Archive for November 2018

Atlanta Braves Sign Josh Donaldson And Other Notes

November 27, 2018

The Braves have reportedly signed Josh Donaldson for one season at a robust $23 million, the same salary he earned in 2018.  It’s a exciting move for Braves’ fans, because Donaldson has the goods when he’s healthy, and he’s due for a healthy age 33 season in 2019.  If he isn’t healthy, it’s only a one-year commitment.

Donaldson’s signing indicates the Braves are serious about making and going deeper into the post-season next year.  The Braves also added veteran catcher Brian McCann on a one-year $2M deal, where he will presumably platoon with Tyler Flowers, following Kurt Suzuki‘s departure for greener pastures in the National’s capital.

With both McCann and Flowers over age 33 next season, the Braves will need a third catcher waiting in the wings.  It remains to be seen who that might be since the Braves may well decide that Carlos Perez isn’t worth an arbitration raise.

Nice to see Donaldson betting on himself to be healthy and productive in 2019.  Of course, $23M is still an enormous amount of money even if were to be Donaldson’s last significant major league payday.

Donaldson’s signing is the biggest so far in an as yet slow to develop signing period, so I’ll go back to a favorite topic of mine: Asian signings.

Former Giants prospect Tommy Joseph signed a million dollar deal to go play for the LG Twins of South Korea’s KBO.  Joseph was the first guy I listed in my post on the subject six weeks ago, because he’s the right age (he turns 28 next July 16th) and the right talent level.  Good luck to him — the secret to Asian baseball success for former MLB players is a hot first six weeks.

In another example of why Japan’s NPB and marginal major league relievers are a match made in heaven is the Yokohama Bay Stars’ re-signing of Spencer Patton for two years and a reported $3M guarantee plus another $1M in performance bonuses.  The MLB major leagues are loaded with relievers who aren’t quite good enough to be MLB stars, but are good enough to be NPB stars.  On top of that, the NPB salary scale, where the very best players are effectively capped at around 600 million yen per season ($5.3M), means that star relief pitchers are relatively overpaid compared to MLB.

Foreign one-year KBO veterans, RHP Tyler Wilson and OF Jared Hoying, re-signed for $1.5M and $1.4M, respectively, but so far this year looks like a retrenching year for the KBO with many still effective foreign veterans getting the ax for presumably less expensive foreign newbies.

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Will Tyler Rogers Be Selected in This Year’s Rule-5 Draft?

November 24, 2018

The San Francisco Giants have not placed Tyler Rogers on their 40-man roster in advance of the Rule 5 Draft, so one would think the team might actually lose him this year.  Rogers has now had consecutive seasons at AAA Sacramento in which he’s posted ERAs of 2.37 in 2017 and 2.13 in 2018 over a total of 143.2 innings pitched.

Rogers is pretty much the poster boy for the purpose of the Rule 5 Draft: to allow teams a crack at highly productive high minor league players whom have not been promoted to the major leagues by their current organization.  In practice, teams often select higher upside, low minor league players whom they then waste a roster spot on for the next season, but players like Rogers are really the ones whom the rule is designed to benefit.

It’s clear that the Giants don’t consider Rogers to be any kind of a prospect.  He hasn’t received even a cup of coffee at the major league level despite his excellent AAA numbers, and the Giants are content to keep the even older and proven major league mediocrity Josh Osich on their 40-man roster.

MLB.com ran a list of the best Rule-5 candidates from each of MLB’s 30 major league teams, and they picked soon to be 21 year old RF Sandro Fabian as the Giants’ best Rule-5 candidate.  Fabian had a .585 OPS in 450 plate appearances at Class A+ San Jose last season, so it’s clear that he’s not going to be a major league caliber player for at least two full seasons.  A team like the Orioles that has no chance of being good in 2019 can afford to waste a roster space for a full season on a player like Fabian, but there aren’t many other major league teams that can.

There are a lot more teams that might benefit by selecting a player like Rogers, who might actually contribute at the major league level in 2019.

I understand that MLB doesn’t consider Rogers a legitimate prospect, but you would have to think there are at least a couple of major league teams like the A’s and the Rays, that would look at Rogers’ AAA performance in the hit-happy Pacific Coast League and figure what have we got to loose by selecting him and giving him a real shot except $50,000, which is peanuts in today’s major league game.

Rogers’ progress through the minors suggests that it can take him as much as half a season to adjust to the higher level of play once he reached the AA level.  Still, even if Rogers doesn’t initially play well enough to hold a major league roster spot, I have little doubt a trade couldn’t be swung to hold onto his rights, because obviously the Giants think very little of his major league prospects.

San Francisco Giants Owner Charles B. Johnson Has Plenty of Love for Southern Bigots

November 24, 2018

Here’s an article from Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle about some of Giants’ principal owner Charles B. Johnson’s political contributions to various Southern bigots.  Specifically, Johnson and his wife each made maximum $2,700 contributions to Mississippi Senate candidate Cindy Hyde-Smith nine days after Hyde-Smith made her now infamous “public hanging” (i.e., lynching) comments for which she has refused to issue a proper apology.

Even more damning, Johnson gave $1,000 to a Super-PAC called “Black Americans for the President’s Agenda” which was responsible for a racist robocall during an Arkansas congressional election before the mid-terms.  You can hear the robocall in the link in this New York Times article.

Johnson issued a statement that he did not know the Super-PAC would issue the racist robocall, but I doubt very much that he has demanded that the Super-PAC immediately return his contribution.

As this Op-Ed from the Sacramento Bee points out, Johnson is free to give money to any cause or candidate he wants, but progressive Giants’ fans from liberal San Francisco are also free to stop putting money into Johnson’s pocket by attending Giants games and buying merchandise.  We will see if the reporting on Johnson’s political contributions has any impact on the Giants’ revenue streams in 2019.

Christian Villanueva and Alan Busenitz Taking Their Talents to Japan

November 23, 2018

Not much is happening right now in MLB’s off-season, but Asian teams are kicking their signings of foreign players into high gear.  The Yomiuri Giants have signed former Padres 3Bman Christian Villanueva, and the Rakuten Golden Eagles have signed former Minnesota Twins reliever Alan Busenitz.

I didn’t predict either player going to Asia in my most recent post on this subject, because I thought that both players would be seen as too valuable to their now former MLB teams to allow them to depart for Asian baseball.  In fact, it’s pretty usual to see a player like Villanueva, who establishes himself as an MLB major league regular one year leave for Japan the next.  Almost all such players choose to stay in MLB, where the upside for successful performance is so much higher.

MLB teams will usually let players like Villanueva and Busenitz who have each just finished their age 27 seasons go off to Japan’s NPB for more money, but usually because the MLB team doesn’t think the player has enough future value to prevent the player from having the opportunity to make a lot more money in Japan.  I’d guess the Yomiuri Giants gave the Padres $1M for Villanueva’s rights, and I’d guess the Rakuten Golden Eagles gave the Twins somewhere between $500,000 and $1M for Busenitz’s rights.  That’s not a lot of money for players who reasonably appeared to have MLB major league futures.

It does seem clear, however, that the Padres saw Villanueva as a place holder until they can develop a longer-term option at third base, like possibly Ty France, who reached AAA last year at age 23.  Villanueva was a little below average as a starting 3Bman with both the bat and the glove as a rookie last year, but he strikes out a lot, doesn’t walk much, and players who establish themselves as major league regulars in their age 27 season don’t typically go on to have long and successful major league careers.

Although NPB teams don’t report contract amounts, Villanueva is believed to be receiving around $2M from Yomiuri in 2019, with some reports suggesting the contract could be for as much as $3M if all performance incentives are met.  That’s a lot more than the guaranteed $600,000 major league contract Villanueva would have received from the Padres.  However, I doubt more than $1M of the Yomiuri contract is guaranteed.

Busenitz pitched poorly for the Twins in 2018 (7.82 ERA) after pitching extremely well for them in 2017.  He also pitched very well in AAA the last two seasons.  The fact that Busenitz will also be 28 in 2018 isn’t quite as important as it is for Villanueva, given that Busenitz is a middle reliever with a live arm.  He has less than a full year of major league service, so like Villanueva, he had many years of low price, team control ahead of him.

Busenitz was likely to get a split contract after his poor 2018 performance, and he appeared to have another year of minor league options left, so he’s definitely going to make more money in Japan in 2019 than he would in the U.S.  He’ll have a shot at being the Golden Eagles’ closer — if he’s successful in that role, he’s likely to get a good pay raise to stay in Japan for 2020.

More Asian Baseball Comings and Goings

November 16, 2018

The KBO’s SK Wyverns announced the signing of 24 year old Canadian right-hander Brock Dykxhoorn to replace foreign ace Merrill Kelly, who Yonhap reports intends to return to MLB in 2019.  The news interests me for a couple of reasons.

First, I’m a little surprised that Kelly wants to return to MLB after the success and money he’s made pitching in the KBO.  He has been very good in the KBO, but I’m not convinced he’s a full season MLB major league pitcher.

Kelly would easily have commanded a two-year $3M contract to remain with the Wyverns.  He isn’t likely to get a similar deal from an MLB organization, although he could potentially get a similar deal from an NPB team.

At 24 (and not turning 25 until next July) Dykxhoorn is very young by the standards of foreign pitchers signed to play in an Asian major league for major league money.  Dykxhoorn has only half a season of AAA experience and has never pitched in the Show.

My own feeling is that age 26 or 27 is the ideal age for a 4-A player to attempt to start an NPB or KBO career.  At that age the player is close to his peak skills level and he’s mature enough mentally to have a reasonable chance to make the adjustment to playing baseball in a foreign major league.

The last similar player under the age of 26 in the KBO was Adam Wilk, who pitched for the NC Dinos in his age 25 season in 2013.  Wilk didn’t pitch terribly (4-8 record, 4.12 ERA but 4.71 run average), but his stint in the KBO did not go well.  In fact, there was a lot of acrimony between Wilk and the Dinos, which I suspect had something to do with Wilk’s expectations and maturity level.  I suspect that Wilk expected that pitching in South Korea would be more “major league,” while the Dinos wanted Wilk to just shut up and perform at a high level for the major league money they were paying him.

If Dykxhoorn is successful in the KBO in 2019, it could lead to a long Asian career or a chance to return to MLB as a better pitcher in a few years.  However, Asian teams who sign foreign players to major league contracts have no interest in developing young foreigners.  Those players need to perform at a high level from day one if they are being paid major league money.

The Yomiuri Giants have announced that Casey McGehee will not be returning to the team in 2019.  McGehee had another strong season for the Giants in 2018, slashing .285/.336/.467.  However, McGehee is now 36 years old, and his performance in 2018 did represent a drop-off from 2017 when he was one of the Central League’s best hitters.

More than just about anyone I can think of, McGehee effectively used NPB as a means to maximize his professional baseball success, both on the field and in the pocketbook.  When his MLB major career looked shot, he used a strong year in NPB in 2013 to justify a return to the MLB majors, and when his second MLB major run ended after three seasons, he successfully returned to NPB.  I hope it’s been fun for Casey, and he has a lot of good memories about where his professional career has taken him.

Two other big foreign stars who won’t be returning to NPB in 2019 are Brad Eldred and Jay Jackson.  Eldred is already 38 years old, and he missed most of 2018 to injuries.  Eldred his 133 NPB home runs across seven seasons.

Jackson however was an effective top set-up man for the third year in a row in 2018, and he only just turned 31, so I’m surprised the Hiroshima Carp decided not to bring him back.  His ERA rose from 2.03 in 2017 to a still respectable 2.76, but he missed several weeks of the regular season to hamstring injury in September and only pitched twice in the post-season.  Carp management may have decided he wouldn’t be worth the $1M+ contract he’s have received for 2019.  I wouldn’t be surprised if one of NPB’s poorer teams sign Jackson this off-season now that he’s available.

MLB and Fox Reach $5.1 Billion Broadcast Rights Agreement

November 15, 2018

MLB and Fox reach a new rights agreement covering the seven-year period between 2022 and 2028.  The agreement provides that MLB will earn almost 50% more money per year than under the previous eight-year agreement that expires after the 2021 season.

It is something of a surprise that the new deal is so much more generous to MLB given that attendance was down this year and World Series viewership was very disappointing in light of the fact that you had two teams playing, Boston and L.A., which should have provided for more interest and viewership.

What the new agreement says to me is that we probably won’t have another round of MLB expansion through at least 2028.  MLB teams are too conservative to be willing to cut the TV pie thinner to allow for two or four more teams to get a slice.  As long as TV revenues keep increasing by leaps and bounds, teams are not going to feel the need to add expansion teams to additional markets to increase national viewership or league-wide attendance.

This agreement is great for MLB through 2028, but could be very bad for MLB in the long term if the current attendance and TV viewership decline trends continue through 2028.  MLB isn’t going to have much incentive to make the changes necessary to reverse these negative trends until they actually start to hit MLB in the pocketbook.

Hanwha Eagles Sign Two New Foreign Pitchers

November 15, 2018

It has been announced that the Hanwha Eagles of South Korea’s KBO just signed former MLBers Warwick Saupold and Chad Bell for the 2019 season.  Saupod, an Australian, will receive a $1 million ($300K signing bonus, $700K salary not guaranteed), the new maximum for foreign players signing their first contracts with any KBO team, and Bell will receive $600,000 ($200K signing bonus, $400K salary).

I wouldn’t normally write about a KBO team bringing in two new foreign pitchers, as foreign players come and go in Asian pro baseball.  Saupold and Bell are fairly obvious choices for the contract amounts they received — the new $1M cap on first contracts is going to impede KBO teams’ abilities to sign the best available 4-A pitchers, who will likely now sign with NPB teams for just over $1M per.

What is unusual about the moves is that the Eagles are jettisoning last year’s two foreign pitchers Keyvius Sampson and David Hale after strong 2018 performances and that the Eagles did so so early in the off-season — these are the first announced signings of new foreign players in the KBO this off-season.

Keyvius Sampson led the KBO with 195 strikeouts in 161.2 IP.  It isn’t often that a team apparently makes little effort to bring back a starter who has just lead the league in strikeouts.  Sampson went 13-8 with a 4.68 ERA in 2018.  While the ERA doesn’t look impressive, it was still 14th best among qualifiers in a ten-team hitters’ league.

It’s possible that Sampson, who turns 28 in January, wants to return to MLB or jump to Japan’s NPB.  However, I’m not sure he has the command yet to be a major leaguer in MLB or NPB in 2019.  He walked 79 in 2018, which tied for the KBO league lead.

If I were Sampson, I would want to return to the KBO in 2019 to see if he can turn his plus stuff into even better results and then make the move to MLB or NPB in 2020, when he’ll still be only 29.

David Hale went 3-4 in 12 second half appearances with a 4.34 ERA for the Eagles in 2018.  He pitched better in his first six KBO appearances than he did in his last six, and he turned 31 in September, so the Eagles may have simply decided they would be better off bringing in someone new.  Asian pro teams often treat foreign players as a fungible commodity, although that is less the case now because not every new foreign player succeeds in Asian baseball.

It’s possible that Sampson and the Eagles had a fundamental disagreement on what Sampson should be paid in 2019.  However, KBO teams usually won’t move on this early in the off-season from a pitcher whom they hope to bring back.

Sampson could sign with another KBO team, but he would be facing the $1M first contract cap with any other KBO team he might sign for.  I would expect that if Sampson wants to return to the KBO in 2019 and will accept a $1M contract to do so, another KBO team will in fact sign him.  It feels like he has too much upside not to bring him back for a second KBO season.  The Eagles have a reputation for being  poorly run and under-performing relative to their revenue streams, and the failure to re-sign Sampson seems like hard evidence for the Eagles’ poor reputation.