Archive for the ‘Atlanta Braves’ category

SoftBank Hawks to Sign American Pitching Prospect Carter Stewart

May 21, 2019

In what would apparently be a first, the SoftBank Hawks of Japan’s NPB are reported to be on the verge of signing U.S. amateur pitcher Carter Stewart for more than $4 million.  Stewart was the 8th overall selection in last year’s MLB Draft but did not sign with the Atlanta Braves, after a ligament issue in his wrist turned up in his medical records and the Braves lowered their offer to him, down to what was likely about $2 million instead of the nearly $5 million slot value.

After failing to sign with the Braves, Stewart enrolled with a Florida junior college, Eastern Florida State College, where he has pitched well this Spring.  In 13 starts, he has posted a 1.74 ERA with a pitching line of 74.1 IP, 41 hits, three HRs and 26 BBs and 108Ks. currently ranks Stewart as the 55th best prospect in this year’s MLB draft.

By signing for the Hawks for the money that Stewart expected to get last summer (and possibly then some), the Hawks will presumably have Stewart’s rights for nine NPB major league seasons, like all other amateurs who sign their first pro contracts with NPB teams.  It’s possible, of course, that Stewart’s representatives contracted for some variation of this requirement — for example, that Stewart has to be posted after 4 to 6 full NPB seasons — but I can’t imagine that the Hawks would give Stewart a $4M+ guarantee without being guaranteed at least four or five full years of NPB major league service from Stewart.

Obviously, the Hawks get in Stewart a prospect of a caliber that comes not more than about once a year for all 12 NPB teams to fight over in the NPB amateur draft.  The Hawks can certainly afford to shell out for Stewart as one of NPB’s three rich teams along with the Yomiuri Giants and the Hanshin Tigers.

The down-side to signing Stewart for all this money is that he could, of course, get hurt and thus never develop. Presumably, there are some legitimate concerns about his wrist tendon, or the Braves would have offered him a bigger signing bonus last year.

Also, since Stewart didn’t play high school or college ball in Japan, he would count against the major league four-roster-spot-limit for foreign players.  However, the wealthy NPB teams are now signing about six NPB-major-league-worthy foreigners every year in order to protected against injuries and slumps and to provide roster flexibility during the season.

I can see why Stewart would be angry at the Braves for selecting him high and then low-balling him, and I can see why he would want a big initial guarantee in light of the frequency with which high school pitchers end up getting seriously hurt before they reach their MLB major league pay days.  However, it’s clear that Stewart is almost certainly leaving money on the table if he is good enough to be an MLB major league star.   Once MLB stars reach their second or third salary arbitration off-season, they make a lot more money than any player makes in NPB, where salaries are effectively capped at about $5M or $6M even for the very best veteran NPB superstars.

It also remains to be seen how a 19 year old American adjusts to life and baseball in Japan.  It isn’t easy to do, and few foreign players in NPB have much success before their age 26 season, in part, I think, because a certain maturity level is needed to adjust to living and playing in Japan.  It’s not like playing in the U.S., and American and Latin American players need a certain amount of mental flexibility and focus to deal with the differences.

Stewart signing with the Hawks will be great for American amateur players and their agents going forward, since they can now credibly threaten to take their talents some place else.  It may even force MLB to allocate more money to amateur draft bonus pools to ward off the possibility that future amateur players might elect to take their talents to Japan.


What Will Cody Bellinger End Up Batting in 2019?

May 18, 2019

After today’s game in Cincinnati, Cody Bellinger is batting a lusty .404 46 games into the 2019 Dodgers’ season.  What might he end up hitting when the year is out?

I’ll go out on a limb and say that Bellinger won’t hit .380 this season, let alone .400.  The last player to hit .380 in a season was Tony Gwynn in 1994 when Gwynn batted .394, the closest any player has come to .400 since Ted Williams last did it in 1941.  Since 1941, only three other players have batted .380 in a season: Ted Williams batted .388 in 1957, Rod Carew batted .388 in 1977 and George Brett batted .390 in 1980.

By my calculation, Bellinger would have to bat .372 for the rest of the season (assuming that Bellinger stays healthy) in order to hit .380 for the season.  Seems unlikely.

The last player to bat .370 or better in a season was Ichiro when he hit .372 in 2004.  While a great season and a great hitter, Barry Bonds had hit .370 in 2002 and both Nomar Garciaparra and Todd Helton had batted .372 in 2000.

To hit .370 for the season, Bellinger would need to hit about .356 the rest of the way.  Certainly doable, but I’d think certainly less likely than not.

The last player to bat .360 or better in a season was Joe Mauer when he batted .365 in 2009.  As with Ichiro’s 2004, Mauer’s 2009 was not wildly better than other batting leaders of the previous few seasons:  Chipper Jones had batted .364 in 2008, and Magglio Ordonez had batted .363 in 2007.

To bat .360 on the season, Bellinger would need to hit .344 the rest of the way.  That certainly seems doable, given Bellinger’s talent level and the facts that he is a left-handed hitter who runs extremely well.

The last player to bat .350 in a season was Josh Hamilton, who batted .359 in 2010.  To hit .350 for the season, Bellinger would only need to hit .328 the rest of the way.  I’d be willing to bet even money on Bellinger hitting at least .350 this season if he can stay healthy.

Atlanta Braves Extend Ozzie Albies

April 13, 2019

In a year of contract extensions, the recent seven-year $35 million guarantee the Braves just gave young 2Bman Ozzie Albies is one of the most surprising at least in terms of the current market.  Scott Boras complained about the recent $100M guarantee that Ronald Acuna received as too far below market — he must be absolutely livid about Albies’ deal.

I waited a day to write about Albies’ extension because I was waiting to see more reporting on why he left so much money on the table, realistically at least $30M to $60M given the new market set by Acuna only days ago.  The contract is beyond team-friendly, with it containing two option years which bring the contract up to a still relatively modest $45M over nine years.

The only thing I’ve seen so far is that Albies wanted the security even a $35M guarantee would bring him and his family.  He also loves playing for the Braves and apparently feels too much loyalty to the team that signed him to a relatively modest $350,000 bonus as an amateur.

MLB star salaries are so high today that part of the answer may be that it all seems like monopoly money anyway.  As my father likes to say, baseball superstars want to get the biggest possible contract as much because it’s like a report card (you’re the best — an A+ player!) as much as it’s about the money.  If a player doesn’t care about getting paid as much as the market will bear, then perhaps $35M is enough, current market be damned.

Still, I hope that Albies’ agent strongly advised him against accepting the Braves’ low-ball offer and told him to wait another year before signing away so much potential income.  The Braves were probably cheap with Albies because the team feels it has already taken on a big risk with Acuna and didn’t want to commit that kind of money to Albies (or any other youngster), whom perhaps the team doesn’t see as having as much upside.

Albies’ deal is reminiscent of the deal Jose Altuve signed back in 2014, long before the current market was set.  That deal ultimately worked out pretty well for Altuve, who signed an extension before the 2018 season that guaranteed him another $150M through 2024.  However, Altuve had to first prove that he was everything the Astros possibly could have hoped for before he got the market rate extension.

The intangibles here are that some players play better when they stay hungry, while other players play better when they have security.  Some players stop working as hard when they get the big contract; others work harder to prove they were worth it.

The other intangibles are health and the ability to keep making adjustments.  Albies reached the majors so young that you have to think he has the ability to make the adjustments.  When a player establishes himself as a major league regular in his age 20 season, about the least you can expect from his career is that of Cesar Cedeno, who was pretty f@#$ing good (taking into account park and league factors) until injuries and off-field issues swallowed up his career.  Cedeno still collected more than 2,000 hits, 550 stolen bases at a higher than 75% success rate, and more than 1,000 runs scored in a low-offense era.

I’m hoping that Albies one day forces the Braves to give him the kind of follow-up contract that Altuve got from the Astros.  We’ll have to wait and see.

Chicago Cubs Extend Role Player David Bote

April 4, 2019

MLB’s future is here, and it is contract extensions and more contract extensions.  The Cubs extended jack-of-all-trades, super-sub David Bote to a five year deal that covers 2020 through 2024 and guarantees Bote a hair over $15M.

All for a much smaller amount, I see this contract extension as being as consequential and the recent extensions signed by Eloy Jiminez and Ronald Acuna Jr. I can’t remember a young bench player like Bote ever receiving a multi-year contract extension before.

It’s definitely a risk for the Cubs.  Bote has all of a hundred days of major league service entering his age 26 season.  He wasn’t a high draft pick and he spent years in the minor leagues honing his skills.  Players like this generally don’t have long and successful major league careers.

What the Cubs like about Bote is his versatility.  In the minors he played every position except catcher and center field, even pitching in about half a dozen presumably emergency situations. rated his defense highly in his limited 2018 major league play.

The Cubs probably also like the fact that after a slow professional start, Bote hit better the last three seasons as he reached the upper levels of the minors.

The question is whether Bote will hit well enough as a major leaguer for the Cubs to be able to take advantage of his versatility.  Apparently, the Cubbies see Bote as having a realistic chance to be the next Ben Zobrist, which if he were would make this contract a bargain.  We shall see…

Atlanta Braves Extend Ronald Acuna for Eight Years at $100 Million

April 2, 2019

In the latest of the year’s big contract extensions, the Braves extended 21 year old phenom Ronald Acuna for a minimum of eight years at a guarantee of $100M.  The contract could be (and probably will be) worth $124M over ten seasons.  The contract is almost certainly a record for a player with less than a full year’s major league service time.

The contract is high risk and high reward for the Braves and all about safety for Acuna.  I don’t think it will be the last such extension we’ll see in the near future for the current crop of very young budding stars.

Acuna has guaranteed himself what constitute enormous riches for a poor kid from Venezuela who didn’t get a seven figure bonus to sign his first pro contract.  Nonetheless, it’s entirely possible Acuna is surrendering $150M in future income to get this security.  Still, I don’t see how you could consider this a bad deal for Acuna.  How much money do you really need to live extremely well?  $124M over ten years should cover it, even after the big tax hit (probably close to 50%) that comes with all the money being earned as salary.

Obviously, the Braves have to hope and pray that Acuna stays healthy and develops into his potential.  Regardless, this is a risk all but the wealthiest 12 teams will be actively seeking to take going forward, at least with respect to the few players of Acuna’s age and demonstrated talent level.

The Nationals’ Juan Soto is represented by Scott Boras and he received a $1.5M signing bonus when he signed with the Nats as a 16 year old amateur, so it’s safe to say that Soto won’t be signing an extension like this before he becomes arbitration eligible, at the earliest.  Boras stridently advises any player with Soto’s talent to become a free agent and get the ginormous contract that comes with it.  Just ask Bryce Harper.

San Francisco Giants Outfield Churn Continues

March 23, 2019

The Gints are still trying to improve their outfield mix as the regular season rapidly approaches, but they keep bringing in more of the same marginal players.  They released Cameron Maybin, and traded for Michael Reed and Mike Yastrzemski, while trading John Andreoli for Reed and RHP Tyler Herb for Yaz.

Reed is going into his age 26 season, and he was really good in 53 games at AAA Gwinnett last year (.997 OPS).  In that sense, he looks a lot like Connor Joe, whom the Giants just brought in yesterday.  Reed can apparently play all three outfield positions and is expected to split playing time with Steven Duggar in center field, assuming Reed makes the major league club out of Spring Training.  For the Twins this spring, Reed went 5-for-18 with a home run.

While Reed seems like an improvement over Andreoli, he’s obviously not much of an improvement.  The recent spate of moves feel very much like a grass-is-greener-on-the-other-side-of-the-mountain situation, with the has-beens and never-have-beens the Giants started camp with mostly underwhelming and now being replaced at the last minute with a new crop of perhaps, marginially better has-beens and never-have-beens.  None of it inspires much confidence.

Yet another outfielder we could signed by the Giants in short order is former Giants prospect Adam Duvall.  The Braves gave Duvall a $2.88 million contract for 2019 in spite of how poorly he played late last season in Atlanta.  If the Braves release him before the regular season starts, the team will only be on the hook for slightly less than $700,000 of the $2.88M total as severance pay.

Duvall would be a natural fit for the Giants, who can always use a another right-handed power bat in left field (where Duvall’s defense is great), and the Giants have been collecting marginal outfielders like Duvall all off-season.  I’d certainly like to see the Giants give Duvall a shot on a minor league contract if the Braves release him, particularly as it seems more and more clear the team has no intention of bringing in anyone significantly better.

Billy Hamilton Is Now Available

December 1, 2018

The Cincinnati Reds elected not to offer Billy Hamilton a 2019 contract since he was projected to get $5.9 million through the arbitration process this off-season.  I hope the SF Giants make a run at him, because his defense is still outstanding.

MLB Trade Rumors has predicted the Giants will sign for Diamondbacks outfielder A.J. Pollack for four years and $60M.  While Pollack played center in Arizona, it doesn’t look like he has the range to cover AT&T Park’s Death Valley.  Even signing Pollack for free agent money, it seems like the Giants could find a place for Hamilton with Pollack moving to one of the corner outfield positions.  The Giants’ pitchers would certainly benefit from an outfield featuring both Hamilton and Pollack.

Rumors suggest that the Giants will not be in on Bryce Harper sweepstakes.  The other free agent outfielders available are Michael Brantley, Andrew McCutchen, Nick Markakis and Adam Jones.  All of them are basically corner outfield types who won’t help you make the post-season unless you already have a very good team that needs an upgrade at one of the outfield corners.