Archive for January 2019

Yoon Suk-Min Takes Record Pay Cut

January 30, 2019

Remember Yoon Suk-Min (or Suk-Min Yoon, if you prefer)?  He was a top KBO hurler who fell on his face after the Baltimore Orioles signed him and sent him to AAA Norfolk in 2014.

He returned to South Korea after his disastrous American season on a generous four year deal with the KBO Kia Tigers.  Unfortunately, arm problems (too many innings pitched at too young an age for a guy who isn’t very big) have kind of dis-railed his pro career.

Anyway, Yoon is back in the news in a very minor way.  He just set a KBO record by taking a 1.05 billion ($940,000) won pay cut for the 2019 season.  He made 1.25 billion won in 2018 and will be making 200 million won ($180,000) in 2019.

By way of comparison, MLB players cannot be paid less than 80% of their previous year’s salary by their current time, although, of course, teams can simply release any player who they don’t think is worth 80% of their previous year’s salary.  As a practical matter, no MLB player ever takes a 20% pay cut unless they are badly injured.  Players who aren’t arbitration eligible generally aren’t paid enough to take a 20% pay cut, and arbitration eligible players are either non-tendered or get a pay raise simply by virtue of service time additions.

The good news for Yoon is that he made good money on his previous four-year deal, and even $180,000 a season is a good two or three years of income for the average South Korean man Yoon’s age (he’s now 32).  Playing professional baseball in a true major league is good work if you’re good enough to get it.

Caribbean Series Moves from Venezuela to Panama at Last Minute

January 29, 2019

Six days before the Caribbean Series is scheduled to start, it has been announced that the Series will be played in Panama, rather than Venezuela, based on the deterioration of the political situation in Venezuela just in the last week.

The teams that will be playing are the league champions (plus other assorted stars) from each of Cuba, Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Mexico and Panama.  The Panamanian team is the weakest on paper, but in a short series, who knows?

The last-minute decision to move the Caribbean Series is likely to have major financial consequences, although it’s unclear how many foreigners were willing to fly into Venezuela even before the recent escalation of political instability.

Typically, many upper middle class people from the Caribbean’s baseball-loving countries are willing to fly into at least the more stable countries to over-dose on seven or eight days of multi-game per day baseball action by the top players the Caribbean Winter Leagues can bring together.  It’s not major league baseball, but it’s good baseball with a lot of old rivalries and a lot of Latin American stars; and it’s typically a big money maker for the host country and the teams and players who get to play in it.

The games will be played this year in the 27,000 seat Rod Carew Stadium in Panama City (Rod Carew was actually born in the Canal Zone at Gatun just south of Colon, but Panama City is the capital and a whole lot nicer for tourists).  According to espn.com, Panama hasn’t hosted the Caribbean Series since 1960, back in the days when Panama sported one of the top winter leagues.  I would have to assume the holding the Caribbean Series there this February will be a really big deal for Panamanian baseball fans.

Los Angeles Dodgers Sign A.J. Pollock for $55 Million

January 26, 2019

So much for the Giants signing A.J. Pollock, one of the few premium free agents the team had been linked to.  The Dodgers signed Pollock for four years and $55M, only $5M less than mlbtraderumors.com had predicted.

At least the Giants get to keep the draft pick compensation that signing Pollock required, and management is making noises that they will still find a way to improve the outfield mix before Spring Training starts.  I’m really starting to feel, though, that new General Manager Farhan Zaidi was brought in to start a quiet re-build of the team that will begin in earnest next July if the 2019 club, with it’s core of veteran players, doesn’t play better/win more than they did last year.

The Padres have reportedly gotten in on Manny Machado because his market isn’t where everyone was expecting it to be.  It’s possible the Gints could similarly jump in on Bryce Harper, but I won’t have any expectations of that front until a signing is reported to be imminent.

What I am starting to anticipate with so many top free agents still unsigned is that the final contract guarantees will be disappointing, but will feature lots and lots of player opt-outs.  When teams originally began giving players opt-out clauses, as I’ve written before, it seemed absolutely crazy because the players getting the opt-outs were also getting record-setting deals.  Times have changed in a big way, and now the player opt-outs have become the miss congeniality, second banana prize in place of the record-setting contract guarantee.

J.D. Martinez‘s contract last year was the perfect example of this.  The $110M guarantee was disappointing, but he gets two opt-outs after each of the 2019 and 2020 season.  I could easily see either or both of Manny Machado or Bryce Harper getting $75M to $100M less in guarantee than mlbtraderumors.com projected, but getting like three or four or even five separate opt-outs over the length of the contract.

Why not?  The opt-out clauses make sense if the team can short the player on the guarantee.  In Bryce Harper’s case in particular, I have no doubt that Scott Boras will wring out every single possible term he can to get that benefits his client, particularly if he can’t get a record-setting guarantee.  Manny’s agent Dan Lozano won’t be far behind Boras.

 

San Francisco Giants Add Lefty Drew Pomeranz

January 23, 2019

The Giants have reportedly reached an agreement with left-handed starter Drew Pomeranz for $1.5M, plus another $3.5M in performance incentives.  If Pomeranz’s arm is healthy, this is a great, low-cost move for the Gints.

Pomeranz was once the 5th overall draft pick in 2010 out of Ol’ Miss, but the Rockies weren’t able to develop him into a major league star.  It is tough developing young pitchers in mile high Denver, and Pomeranz has pitched well when he’s played for teams playing in pitchers’ parks (Oakland, San Diego).  He had a fine year in hit-happy Fenway in 2017, going 17-6 with a 3.32, but pitched badly last season when he was battling injuries.

Pomeranz only recently turned 30, so the Giants could be getting a top starter for a bargain price.  Even if Pomeranz is hurt again, he’s costing the team a very small guarantee by current standards.  Frankly, I’m surprised that Pomeranz couldn’t get a deal promising him a $2M guarantee and $6M in incentives, given his pedrigree, his upside and his 2017 performance.  In fact, I like this signing better than bringing back Derek Holland.

One of the advantages of playing in an extreme pitchers’ or hitters’ park is that if management knows what it is doing, it isn’t hard to identify under-performing but talented players coming from teams playing in parks that don’t suit their skills.  Almost every off-season, the Giants identify and cheaply sign at least one pitcher who then pitches much better than he has in the recent past once his confidence gets buoyed by pitching in the friendly (for pitchers) confines of AT&T (or whatever they are calling it now) Park.  Last year it was Derek Holland; in 2019 it could well be Drew Pomeranz.

New York Yankees Trade Sonny Gray to Cincinnati Reds

January 22, 2019

The Yankees traded Sonny Gray to the Reds today as part of a three-way deal that otherwise involved prospects and competitive balance picks.  The Reds got Gray to agree to a three-year extension (2020-2022) for $30.5 million in addition to the $7.5 million he’s owed for 2019.

The move is in keeping with the Reds’ win-now trade for Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp and Alex Wood earlier this off-season.  While I was not initially enthusiastic about the Reds’ desire to extend Gray given his injury history, the extension guarantee amount certainly takes into account the likelihood that Gray will be injured at some time during the next four years.

The Reds also received 22 year old Colombian lefty Reiver Sanmartin.  He’s slightly built and looks like he’s had a hard time staying healthy.  What’s most noticable about him is that he appears to have exceptional control for a young pitcher.  In 205 career minor league innings pitched, he’s walked only 28 while striking out 177.  He’s also allowed only seven home runs.

The Yankees got 2B prospect Shed Long and what looks to be the 36th overall pick in the 2019 Draft.  Aside from having a great name, Shed Long is an interesting prospect.  He started his pro career as a catcher but has since moved to 2B, which you don’t see very often.  He had a pretty good year at AA at age 22, slashing .261/.353/.412.  He looks to have some power potential, he’ll take a walk and he runs well.  Looks like he turns the double play well too.

However, the Yankees immediately flipped Long to the Mariners for center fielder Josh Stowers, who had a reasonably good first professional season in a short-season A league in 2018.  He was the 54th overall pick out of Louisville in last year’s Draft, so it’s clear the Yankees will be adding some prime young talent through this trade.  My guess would be that Stowers starts the 2019 at Class A+ Tampa.

The Miami Marlins Sign Hector Noesi

January 19, 2019

The Miami Marlins signed Hector Noesi to a minor league contract which will pay him $800,000 for major league service time.  Noesi presumably will earn an invitation to major league Spring Training.

Noesi made a reported $1.7M to play in the KBO last season.  While he would have had to take a major pay cut to stay in the KBO, after a season in which he posted a 4.60 ERA, that probably wasn’t the reason he didn’t return to the KBO.  After the fine KBO seasons he had in 2016 and 2017, he probably could have found another KBO team to sign him in the $800K to $1M range.

Instead, South Korea recently changed its tax policies for foreign athletes and applied the changes retro-actively specifically because numerous foreign athletes weren’t paying up their taxes.  The changes don’t affect American citizen athletes nearly as much as players from the Caribbean, because the U.S. and South Korea have an existing tax treaty which makes the changes less onerous for U.S. citizen foreigners.

Noesi is from the Dominican Republic, however, and by some reports, had he stayed for another season in the KBO in 2019, he would have had to pay essentially his entire 2019 salary in taxes, current and past.  This tax law change also explains why fellow Dominican Henry Sosa will be pitching in Taiwan’s CPBL in 2019 for a lot less money than he made in the KBO in 2018, in spite of having one of his finest KBO seasons in terms of ERA and strikeouts.

Nine Caribbean-origin ballplayers were included in the 30 foreign players who started the 2018 KBO season (Mel Rojas Jr. is the son of Dominican Mel Rojas, but Jr. was born in Indianapolis and is thus a U.S. citizen by birth).  Only one of those nine is returning to the KBO in 2019, although there are numerous Caribbean-origin players who will be KBO rookies in 2019.  Of course, KBO rookies can’t be required to pay back-taxes they haven’t accrued.

I’m a little surprised, given Noesi’s fairly extensive MLB track record, that he’ll only be paid $800K for major league service time.  Jon Heyman tweeted that the deal involves many incentives, and I would guess it may pay Noesi relatively well ($250K to $300K for minor league service time).

Still Waiting for the San Francisco Giants to Do Something This Off-Season

January 16, 2019

We are just past the half-way mark in January, and the biggest Giants’ move this off-season is re-signing Derek Holland for one year at $7M with an option for a second season.  One has to wonder if new Giants general manager Farhan Zaidi has decided it’s time for a re-build without telling anyone.

The Giants have signed plenty of minor leaguers to add organizational depth, including Pat Venditte, Cameron Rupp, Donovan Solano, Mike Gerber, Kieran Lovegrove, Breyvic Valera, Travis Bergen, Drew Ferguson, Jeffrey Baez, and Keyvius Sampson.

Hard to see any of them, except maybe Venditte or Rupp, contributing much if anything at the major league level in 2019.  Travis Bergen and Drew Ferguson are Rule 5 selections, so they’ll get a shot to make the major league club, but the odds are slim they’ll actually improve the team in 2019.  Keyvius Sampson showed major league stuff in South Korea’s KBO in 2018, leading the circuit with 195 Ks in 161.2 IP.  However, Sampson didn’t show major league command, walking 79 batters and posting a 4.68 ERA.

There is still time for the Giants to make a splashy free agent signing, namely center fielder A.J. Pollock.  There haven’t been a lot of rumors about either the Giants trying to sign Pollock or anyone trying hard to sign Pollack for that matter, so it’s hard to know if there is a real chance the Giants will sign him.  Signing Pollock would cost the Giants the tenth pick of the 2nd Round of the 2019 Draft and $500,000 of international bonus pool money, which would be enough to discourage any team committed to re-building.

Right now, the Giants look like the same team that limped in with a 73-89 season in 2018.  Could be that new GM Zaidi wants to see whether the same team gets off to a better start in 2019 or falls flat on its face, at which point the re-build can begin in earnest after the 2019 All-Star Break.