefulness or effectiveness it may once have had, I want to see players like Gracial playing in the best league they can.  It’s a subtle stroke for capitalism that the best Cuban players who aren’t willing to defect are nevertheless going to play in Japan for the next best dollar, or yen, as the case may be, rather than staying at home and making peanuts playing in Cuba.

Cuba needs hard currency because it’s communist/socialist economy doesn’t work.  So long as Gracial gets to keep at least half of what he makes in Japan, I can live with the Cuban government getting up to the other half.  Unfortunately, I have no idea what the actual tax is — it’s entirely possible the Cuban state is getting 80% or 90% of the contract amount.

My guess is that the Hawks will play Gracial at shortstop, since they already have a fine third-sacker in Nobuhiro Matsuda.  However, with Matsuda now 35, Gracial will be in insurance policy at 3B.  The Hawks have plenty of money to spend to make sure they make NPB’s post-season every year like clockwork.

I also like the way that more and more, NPB and South Korea’s KBO are becoming like the old U.S. minor leagues before they were fully captured by the major league organizations.  They develop their own local players and import the best available players who for one reason or another haven’t been able to establish themselves as MLB major leaguers.  The Asian leagues are slowly but steadily getting better — they’d need to get rid of foreign player roster limits to move up to the next level of competition — and are slowly but steadily sending more and more of their top talent back to MLB.

Meanwhile, NPB and KBO teams hold on to their best players long enough to have great seasons and increase local interest in professional baseball by putting a quality product on the field.  Like in the independent minor leagues of old, NPB and KBO teams don’t have to give up their best players the moment the MLB majors come calling for them.

Ultimately, the better the level of play in NPB and KBO, the more players those leagues will send on or back to MLB.

KBO Goes Younger and Cheaper with its Foreign Imports in 2018

February 13, 2018

With the Samsung Lion’s announced signing of 28 year old pitcher Lisalverto Bonilla to a reported $700,000 deal, South Korea’s KBO has now filled all 30 roster spots for foreign players heading into the 2018 season.  KBO teams went younger and cheaper this off-season, which is probably a very sensible thing to do.

Last off-season, KBO teams spent big, hoping that the Korean National Team would do well in the 2017 World Baseball Classic and the KBO would see a big boost in attendance as a result.  The Korean team under-performed again in the WBC, and KBO attendance, while steady, did not experience the attendance surge KBO teams had been betting on.

KBO teams spent big on some older foreign pitchers with significant MLB experience like Jeff Manship, Carlos Villanueva and Alexi Ogando.  However, these oldsters had a hard time staying healthy, and their performances while solid, weren’t the league-leading performances their respective teams were paying for.

Also, this off-season KBO teams elected to jettison some of their big foreign stars who still pitched effectively in 2017 but were getting long in the tooth, namely Dustin Nippert, Andy Van Hekken and Eric Hacker.  Nippert was able to sign a $1 million with the KT Wiz, but that was less than half of the record-setting $2.2 million the Doosan Bears paid him in 2017.

Well, there’s a lot to be said for going younger and cheaper.  Players going into their age 26-29 seasons are a lot less likely to get hurt than players over the age of 30.

Also, except for teams with a realistic chance of going deep into the post-season, KBO teams should be looking for foreign pitchers they can develop and keep around for a few years.  You might get one great year from an MLB veteran over 30, but you might get three or more good years out of a pitcher who is signed entering his age 27 or 28 season.

The initial contract that a foreign player in the KBO signs tends to have a big impact on future contracts.  KBO teams own the rights of each foreign player in the KBO, meaning that the team which signs a foreigner to his first contract is the only game in town unless the player plays well enough to generate interest from a NPB team.

Starting a rookie foreign player in the $600,000 to $800,000 range means that it’s going to take more than one fine KBO season for that player to begin to approach the top of the salary scale for foreign players, which is currently between about $1.5 million to $2 million.  Needless to say, if you pick the right 26 to 29 year old at $600,000 to $800,000, that could be a player a KBO team could build a team around for the next three or four seasons without breaking the budget.

What Was He Thinking?

February 12, 2018

Former MLB 20-game winner Esteban Loaiza was arrested for possessing more than 20 kilos of either cocaine or heroin.  He’s being held on $200,000 bail and faces three serious felony charges.  What was Loaiza thinking?

Loaiza made more than $43 million in his major league career, according to baseball reference.  Presumably, he’s pissed through most of that or he wouldn’t be dealing drugs.  However, at age 46, he was old enough to beginning collecting his major league pension at age 45.  He had at least 10 years of major league service time, so he would have been entitled to the maximum possible benefit for anyone retiring at age 45, meaning monthly amounts that are almost certainly comfortable to live on.

I also assume that Loaiza probably had his own drug problem, which is a great way to piss away millions of dollars over a period of years, whether the drug is heroin or cocaine.  Loaiza was married for two years to celebrity Jenni Rivera.  They were going through a divorce when Rivera died in a private plane crash.  Fast living and personal problems … maybe.

It’s never a good time to be caught with more than 20 kilos of hard drugs, but it’s likely to be even worse in Trump’s America.  You would think that a former major league baseball player would be the kind of high profile suspect that Jeff Sessions and other prosecutors would love to throw the book at.  Also, Loaiza was born in Tijuana, but attended high school in San Diego County.  If he’s not a U.S. citizen, he could be deported after he finishes his likely prison term.

MLB Expansion

February 12, 2018

Every couple of years, I write a post advocating for another round of expansion in major league baseball.  It’s been about two years since my last such post, so here goes the latest iteration.  My original post from 2009 is here.  At that time, I favored Portland and San Antonio as the best options for a two-team expansion, with Charlotte and Indianapolis as the dark horse candidates.

It still appears that MLB is several years at least away from serious talks about expansion.  Commissioner Rob Manfred stated during the 2017 season that expansion is on the horizon but essentially has to wait until the Oakland A’s and Tampa Rays sort out their current ballpark problems/issues.  In other words, both the A’s and the Rays are hoping to get new, better ballparks and want to have as many good available metro areas to threaten to run away to if the Oakland East Bay Area and Tampa/St. Pete won’t kick in some money for the new ballparks.

Tracey Ringolsby wrote a piece in Baseball America, which everyone within the game reads, proposing expansion to 32 teams contained in four eight-team divisions, with a 156 game regular season schedule and the second and third place teams in each division playing a wildcard game to determine who faces the division champion. [If the season is dropped to 156 regular season games, which I support, I would prefer the wildcard winner to be determined by a best two-out-of-three series played in the second best team’s ballpark.]  Ringolsby’s piece led to a flurry of articles from other media outlets in the immediate aftermath of his article.

Last July, the Sporting News posted a piece on-line identifying 10 metropolises it though were good bets for expansion, featuring most notably Mexico City and San Juan, Puerto Rico.  At the time San Juan made sense, but now it’s virtually certain that the next round of expansion will not include a team in San Juan because of the effects of Hurricane Maria.  I also don’t see Mexico City as viable in the next two-team expansion, because I don’t think the players’ union would approve.  I just can’t see major league players from the U.S. or Canada all being enthusiastic about playing and living in Mexico, although Spanish-fluent Latino players might love it.

The main reason Mexico City gets or does not get a future expansion team probably comes down to whether an ownership group from Mexico City has the wherewithal to submit a bid and pay to build a ball club thereafter.

In my opinion, Charlotte, San Antonio, Portland and Montreal are the favorites in the next round of expansion, with Las Vegas, Indianapolis, Mexico City and Vancouver as the dark horses.  Montreal could definitely support major league baseball in the right ballpark.

If in fact the owners have figured out this off-season that most free agents’ likely future performance isn’t worth the amounts teams have been offering in past off-seasons, as opposed to owner collusion (and there have been grumblings about how many teams seem to know what other teams are offering to free agents), then players should strongly bargain for expansion.  Two expansion teams would mean both a watering down of the talent pool and an increase in demand for talent that should make free agents relatively more valuable again.

Chicago Cubs Reach Agreement with Yu Darvish for $126 Million Guarantee

February 10, 2018

The Cubs have reportedly reached agreement with Yu Darvish on a six-year contract that guarantees Darvish $126 million, but could go up with performance incentives to $150 million.  The deal also reportedly contains a no-trade clause and an opt-out for Darvish somewhere down the line.

This is a big deal for a number of reasons.  The top free agent pitcher has now signed, meaning that the market has been set for the other top pitchers remaining.  Also, it seems to fulfill the teams’ recent desire to limit the amount of free agency guarantees, while still giving Darvish life-long security and the possibility of making considerably more money than the guarantee if he continues to perform well.

When teams first started giving opt-out clauses to players also receiving record-breaking guarantees, I thought the opt-out clauses were crazy.  Obviously, I was wrong, in that opt-out clauses are clearly now being used as a means to prevent record-setting guarantees. predicted that Darvish would get a $160 million guarantee over six seasons, a number to which Darvish ultimately didn’t come close.  However, he gets to opt out if he continues to be a mound stud.

The Players Association and the agents aren’t going to be happy with this deal, but it’s hard to feel sorry for players who are still receiving nine figure free agent guarantees.  It’s been long since past time for teams to start paying free agents based on how they will likely perform going forward, rather than how they have performed in the past.