Archive for the ‘Anaheim Angels’ category

An Off-Season of Contract Extensions

March 26, 2019

As we approach the start of the 2019 season, it was a notable off-season for the way in which big money contract extensions eclipsed all but the top three free agent signings.  As Spring Training started, it seemed like every single team was determined to lock in their best players for many years at big money, bigger money it sure seems than the free agents got at least in grand total.

A couple of things seem to be in play here.  First, it seems like the owners have finally figured out what Charlie Finley had realized around 1975, which is essentially that only the superstars are worth the really big contracts and that more average players and aging stars are fungible enough that teams shouldn’t go around overpaying them.

When the players won the Andy Messersmith free agency arbitration, Finley suggested that all players should be allowed to be free agents every year.  That way, the biggest stars would get huge salaries, but all the other players would be competing with each other for contracts, which would drive their prices down.

However, the other owners thought Finley was a kook and wanted to hold on to their best players as long as they could.  Thus, the owners negotiated a six-year service requirement for free agency, which meant that there would always be more demand for free agents than there were actual players who satisfied the six year service requirement and were still playing well.  As a result, for a very long time, free agents received enormous contracts, and the players’ association used those contract amounts to get higher contracts for younger players through the salary arbitration process they had successfully negotiated for a few years earlier.

The pendulum back towards a freer market began when teams began to non-tender an increasingly large share of their arbitration eligible players as arbitration salaries also got enormous.  More available players each off-season meant more competition for second-tier free agents, and the non-tendered players were and are more likely to sign one-year contracts for less money just to guarantee themselves major league jobs.  That surely drove down the market for second-tier free agents.

Also, teams may be realizing that their own superstars are worth more to them than anyone else.  While it is certainly exciting to bring in a high profile free agent like Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, there is probably just as much good will to be gained from the fan base when a Mike Trout or Nolan Arenado is locked into play all or nearly all of his professional career for the team that developed him into a superstar.

Given how much more generous the recent spate of extensions feels compared to the free agent signings this winter, I would if teams aren’t acting collusively to send a message to players: sign with the team that developed you for big money, or test an increasingly uncertain free agent market.

Of course, if more superstars sign long-term extensions covering their prime and declining years, the superstars who do elect to become free agents will find even less competition for their services.  In short, the Bryce Harpers of the baseball world who elect free agency will continue to set contract records.  Instead, it’s the second-tier free agents who will be feeling greater pressure to accept any extension offers their current teams are willing to offer them.

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Chicago White Sox and Eloy Jimenez Reportedly Agree to Record-Setting Contract

March 21, 2019

It is being reported today that the ChiSox and their 22 year old prospect Eloy Jimenez have agreed to a record-setting, long-term deal for a player yet to have played even one game in the major leagues.  The deal with reportedly guarantee Jimenez $43 million over six seasons with two team option years for an additional total of $32M.

This deal blows away the $10M guarantee that the Astros gave Jon Singleton and the $24M guarantee the Phillies gave Scott Kingery, the only other two long-term contracts for players never to have played in the majors (excluding Bryce Harper’s first pro contract).  There was a lot of rending of clothing and nashing of teeth by players and the players’ union when the Astros signed Singleton to what appeared could have been a tremendous bargain for the team with a whiff of black-mail that the ‘Stros would have been less likely to call Singleton up if he didn’t sign the seemingly team friendly extension.

But Singleton didn’t make it.  His major league career was a complete flop for reasons likely as much mental as anything else. Singleton was out of pro baseball in 2018 at age 26, which suggests his heart isn’t in it.  In the meantime, the Astros still owe him a cool million for 2019 through 2021, if they didn’t cash out for a lump sum when they released him last May.

In the case of Scott Kingery, even though he was the Phillies starting shortstop last year, the verdict is still out whether he’ll be worth the $24M guarantee.  His .605 OPS meant he wasn’t yet a major league replacement level player in 2018.

I don’t imagine we will hear a lot of complaints from players about Jimenez’s contract.  I mean, how do you tell a poor black kid from the Dominican Republic not to accept a $43M guarantee before he has even played one game in the majors.  Yes, Jimenez did get a $2.8 million signing bonus in 2013, but one would think that money is long gone between taxes, automobiles, living in the U.S., buscones, buying a home for his parents and friends and relatives with their hands out.

The deal here is obvious.  It’s a great deal for the White Sox if Jimenez develops as they hope, the kind of deal that can enable a small market team to build a winner on less money.  Meanwhile, JImenez and his family get a sure thing.  Jimenez could get hit in the face with a fastball, tear his elbow or both knee tendons, or get killed in an off-season road accident back in the Dominican Republic one winter.  He and his family will still get a pay out that will enable them to live like royalty in their homeland for at least a generation or two.  Like Mike Trout‘s extension with the Angels, it’s another win-win.

Anaheim Angels and Mike Trout in Agreement on 10-Year $360 Million Extension

March 20, 2019

The Angels and Mike Trout are reportedly in agreement on a ten-year extension for the 2021 through 2030 seasons that will pay $360M for these seasons and nearly $430M guaranteed going forward.  Mike Trout is certainly worth a record-setting deal, although I have my doubts about Trout’s ability to remain healthy during the second half of the commitment.

Some commentators think the Angels got a bargain, given that Trout has arguably been worth about twice the annual contract average since becoming a full-time major leaguer in 2012.  Even so, $36M per season takes up a big chunk of budget (although the big market Angels can afford it), and Trout can’t win by himself no matter how well he plays, as evidenced by the fact that he has played in only three post-season games in his eight seasons with the Halos.

My guess is that this will be a great contract for the Angels for the next six seasons through 2024, but will become an albatross like Albert Pujols‘ deal, which still has three expensive years to run even though Prince Albert is no longer even a replacement level player.  Mike Trout is just too big (listed at 6’2″ and 235 lbs, roughly the same as Pujols) to expect that he will age gracefully once he passes the age of 32.  It could happen, but I sure wouldn’t bet on it.

In short, it is probably a fair contract that well benefits all concerned.  The Angels get to hold on to the game’s best player for all or nearly all of his major league career; Mike Trout gets a record-setting deal that well tops the deals that Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and Giancarlo Stanton got; and future major league superstars and their agents get a new record to shoot for in future contract negotiations.  It’s a win-win all the way around, and, as I like to say, Mike Trout won’t be going to bed hungry any time soon, even if he did leave some money on the table.

 

An Idea for Solving the DH-Pitcher-Hitting Debate

February 9, 2019

There has been a lot of talk this past week about new negotiations over playing rules between MLB and the Players’ Union (MLBPA).  The most notable proposals have involved getting rid of the designated hitter in the National League, requiring incoming relief pitchers to face at least three batters and a 22 second pitch clock (pitchers have to throw the next pitch within 22 seconds.

I am a life-long NL fan, what with rooting for the Giants.  My main concern with adding the DH to the National League is that there are a few pitchers who can hit, and I would miss seeing them get their turns at the plate.  The pitchers that can’t hit a lick?  Well, not so much.

So how about a rule that requires teams in the NL (or both leagues) that requires teams to bat their pitchers a certain number of games every season, but less than all 162 games.  Why not require teams to bat their pitchers, say 40 to 80 games a season, with all of the remaining games subject to the DH?  Madison Bumgarner and Zack Greinke would still get to hit when they start, but the really dreadfully hitting pitchers could be replaced by DHs.

Such a system would increase strategy because teams would have to figure out when to let their pitchers hit and when to go with the DH.  The best hitting pitchers, like Bumgarner and Greinke, might not be thrilled with such an arrangement because they’d often have to face the DH, while they themselves batted.  However, it would also shine a spotlight on the value of pitchers good enough to hit for themselves.

What bothers me most about the DH is that it creates this developmental separation between players who can pitch and players who can hit, when the reality is that most major league pitchers were the best or at least in the top half of hitters among starters on their high school teams.  Before the Second World War, there were many players whose careers moved back and forth between pitching and hitting, because they were good enough to do both.  Now that Shohei Ohtani has shown that players can do both even today, it would be a shame to completely cut out hitting pitchers from the professional game.

If you are willing to impose a rule requiring relievers to face at least three hitters (I am doubtful, however, that such a rule will be adopted), then there is no reason why you could not require pitchers to hit in some games and DHs to hit in others.  Once you get past the novelty of the idea, rules that create more room for strategy and calculation are actually a good thing.

Maybe Free Agents Just Aren’t Worth It

February 3, 2019

On February 1st, I was planning to write a post about how strange it is that four of the top five free agents (at least according to mlbtraderumors.com) are still unsigned.  Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post beat me to it.  However, the title of his article got me thinking whether not signing free agents means not trying to win.

Analytics are showing that free agents aren’t worth the money they are getting in terms of actual performance on the free agent contracts they sign and that MLB teams are finally catching up, although it has taken them a long time to do so.

I thought it might be interesting to look at what last year’s top 50 free agents (according to mlbtraderumors.com) did in  2018, the first year of their free agent deals, when everyone expects free agents to be worth the most.  Everyone basically understands that signing a free agent is a win-now strategy and that players are overpaid in the latter years of their free agent deals to provide big value in the first year or two of their contracts.

So what were free agents worth in the first year of the new contracts they signed during the 2017-2018 off-season, which was the off-season when free agent contracts dramatically tightened up in terms of guaranteed seasons?  As it turns out, not what they were paid.

I used the average salary over the years of multi-year contracts, rather than the actual first year salaries, which are in many cases lower, because it was less work to calculate.  It also gives a more accurate value, in a sense, of what the team will end up paying annually for the term of the contract.

By my calculation, teams committed $441.9 million in first year salaries, and got total production value, according to fangraphs.com, of only $356.6 million in return.  Of the 47 free agents I included, only 12 players performed in 2018 at a level greater than their average annual average salary over the lengths of their contracts, while 34 performed worse, 10 of whom cost their new teams money by playing at a level below replacement level.  The 47 players have a remaining 62 seasons on their combined contracts, when as a group they will almost certainly perform at a lower level than they did in 2018, since free agents as a group do not age well at all.

Free agent contracts look like a lottery gamble for teams.  A team might hit it big with the kind of performance J.D. Martinez, Lorenzo Cain, Jhoulys Chacin, Miles Mikolas and Mike Moustakas gave their teams in 2018, but teams were more likely to get the the underwhelming and overpaid performances Yu Darvish, Eric Hosmer, Wade Davis, Zack Cozart and Jay Bruce gave their 2018 teams.

There are a lot of reasons why teams would continue to sign free agents, even if they are overpaid even in their first seasons with their new clubs.  It’s good public relations to sign free agents, particularly if you have lost one or more of your own players to free agency.  The cost in talent, compared to trades, of signing a free agent is very low (although the current collective bargaining rules make it more expensive in terms of talent for the wealthiest, highest spending teams to spend big on free agents, which has always been the driver of the free agent market).  It might be worth overpaying a free agent in order to plug a glaring hole in your line-up.

However, what I take from this information is that it makes little sense to sign a free agent, particularly one in the bottom half of the top 50, unless you are fairly certain one or two performances is all that is separating your team from making or returning to the post-season.  Rebuilding teams shouldn’t be signing free agents until they are truly ready to compete.  Even if you don’t have a replacement level player in your organization at the position you are looking to improve at, a replacement level player can probably be obtained cheaply from another organization, particularly when compared to the financial cost of free agents, even with the sharp tightening in the market the last two off-seasons.

While I still suspect that teams are engaging in some kind of soft collusion — maybe MLB is holding meetings where MLB’s analysts are lecturing teams on the actual value of free agents each November — in-house analytics departments for each team are probably telling teams the one thing they need to do with respect to free agents is sign them for fewer seasons than they did in the past.

mlbtraderumors.com predicted that Bryce Harper and Manny Machado would get respectively 14 and 13 season contracts at $30M per.  The reason they may not yet be signed is that, while teams are willing to pay the $30M per, they aren’t willing to guarantee more than eight or 10 seasons, even for free agents so young and so good.  The only rumors I have heard for either is that the White Sox may have offered Machado somewhere between $175M and $1250M for seven or eight seasons only.

The current collective bargaining agreement terms are devastating the free agent market, because the ten richest teams can’t spend like they once did.  The talent bite that comes from overspending the salary cap for three seasons in a row, in terms of draft picks and international amateur spending, is steep enough that the richest teams are all trying to keep close enough to the cap amount that they can dip under at least once every three seasons in order to avoid the most severe penalties.  It is the richest teams that drive the upper limits of free agent contracts, so the current rules are bound to effect free agent contracts in a big way.

Chinatrust Brothers Sign Eric Wood and Other Asian Notes

January 1, 2019

The CPBL’s Chinatrust Brothers signed Pirates’ minor leaguer Eric Wood for 2018.  It is the first time since 2016 that a CPBL team has used one of its three major league roster spots on a foreign position player.

Wood will be 26 in 2019 and plays 3B, 1B and the corner outfield positions.  He slashed .269/.328/.481 in 308 plate appearances at AAA Indianapolis in 2018, his second season the International League.  Wood is not a bad hitter, but he doesn’t hit well enough to be a major league 1B/LF, and his defense at 3B isn’t major league average.

Wood was a minor league free agent this off-season and given his age and 2018 performance, it is surprising he did not sign with a major league organization.  CPBL teams do not report the contract amounts they spend on foreign players, but my reasonable guestimate would be that the Brothers guaranteed him $75,000 for the first three months of the 2019 CPBL season, which is probably about the same he would earn for a full season as a minor league free agent signee playing a full year at AAA.  Of course, playing at AAA, Wood would have had a chance to get called up to the majors and make major league money for however long he could stick on a major league roster.

The last position player signed by a CPBL team was former major league Felix Pie in 2016.  Pie was coming off a successful season in South Korea’s KBO in which he batted .326 with an .897 OPS in 2015, but was not invited back by the Hanwha Eagles, so he signed with the CPBL’s 7/11 Uni-Lions instead.  Unfortunately, Pie fouled a ball off his ankle, fracturing it, in his fifth CPBL game, and that was the end of his CPBL career, as the Uni-Lions weren’t willing to wait for him to heal before filing his roster spot with another foreigner.

In recent years, the CPBL has decided it wants starting pitchers to fill the three roster spot limit for foreigners on each team, pretty much like KBO teams had decided before the KBO expanded from eight to ten teams between 2013 and 2015 and decided to allow each team a third foreign player so long as at least one of the three foreigners was not a pitcher.  The Brothers signed Wood in part because of his versatility, although I kind of expect he’ll play mostly 3B in Taiwan.  However, it remains to be seen whether Wood lasts more than half a season, because the Brothers may not have enough adequate domestic starters to make experimenting with a position player work.

Four foreign position players played in the CPBL in 2014 and 2015, but only 2B JIm Negrych managed to last long enough to play in more than 37 CPBL games.  He managed to appear in 107 for the Brothers spread over those two seasons.

In other recent Asian signings, NPB’s Yomiuri Giants signed reliever Ryan Cook to a $1.3M contract, and the Hanshin Tigers signed 1B/3B/LF Jefry Marte for an “estimated” $1M.  Both Cook and Marte have considerable major league experience.

Ryan Cook was really good a few years ago as a young reliever for the A’s, but arm problems, including Tommy John surgery, derailed his career.  He had a 5.29 ERA in 19 relief appearances for the Mariners last year, but he pitched well at AAA, and his arm appears to be healthy again.

Marte has an ugly .222/.288/.407 slash line in 728 career major league plate appearances, but he’s also hit 30 doubles and 30 home runs and he’s only 28 in 2019. He looks like an excellent bet to become a successful NPB slugger.

Oliver Drake’s Ongoing Odyssey and Other Minnesota Twins Notes

December 29, 2018

In the aftermath of the Twins’ signing of Nelson Cruz for $14.3 million for 2019, I was looking at the Twins’ now surplus of right-handed power bats, and I happened to notice that Oliver Drake had a very successful 19 relief appearance run (2.21 ERA) for the Twins last season but is no longer with the team.

Drake played for five different major league teams last year and six since the start of the 2017 season.  The reason for this is obvious: Drake has great stuff and has success in AAA, but he has command issues and was awful at the major league level last year until the Twins selected him off waivers.  Drake started the season for the Brewers, was ineffective and then sold to the Indians, probably for a box of crackerjack.  He pitched poorly in Cleveland, and the Angels selected him off the waiver wire on May 31st.  Drake didn’t pitch well in Anaheim, and was selected off waivers by the Blue Jays in July 26th.  Ditto in Toronto, and the Twins claimed him off waivers on August 3rd.

Despite finally pitching well in the Twin Cities, the Twins tried to pass him through waivers again in late October/early November, and the Rays grabbed him.  The Rays tried to pass him through waivers at the end of the month, and the Blue Jays once again grabbed him.  At least once the regular season ended, Drake’s subsequent travels were virtual, rather than real, and Drake is presumably sitting at home waiting to see whom he ends up with in its time to start Spring Training.

With service in parts of four major league seasons now, but only about 2.5 years of major league service time, Drake isn’t yet arbitration eligible but is certainly out of minor league options.  What that means is that, unless he is first released, the last team to claim him off waivers will likely have to give him a major league contract in the $565,000 to $575,000 range.

Well, that’s small potatoes in today’s game, particularly for a pitcher with his potential.  However, the Twins didn’t think he was worth that modest guarantee, and the Rays didn’t think so either once they obtained somebody they liked better for their 40-man roster, almost certainly because he can’t be sent down to the minors if he’s ineffective without passing him through waivers yet again.  He’s also going into his age 32 season, so many teams may doubt he’ll ever have sufficient command to take advantage of his plus stuff at the major league level.

Drake was originally a 43rd round draft pick out of the U.S. Naval Academy.  He now has a career major league ERA of 4.59 with 151 Ks in 137.1 innings pitched and a WHIP of 1.46.  He’s good enough that a lot of teams want him at the right price, but don’t seem to be willing to give him any guarantees.

With the signing of Nelson Cruz and the earlier claiming off waivers and signing of C.J. Cron for $4.8M, the Twins are now officially overloaded with defensively challenged, right-handed hitting sluggers.  Cruz and Cron will get plenty of playing time because of their 2019 salaries unless either gets hurt, but the Twins also have Miguel Sano, who is too young and has too much potential to give up on yet, and also Tyler Austin, who came over from the Yankees when the Twins traded Lance Lynn at the 2018 trade deadline.  With the corner outfield slots taken up by young lefty hitters Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler, one would have to think the Twins would be willing to listen to trade offers for Austin.

Austin is already 27 and hasn’t established himself as a major league regular yet.  He doesn’t hit for average or draw many walks, but he sure has right-handed power with 24 HRs in only 404 major league plate appearances.  He wouldn’t be a bad fit for the San Francisco Giants, who could use another corner outfielder with right-handed power.

Because Austin is out of options, maybe the Twins would be willing to trade him to Giants for minor league reliever (and personal favorite) Tyler Rogers.  Tyler’s twin brother Taylor has had three successful seasons as a reliever for the Twins, and the Tyler has been mighty good at AAA the last two seasons.  Obviously, there would be some great PR for the Twins to have twin relievers pitching on their major league roster to start the 2019 season.  That said, the Twins will probably hold on to Austin since he cheap and provides insurance if Cruz, Cron or somebody else gets hurt.

I have to say that I like the fact that the Twins are active every off-season, seeking out deals at the right price that might reasonably make the team better.  It didn’t work in 2018, but if you keep trying every off-season, it may well work eventually.