Archive for August 2019

Tyler Skaggs Died of a Drug Over-Dose

August 31, 2019

Well, we finally know why Tyler Skaggs died in a hotel room at age 27.  He choked to death on his vomit after drinking too much alcohol while loaded up on opiates.  That’s right up there among the top reasons why otherwise healthy 27 year olds suddenly die under mysterious circumstances, so I can’t say I’m surprised.

Skaggs had both oxycodone and fentanyl in his system in high doses, plus he apparently also tested positive for oxymorphone, another highly addictive opioid pain-killer that it’s major manufacturer took off the market in June 2017 at the request from the federal government.  MLB considers oxycodone to be a banned substance of abuse, and no one takes fentanyl legally outside of a hospital setting, so it’s safe to assume that Skaggs got all of his opioids on the black market.

The family statement suggests strongly that Skaggs may have gotten his illegal opioids from an Anaheim Angels’ “team employee.”  We’ll see about that, but if it’s true, it’s going to be a big, big deal with lawsuits and news stories a plenty.

It’s also no surprise that professional athletes use opioids to deal with pain so they can keep playing.  You hear about it mostly with football and hockey players, but all other professional athletes have to deal with pain and injuries for which it is likely they are prescribed opioids.

I wonder if Skaggs first started using opioids when he blew out his elbow tendon and had Tommy John surgery back in 2014.  There is probably considerable elbow pain in coming back from Tommy John surgery.  Skaggs also missed time during his comeback from the elbow surgery with adductor muscle strains.  Big, tall athletes like Skaggs also frequently have lower back problems, which is a major reason for lawful opioid prescriptions.

Something good can come from Skaggs’ untimely and ignominious death.  It’s a reminder that anyone, not just poor people in rural areas, can become addicted to opioids if their mental health, body chemistry and life circumstances make them susceptible to opioid addiction.  Skaggs was earning $3.7 million this year and had access to the best health care available, but he still got hooked to the point where he was taking powerful illegal opioids from not necessarily trust-worthy sources.

We’ve heard an awful lot about the opioid epidemic in America, but we’ve heard a lot less about a national plan for dealing with it.  I don’t know if that’s a product of the current administration’s lack of competence or focus or a reluctance to cut down on the profits pharmaceutical companies are still making on opioid prescriptions.  The information that Skaggs died of an opioid misadventure may be something that brings new focus on finding nation-wide solutions to this problem.

Kansas City Royals to Be Sold for a Reported $1Billion

August 31, 2019

The Royals’ current owner David Glass has reportedly reached a deal to sell the team for a cool $1B to John Sherman, who currently has a small ownership interest in the Cleveland Indians.  The reported amount of the sale, if accurate, means that Glass will be making more than ten times the $96 million he paid for the team back in 2000.

The Royals are almost certainly one of the six least valuable franchises in MLB.  Kansas City is a small metro market with limited revenue streams, although the franchise does draw from a fairly large section of the western Mid-West.

What the $1B sales price says to me is that two new expansion teams could probably command expansion fees of $900M each.  For two new teams, that would mean each of the 30 current teams would get $60M apiece.  That isn’t chump change, particularly when you don’t have to share that money with the players.

Of course, part of the reason that the Royals proved to be worth $1B is because there is more demand for major league teams among rich men than there are teams to purchase.  The real money in MLB is made when teams change hands, and the fewer major league teams potentially for sale, the higher the value.

Even so, two new times would not dilute the value of the other 30 teams all that much.  It has now been 21 years since the last expansion, by far the longest of the expansion era which started in 1961.  Growth is almost always good for industries, and I see no reason why MLB should be one of the exceptions.  If anything, MLB needs to expand into new markets to make up for the relative loss of interest in MLB baseball in recent years.

How Good Is Aristides Aquino?

August 30, 2019

Aristides Aquino just hit his 14th home run of the month of August, setting a new rookie record.  It’s an impressive feat, but how good is Aquino really?  There’s good reason to think that MLB pitchers and scouts will eventually find his holes.

Aquino’s minor league stats look a lot like a a player who ends up playing well in Asia, like Neftali Soto.  Through his age 24 season, peaking at the AA level, Aquino looked like a guy with power but who didn’t walk enough and struck out too much to be a successful major league player.

This year, in a combined 425 major league and (mostly) AAA plate appearances, but not including today’s record-setting game, Aquino has struck out 103 times and only walked 31 times.  That sure doesn’t look like a hitter that’s going to be able to continue batting .315, or even AAA’s .299, at the major league level.

Of course, Aquino doesn’t have to bat .299 or even .260 if he blasts enough home runs.  He has the raw power potential, but you have to think at age 25 already, his .248 career minor league average means that pitchers are going to catch up with his flaws soon enough.  Players rarely get that much better suddenly between their age 24 and 25 seasons.


Tyler Rogers Finally Gets His Shot

August 28, 2019

The Giants announced today that they have released Scooter Gennett — they’d have been better off just holding onto Joe Panik — and will call up submarining right hander Tyler Rogers to take his place.  I advocated in 2017 and 2018 for Rogers to get his major league shot, but the irony is that he doesn’t really deserve it this year.

After posting ERAs of 2.37 and 2.13 and allowing only six HRs in 143.2 IP in the hit- and homer-happy Pacific Coast League, Rogers hasn’t pitched well at AAA Sacramento this season.  His 4.21 ERA is unimpressive, he had command issues early in the season, and he’s allowed six home runs in 62 IP this year.  He’s pitched well of late, or at least I think so, since no longer publishes his last 10 PCL games since he’s just been promoted to the Show.

Low side-arm/under arm pitchers are rare, and as a result they can be effective major league pitchers in part because hitters aren’t familiar with them.  They can be very good at preventing the home run ball, but they need good infield defense behind them to stop hard hit ground balls and turn double plays.

Rogers has allowed a total of only 19 HRs in 478.2 minor league innings pitched, which is terrific.  We’ll see if he can prevent home runs by major league hitters.  Rogers needs to command his pitches if he’s going to be successful at the major league level.  Again, we’ll soon see how well he can do it.

Rogers is 28 this season, so an awful lot is riding on his ability to make a good impression right away now that he finally has the opportunity.  I’m rooting for him, but it remains to be seen if he what it takes to be a successful major leaguer.  At least, he’s finally getting an opportunity to show what he can do.

Pablo Sandoval’s Major League Career Likely Over

August 25, 2019

It was announced today that Pablo Sandoval will be undergoing Tommy John surgery in early September.  I hope Pablo has saved some money from that ginormous contract the Red Sox gave him five years ago, because his major league career is likely over.

Pablo turned 33 about two weeks ago, so it’s unlikely he’ll recover sufficiently to play again before the 2020 winter baseball season.  It definitely takes longer for players Pablo’s age to recover from elbow ligament replacement surgery than it does for players still in their 20’s, and in any event it almost always takes at least a full year.

Losing a year’s playing time at Pablo’s age usually is a career death sentence regardless of the cause, particularly for position players.  If government relations with Venezuela have improved enough a year from now, Pablo could assumably try to make a come-back in the Venezuelan Winter League in late 2020 or he could try playing in the Dominican Republic or Puerto Rico, but anyway I’m highly doubtful that Pablo will play well enough to interest a major league team for 2021.  Add to that the fact that Pablo’s waistline is likely to be considerably bigger by March 2021 if he isn’t able to play baseball regularly.

Pablo had his career, made his money, lived the good life, and won some World Series rings.  He was at times or at least in his best moments a great player.  If Pablo’s career is over, I won’t feel too sorry for him.  You have to figure that if it hadn’t been his elbow tendon, it probably would have been his knee or his back that gave out at some time between now and the end of the 2020 season.

Joe Panik off to a Strong Start as a Met

August 24, 2019

I don’t know if anyone has noticed, but through his first 12 games for the New York Mets, Joe Panik is hitting a lusty .343 (13 for 38), although his OPS is only .796 as he hasn’t walked much or hit for power.  Batting near the top of the Mets’ line-up, he’s scored 10 runs, however.

There is still plenty of time for Joe to go cold before the 2019 season ends, and it’s likely the Mets will non-tender him after the season either way.   The Mets are still on the hook for a pile of money to Robinson Cano through 2023, and Panik is arbitration eligible and would get a raise from his current $3.8 million salary through the salary arbitration process.

Assuming that Panik continues to hit well as a Met, it’s possible he just needed a change of scenery.  Panik is from the greater New York metro area and played college ball at St. John’s, so perhaps signing with the Mets is a dream come true for Joe.

I’m kind of at a loss to understand why Panik stopped hitting as a Giant the last two seasons, when he’d hit well enough three of the prior four seasons.  If the Mets do non-tender Panik, he may be able to command a $2.5M to $4M one-year deal for 2020, as he tries to rebuild value for his free agency after the 2020 season.

I’m disappointed Panik ran out of steam as a Giant, but I wish him the best going forward, and I hope he can put his career back together.  It’s likely that the Marlins will elect to pay Starlin Castro a $1M buyout rather than pay his $16M option.  If so, the Fish will be in need of an affordable 2Bman, and Panik would fit the bill.

MLB Bans Players from Playing in the Venezuelan Winter League

August 23, 2019

MLB has banned all of its major and minor league players from playing in Venezuela next winter, in keeping with Trump’s embargo on Venezuela’s failed “Bolivarian Socialist” state.  MLB is waiting for guidance from the Trump Administration on whether letting minor league players make some real money playing winter ball, at least compared to their paltry minor league salaries, actually violates the embargo, but MLB has decided to act now just in case.

I suspect that playing in the LVBP does violate the government embargo, at least as a practical matter, because it has always more or less been common knowledge that since the Venezuelan economy went south in 2013, the government has been increasingly subsidizing winter baseball as low-cost public entertainment with money from the State oil company PDVSA.

Will a reduction in LVBP performance level this winter significantly hasten Maduro’s fall?  I doubt it.  Venezuela still has enough domestic talent, even without MLB minor leaguers  (major league stars are barred by their individual teams from playing in the winter leagues so the players won’t get hurt while they’re under contract) to put on an entertaining level of play.  Plus, the LVBP can still sign other Caribbean players not likely to play in the MLB system going forward.

Don’t get me wrong — I don’t have any fondness or sympathy for Maduro, a tin-pot dictator if ever there was one.  It’s just that the people most likely to suffer from MLB’s decision will be Venezuelan baseball fans; the 20 to 30 MLB minor leaguers who often make as much money or more playing for 2.5 months in Venezuela as they do in the 5.5 month minor league season; and the Venezuelan players who want to play in front of their home fans and have no responsibility for the Maduro regime’s actions.

According to above, players can make $10,000 to $50,000 for the LVBP season.  I’d guestimate that because of Venezuela’s economic problems, most foreign or MLB minor league players who play in LVBP make $20,000 or less for the season.  Meanwhile, an MLB minor league player who has reached AAA but not the majors and has less than seven years of minor league service could be paid as little as $2,150.00 per month in 2018.  That’s about $12,000 for a full AAA season.

Independent-A league stars make up a significant portion of players who play in the Caribbean Winter Leagues now.  They need the money just as bad with salaries capping at $3,000 per month (five month season) in the Atlantic League and around $2,200 per month (4.5 months) in the American Association.  It’s unlikely the Indy-A leagues will take a position since they don’t have much control over players once their seasons end.  As such, each of these players will have to make his own decision whether playing in Venezuela is worth the possible legal consequences.

As a final issue, raised the possibility that Maduro could bar MLB teams from signing Venezuelan amateurs, particularly those under 18, as retaliation for MLB’s move.  I suspect, though, that if Maduro does bar such signings, he may still let young Venezuelan players go to the Dominican Republic to train, where they could sign with MLB teams.  Maduro has to realize that remittances from abroad are one of the only things keeping Venezuela’s economy from complete collapse.

Steven Duggar Avoids Surgery

August 21, 2019 reports that Steven Duggar will not have to undergo surgery on his left shoulder.  Good news, so long as his shoulder finally heals properly.

Duggar didn’t hit as a Giant (.239 BA/.619 OPS), but he sure hit for AAA Sacramento after he was sent down on July 3rd, coming off the injured list.  He hit .337/1.003, but, alas, in only 23 games before the Giants re-called him, so there’s the small sample-size issue on the AAA performance; and Duggar was only 3-12 with a double and a walk in the six games after returned to the Show.

If Duggar is entirely healthy in 2020 and his 2019 AAA performance wasn’t a fluke, he should be a useful major league outfielder next season at age 26, not least because his fielding is well above average.

In short, there is still room to hope for Duggar’s career as a Giant.  But I won’t be getting my hopes up too much either.

An Interesting Off-Season Awaits Josh Lindblom

August 21, 2019

Ace Josh Lindblom currently has a 19-1 record in South Korea’s KBO.  He’s leading his league in wins, ERA (2.03) and strikeouts (152 in 155 IP). He’s pitching so exceptionally well (even though the KBO has not been the hitters’ league this season it was in years’ past), is reporting that “MLB scouts have been attending [his] KBO starts in droves.”  He is now 34-5 in the KBO since the beginning of the 2018 season(!)

The upshot is that Lindblom is going to have an exciting upcoming off-season.  There is nothing a player wants more than to be desired and have options.  I’m sure Lindblom’s agent has already printed out the post for later reference.

Lindblom will be going into his age 33 season in 2020, which is old in terms of drawing serious interest from an MLB team.  On the other hand, Lindblom has a much stronger past MLB track record than most foreign KBO pitchers.  Lindblom pitched in 114 major league games across parts of five MLB seasons and posted a very respectable 4.10 ERA with decent ratios, although he made only six major league starts.

Lindblom plays for the KBO’s wealthiest team — the Doosan Bears — and KBO rules on foreign player contracts changed last off-season.  New foreign players or foreign players switching KBO teams cannot be paid more than $1M for their first contract.  However, KBO teams are now allowed to sign foreign players to multi-year contracts for the first time.

The highest salary paid to a foreign player by a KBO team to date is the $2.2M or $2.3M the Doosan Bears paid Dustin Nippert in 2017, coming off a 2016 Nippert season not unlike Lindblom’s 2019.  This season, Lindblom has a base salary of $1.77M plus $150,000 in performance incentives he’s likely to earn in full.

Without the rule change, Lindblom would probably be looking at a $2M contract for 2020 with a team option for $2M for 2021 and a $500,000 buyout, so a $2.5M guarantee for one season.  With the rule change (but KBO revenues probably down), Lindblom is most likely looking at a two-year contract with a $4M guarantee from the Bears.  Even with the rule change, I don’t see the Bears taking more than baby steps on a long-term contract for a foreign player, particularly one going into his age 33 season.

Because of his age and lack of NPB experience, I don’t see a Japanese team beating the Bears on a $4M guarantee.  To an MLB team, however, $4M is not big money.  An MLB won’t pay that much if they don’t have to, but if only one of the 30 MLB teams likes Lindblom, two years and a $4M guarantee is easily matched.

Former KBO ace Merrill Kelly signed a two year deal with a $5.5M guarantee with the Diamondbacks last off-season.  He hasn’t been great, but fangraphs says his value has been $11.9M so far this season, so he’s been a bargain.  Kelly is three years younger this year than Lindblom will be in 2020, and Kelly had better strikeout rates in the KBO than Lindblom.  However, Lindblom has a much better past MLB major league record, and his accomplishments the last two KBO seasons speak for themselves.

If an MLB team thinks Lindblom is worth a $4M guarantee, I think he’ll be back in the U.S. in 2020.  If not, he’s likely to get a record-setting KBO contract that will set a precedent for KBO foreign players going forward.

Lose Weight, Vlad Jr.

August 18, 2019

Vlad Jr. came out of today’s game with left knee “discomfort.”  He’s listed at 6’2″ and 250 lbs at age 20.

Work out harder in the off-season, and eat better, or risk becoming the next Pablo Sandoval.  Pablo has had his moments, but when you have that kind of talent, you have to be thinking of the Hall of Fame.