Archive for the ‘Baseball Abroad’ category

Attendance Down in South Korea’s KBO So Far in 2019

April 11, 2019

The first three weeks of the 2019 have been poorly attended, with attendance down 11% from the same time last season.  The Kiwoom Heroes (formerly the Nexen Heroes) drew a total of fewer than 2,600 fans for two mid-week games this week, even though they play in a domed stadium (so current cold weather not an issue) in Seoul, South Korea’s largest city by a very wide margin.  As big as Seoul is, however, three KBO teams share the city and the Heroes have never been one of the KBO’s better drawing teams.

Even so, with attendance down sharply from an average of a little over 12,000 last year, an 11% attendance decline doesn’t bode well for the league.  The only good news is that it’s early in the 2019, so things could turn around as the weather heats up.

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Hector Sanchez Sighting

April 10, 2019

Former San Francisco Giants catcher Hector Sanchez just signed with the Long Island Ducks of the Independent-A Atlantic League.  It’s surprising that he couldn’t get an MLB-system minor league contract in light of the fact that he’s still only 29 years old.  Needless to say, a strong performance in the Atlantic League for a month or two should get him back into organized baseball.

Sanchez played only sparingly at the AAA level didn’t hit all that well in Venezuela’s winter league (.700 OPS), so perhaps the Atlantic League is a good place to find out whether he has anything left.

Trump Administration Cans Deal to Bring Cuban Players to MLB

April 9, 2019

In what is not a particularly big surprise, the Trump Administration reversed course and decided the deal worked out by MLB and Cuba’s Baseball Federation to allow Cuban players to come to the U.S. through what amounts to a posting system.  That doesn’t stop me from thinking it’s a stupid decision.

The agreement would have required MLB to pay 25% of a signed Cuban player’s first contract to the Cuban Baseball Federation as a fee.  Certainly, this is money going to the Cuban state, regardless of whether or not the money would have been used solely for baseball related purposes.  The reason MLB wanted to make this deal is because it doesn’t like the optics of Cuban players having to defect, taking sometimes dangerous trips to third countries and interacting with what often amounts to organized crime for these players to eventually become available to play in the U.S.

The embargoes haven’t worked for the last 50 years and this one won’t work either.  Instead, Cuban players will have to continue to take great personal risks, so that Trump can get a few more votes in Florida in the 2020 election.

Allowing Cuban players to freely travel to the U.S. to play baseball per a posting system is really the best propaganda against the problems with the Cuban system.  These players wouldn’t have to abandon their families to play baseball at the highest level, and they’d be able to return to Cuba and flaunt the riches they make playing in the U.S.  Meanwhile, every baseball fan in Cuba would watch as the island’s best players depart for the States and the big money.

As much as conservatives would like it be otherwise, Cuba is never going to be pressured into dumping communism.  Change is only going to happen because Cubans begin to act in mass demanding change.  The U.S. can facilitate those internal demands, but sanctions against the Cuban government just fuel the narrative that the U.S. is the evil empire that will never stop punishing Cuba for insisting on the greater equality, education and healthcare that came with the revolution.  Never mind that the greater equality is largely a result of leveling down, unless, of course, you are a Communist Party official.

As a baseball fan, I want to see deals like this one that will bring more of Cuba’s best players to MLB more quickly.  One definition of stupidity is to keep doing the same thing that doesn’t work over and over again while insisting that this time will do the trick.

Panama Wins First Caribbean Series Since 1950

February 21, 2019

Thank goodness for the fact that anything can happen in a short series.  The Toros de Herrera of Panama’s Professional Baseball League (Probeis) won four out of five games, including beating Cuba’s Lenadores de Las Tunas 3-1 in the championship game of the 2019 Caribbean Series.

It was Panama’s first Caribbean Series championship since 1950, and, in fact, Panama’s first appearance in the Caribbean Series since 1960.  It is highly likely that the Probeis champion got to play in this year’s Caribbean Series because the original venue (Venezuela) was cancelled on short notice due to the political crisis there, and the Caribbean Series needed a new place to play, which turned out to be Panama City.

Toros’ infielders Javy Guerra, Allen Cordoba and Elmer Reyes each had seven hits in the series with Guerra and Reyes hitting home runs.  Reyes is a ringer from Nicaragua who played in Mexico’s Winter League (LMP) this off-season.  Guerra and Cordoba are a couple of young Panamanians in the Padres’ system.

Toros’ hurlers Oriel Caicedo, Luis Mateo, Andy Otero and Harold Arauz allowed only two runs (one earned) over a combined 26 innings pitched.  The Dominican Mateo is the non-Panamanian in the group.

One hopes that Panama’s 2019 success will mean that the Panama gets to play in the Caribbean Series for at least the next few years. I wouldn’t mind seeing Nicaragua and Colombia also get a chance to play in the Carribean Series, although would likely require an expansion of the Series’ current one week format by at least two days.

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.

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).