Archive for the ‘Baseball Abroad’ category

Covid-19 Will Finish a Lot of Baseball Careers Too

July 5, 2020

This is a baseball blog, so I’m going to ignore the 130,000+ Americans to date who’ve died of the disease and talk about the impact of the pandemic on the professional lives of professional baseball players.

MLB teams will not only be playing a highly abbreviated 60 game season (pending a negotiated 64 or 66 game season with expanded play-offs, which the owners very much want), but franchise rosters will apparently be limited to 60 players for 2020.  Major league roster limits will be 30-26 during the shortened season, plus a 3-player “taxi squad” in case someone on the major league roster gets hurt or tests positive.

That means only 30 players on the minor league squad.  That isn’t enough to play more than 3-inning practice games.  I haven’t heard whether the minor league squads will be playing against each other.  However, I don’t see how the minor league guys can be ready step into the majors if they aren’t playing games against each other.

The 60-man franchise limit means a lot of minor leaguers won’t be playing baseball in 2020.  Solid, roster-filler AAA players over age 28 will not be included as teams put together their 60-man, as teams will want more promising younger AA players instead, along with all the organization’s top prospects, to whom teams will want to give playing team even if they are initially in over their heads.

I imagine that every single player Class A+ and below who isn’t seen as a top prospect by his team will not being playing any baseball this summer.

For minor league players over the age of 28, a full year off is going to be nearly impossible to come back from, at least for position players.  A full year off at this age is not good for the batting eye or foot speed.

Players in the lower minors under the age of 25 can possibly come back from a full year off, but it’s going to stunt a lot of careers for players who might have been better than their draft pedigree.  And that’s even to say that MLB plays half-way-full minor league seasons in 2021.

The Owners have been fighting to reduce the size of the minor leagues dramatically, and the Coronavirus may mean significant reduction in leagues and levels when things get back to normal compared to immediately before the pandemic struck.

However, it’s been a good year for players from the Americas in Asia in 2020.  KBO and CPBL teams are well into their seasons, and NPB is now almost 14 games in, which probably means that every foreign player in these leagues has received a paycheck, which is more than a lot of pro ball players in the States can say.

And better foreign players are available to Asian teams because the American options have narrowed considerably.  I don’t think there is any way the Kiwoom Heroes sign Addison Russell for $530,000 for the rest of the season in any kind of normal year.

The CPBL should be able to find better foreign pitchers for their money.  Their bread and butter is the kind of 28+ AAA pitcher who isn’t likely to make any team’s 60-man franchise roster.

Notes on the 2020 KBO Season So Far

May 31, 2020

We are now 23 or 24 games into the 2020 KBO season.  Here are my thoughts so far.

I wasn’t surprised to see Taylor Motter last only 10 games and 37 plate appearances.  He was cheap, but he didn’t look like a KBO hitter when the tightwad Kiwoom Heroes signed him.  A slash line of .114/.139/.200 didn’t take long to make up management’s mind, particularly since it’s likely that Motter was only guaranteed $200,000 of this $350,000 contract with the Heroes.

The Heroes caught lightning in a bottle with Jerry Sands in 2019, but Motter was a bridge too far.

The Heroes should consider Andy Burns, who is still only 29 and had two good seasons in the KBO for the Lotte Giants in 2017-2018.  His .833 OPS at AAA Buffalo last summer was good for a 2B who can fill in at third and also SS in a pinch.  You’d have to think that at this moment, Burns would probably be willing to sign for $250,000 to $300,000 at this moment, given the current lack of MLB options.

23 year old lefty and future MLB prospect Koo Chang-Mo is leading the KBO with a 0.51 ERA and in strikeouts at 38 (in 35 IP).  He’s not big, however, listed at 6’0″ and 187 lbs, so we’ll see if his arm can hold up under use as the league’s top starter.

Eric Jokisch and Odrisamer DeSpaigne are the best foreign starters so far and the best after Koo.  Jokisch was a better signing for the Heroes.  He’s only costing the team a $550,000 guarantee and another $150K in performance incentives.  That’s a bargain on a second year contract, after a 13-9, 3.13 KBO rookie campaign.

Odrisamer DeSpaigne is 33 this season, but he’s still got it as a KBO rookie.  His MLB career looks a lot like Dominican right-handers Hector Noesi and Esmil Rogers, except that Noesi and Rogers were both 29 when they joined the KBO successfully.  As a Cuban defector, DeSpaigne reached the majors late.  I think he’s a better pitcher than Noesi or Rogers, but his strikeout numbers don’t suggest he had major league stuff.  Maybe in Korea against lower-level hitters, he can really take advantage of his ability to pitch.  He’s five starts into the 2020 season, but hope springs eternal.

Cubans are big this year in South Korea.  32 year old not quite MLBer Jose Miguel Fernandez is leading the circuit with a .468 batting average, along with a 1.206 OPS (2nd), through 23 games.  Mel Rojas, Jr. is batting .409 (2nd) with an 1.149 OPS (3rd) 23 games in.

25 year old Mexican Roberto Ramos leads the KBO with 10 home runs and a 1.263 OPS.  The LG Twins apparently got it right in signing him this off-season.

Also still 25 year old Chris Flexen has a 2.61 ERA (5th) and 28 K (6T) in 31 IP.

I don’t recall having two 25 year old North American players succeed in the Asian majors in the same year for as long as I have been paying attention.  If Ramos and Flexen can keep it up, it will really open up some opportunities for both players going forward.

Now KBO veteran (just barely) Preston Tucker has a 1.007 OPS (7th), and rookie Aaron Altherr is starting to get hot and demonstrate his power potential.

Future MLBer (?) Kang Baek-Ho , age 20, has a 1.143 OPS so far, but he hasn’t played since May 21st, assumably because of injury.  24 year old SS Kim Ha-Seong got off to a slow start this year, and he’s still batting only .236, but has brought his OPS up to .809.  I read an article  on mykbo.net that sounded like Kim hadn’t lost any confidence but was trusting to the process in play, so there’s no reason to think it’s anything but a short slump when the hits aren’t falling or you’re just missing by that much.  We shall see.

The Only Game in Town

April 18, 2020

Professional baseball is back — in Taiwan.

We are now six games into the 2020 CPBL season with the games being played in empty stadiums but broadcast on TV.  It is surely better than nothing for a baseball hungry world.

The best game pitched so far was former New York Yankee and half-season KBO ace Esmil Rogers‘ effort earlier today.  He allowed one run, earned, on six hits and a walk in seven innings pitched with 11 strikeouts.

I had questions about how Rogers would pitch in the extremely hitter friendly CPBL.  Despite the past KBO success, he’s now 34 and got hit pretty hard in the Mexican League in 2019, which was also an extreme hitters’ league.  CPBL teams love foreign pitchers with a history of success in the KBO and/or NPB, and so far so good for Rogers.

Former Seattle Mariner and SoftBank Hawk Ariel Miranda and former Toronto Blue Jay and KBO ace Ryan Feierabend both looked good on opening day, but neither reached the seventh inning nor got a decision.  Former San Francisco Giants farmhand, brief Houston Astro and former KBO ace Henry Sosa looked good in his first CPBL start of the young CPBL season, allowing one run in 7 IP on four hits and a walk while striking out five.

[Kudos to baseballreference.com — they are publishing CPBL stats for the first time this season — maybe my two emails over the last three or four years had some effect… but probably not, at least not by themselves.]

CPBL teams decided to spend more money on the four foreign pitchers each of the league’s four franchises can sign (three on the major league squad and one in the minors, with the ability to promote and demote foreign players without having to release someone for the first time this season) this past off-season.  CPBL teams decided to do this in part to get more attention from the baseball world, but more because the Lamigo (now Rakuten) Monkeys have completely dominated the league the last few seasons because they have a disproportionate share of the best Taiwanese hitters.  The other three teams realized the only way they can compete is by spending more money to get better foreign pitchers.

Even though the CPBL is going to lose money this season because fans probably won’t be attending any games this year, as the only pro game in the world as I write this post, teams’ decisions to spend more money to put on a better product may well pay dividends when a coronavirus vaccine becomes widely available.

The best game pitched by a Taiwanese starter so far is the three earned run, six inning outing with seven Ks thrown by the Brothers’ Huang Enci (黃恩賜) — the translations provided by Google Translate for Chinese names are not necessarily the conventional ones.  He’s 24 this year and appears to be a work in progress.

33 year old former Cleveland Indian C.C. Lee has six Ks in 3.1 innings pitched in two relief appearances, but he’s also blown a save, which happens a lot in the CPBL.  21 year old rookie (he pitched 18.2 innings CPBL major league innings across 16 relief appearances last season) Wu Jun-wei (吳俊偉) has struck out seven in three scoreless relief innings

Former Detroit Tiger Ryan Carpenter and former Padre/Mariner/Cub Donn Roach got hit pretty hard in their first ever CPBL starts.  I had my doubts about the Roach signing after a rough 2019 AAA International League season, but one start doesn’t prove much.

The big story at the plate so far is last season’s home run champ Chu Yu-Hsien (朱育賢), who hit five home runs in his first two games this season and is currently batting .692 (9 for 13) with a 2.538 OPS.  Aside from his league leading 30 dingers last season, he batted .347 with a .605 slugging percentage, which were only good enough for fifth and fourth best respectively, in the hit-happy 4-team circuit.  Here’s video of two of his 2020 home runs.

It’s worth noting that the Monkeys have scored 9, 15 and 11 runs in their three 2020 games so far.  Not surprisingly, they are 3-0 in spite of having allowed 8 and 10 runs in two of the games.  You know what they say — the best defense is a good offense.

LG Twins to Sign Roberto Ramos

January 23, 2020

It looks like the last roster spot for a foreign player in the KBO has been filled.  The LG Twins are reportedly on the verge of signing former Colorado Rockies’ prospect Roberto Ramos.

On paper, it looks like a great signing.  At age 24 in 2019, he blasted 30 home runs and posted a .980 OPS at Albuquerque in the Pacific Coast League.  It’s his second season in a row hitting at least 30 HRs in the minors.  It makes me wonder why Ramos wants to go to South Korea and why the Rockies sold away his rights.

The answer seems to be that nobody, including most importantly the Rockies, think Ramos is a legitimate major league prospect.  MLB.com ranks Ramos as only the 27th best prospect in the Rockies’ system, and fangraphs ranks him 31st.  That’s mighty low for a 25 year old player coming a full season at AAA like Ramos’ 2019.

Ramos played poorly in a brief 10 game stint in the Arizona Fall League and failed to impress in 48 games in Mexico’s Pacific League this Winter.  However, it’s quite possible he was simply tired, as he ended up playing in an exceptional 185 championship games this year across which he accumulated 731 plate appearances.  So long as he’s still healthy physically, all that play has to be good on the developmental end.

Initial reports are that Ramos will only be making about $500,000 playing in Korea in 2020, which is less than the major league minimum.  It’s likely SK had to buy his rights from the Rockies for about $500,000.

In theory, signing a player this young coming off a AAA season like Ramos’ 2019 looks like a great move by the Twins.  However, I can’t remember the last 25 year old foreign rookie to NPB or the KBO to become a great player there.  There are plenty of 26 and 27 year old foreign rookies who have become huge stars in Asia, but precious few 25 year olds, at least in the recent past.

Most players with enough talent to become big Asian stars going into their age 25 seasons are still seen a legitimate major league prospects.  It’s only when the player has reached the end of his age 25 or 26  season and still hasn’t established himself as a regular major league roster holder that the Asian majors become a better option.

I also think that 4-A players need that extra year or two of both mental and professional maturity in order to be able to adjust quickly to Asia’s very different way of playing baseball.  Foreign players have to hit the ground running in Asian pro baseball, because Asian teams are almost never interested in trying to develop the foreign players they bring in at major league salaries, and mediocre foreign players are easy to replace.

Ramos needs to hit like a star in the KBO in 2020, or he’ll be back in AAA a year older and even less of a prospect in 2021.

Best Foreign Pitching Prospects for Taiwan’s CPBL 2020

January 21, 2020

Last off-season I had fun writing a post on the best foreign pitching prospects for Taiwan’s CPBL.  Henry Sosa was the one of many players I name-checked in the article, and I predicted he’d sign with a Mexican League team.

The point is there are so many pitchers available with the right talent level and potentially in the CPBL’s price range that it’s kind of a fool’s errand to try to predict who exactly CPBL teams will sign, unless you are reading reports out of Taiwan in Chinese coming from sources that actually work for one of the CPBL’s four teams.

Nonetheless, it’s still fun to identify some pitchers most MLB fans have never heard of but who still have enough left they could be stars in the CPBL earning at least $150,000 to start if they can last a full season. There were a flurry of foreign pitcher signings in the CPBL last week, but there still appear to be as many as four remaining roster spots available for foreign pitchers as I write this.

Former foreign KBO pitchers are always very popular with CPBL teams.  Christian Friedrich (32 years old in 2020), Joe Wieland (30), Deck McGuire (31), Felix Doubront (32), Pat Dean (31), Ryan Feierabend (34), David Hale (32), Tyler Cloyd (33) and Scott Copeland (32) are all over age-30 former KBOers who are still looking for a contract somewhere.

Christian Friedrich is my favorite as a potential CPBLer.  He hasn’t pitched in the MLB-system since 2017 due to an arm injury.  In 2019, he split the season between the Atlantic League and the KBO and pitcher very well in both places.  He’s not returning to the KBO to start the 2020 season (all the KBO roster spots for foreign pitchers are now filled), and at age 32, he might find it hard to get a call from an MLB organization.

Also, by my calculation Friedrich only earned about $160K last season, which is an amount a CPBL team could easily afford.  Almost all of these pitchers would be a good bet for a CPBL team, so long as any of them are willing to pitch in Taiwan for what the Rakuten Monkeys or the 7/11 Uni-Lions are willing to pay.  The ChinaTrust Brothers and the Fubon Guardians spent big on foreign pitchers this off-season, but their roster spots are now filled.

I like Feierabend too, because as a knuckleballer, he could still potentially pitch for years in the CPBL even though he’s already 34.

Pitchers who pitched well in the Caribbean Winter Leagues are a good bet for CPBL teams.  Teddy Stankiewicz (26) , who pitched well at AAA for the Red Sox last year and in both Mexico and the Dominic Republic this winter, would be a great prospect, but I expect an MLB organization will eventually get around to signing him.  David Kubiak (30) pitched so well in the Dominican Republic this winter, he deserves another shot in the CPBL.

Eric Stout (27), Jason Garcia (27), Justin Nicolino (28), Jake Paulson (28), Giovanni Soto (29), Mitch Lambson (29), Forrest Snow (31), Joe Van Meter (31), Hector Santiago (32) and Mitch Atkins (34) round out a list of pitchers who were good this winter and are still looking for summer 2020 jobs.

CPBL teams like AAA pitchers who have aged out and didn’t quite pitch well enough the previous season to receive a contract for next season.  The current possibilities include Dan Camarena (27), Dillon Overton (28), Tyler J. Alexander (28), Ryan Merritt (28), Parker Bridwell (28), Daniel Corcino (29), Drew Hutchison (29), Dietrich Enns (29), Erasmo Ramirez (30), Kyle Lobstein (30), Seth Maness (31), J.J. Hoover (32), and Logan Ondrusek (35).

I still like Tyler Alexander and Kyle Lobstein, whom I listed last off-season, as potential CPBL pitchers, but any of these pitchers would be good bets.  J.J. Hoover pitched in the Australian Baseball League this winter, which is great back door to the CPBL, because it’s easier and cheaper for CPBL teams to scout players Down Under than in the Americas.  Thomas Dorminy (28) and Rick Teasley (29) are two former CPBL pitchers pitching in Australia this winter, who, I bet, would jump at the chance to pitch in Taiwan again at CPBL salaries, even at the low end.

CPBL teams like Mexican League pitchers too.  Matt Gage (27), Andre Rienzo (31) and Dustin Crenshaw (31) are current Mexican League pitchers who might be available this off-season.

Needless to say, many of the pitchers I’ve listed will get minor league offers between now and the end of Spring Training, or they will elect to pitch in the Atlantic League or the Mexican League in the hopes of working their way back to the MLB system.  Even so, there are lots of options out their for CPBL teams, if they are willing to turn over every stone and kick a few tires.

Salaries Up for Foreign Pitchers in Taiwan’s CPBL

January 15, 2020

The elect few who read my blog with any regularity know that I like to write about the salary scales throughout the world of professional baseball.  Free agent contracts are up in MLB and NPB this off-season.  KBO contracts for foreign “mercenaries” are definitely down.

Salaries in Asia’s smallest major league are way up for at least a few foreign pitchers.

Until this off-season, new foreign pitchers to the CPBL typically received three or four month guarantees ranging from about $50,000 to $100,000.  So, roughly a little over $15,000 to about $25,000 per month, and not for an entire season.  Rob over at CPBL Stats has been opining for the last year or so that CPBL teams could afford to pay one of their three foreign major leaguers roughly $50,000 a month to start.  It looks like he’s been proven right this off-season.

It took the right sequence of events to move CPBL teams out of their comfort zone, and that sequence happened this off-season.  Last off-season, former KBO star Henry Sosa got dumped by the LG Twins, as a result of the fact that Sosa was getting older and was expensive, and KBO teams pay enough for 4-A pitchers that it’s extremely easy for them to find replacement foreigners who are at least average KBO starters.  Sosa signed on with the Fubon Guardians and completely dominated the CPBL with his big fastball and veteran experience until the Guardians sold him back to the KBO at mid-season, probably due to a clause in Sosa’s contract with the Guardians that required the transfer if a KBO team came calling.

Sosa pitched well in the KBO’s 2019 second-half, but again got squeezed this off-season.  Having proven his value to CPBL teams, the Guardians offered him something like $50K per month for a full CPBL season, which has led to reports that reports that Sosa will earn $500K to $600K in 2020.  In any event, Sosa will probably earn no less than $400K pitching in the CPBL in 2020, when taking into account post-game performance bonuses and other emoluments.  Unfortunately, CPBL teams, like NPB teams, are not at all transparent about player salaries.

The signing of Sosa for big money (by CPBL standards) has unlocked CPBL wallets, or at least the wallet of what is probably the 4-team circuit’s wealthiest team, the China Trust Brothers.  The Brothers signed former SoftBank Hawk and Seattle Mariner starter Ariel Miranda for similar money to Sosa, which was what was reasonably necessary for a CPBL team to beat out small revenue NPB and KBO teams like, for example, the Chiba Lotte Marines.

Then, the Brothers went out and guaranteed roughly $125,000 for three or four months to Esmil Rogers, who pitched very effectively for parts of three seasons in the KBO, has significant MLB major league experience, and is coming off a strong winter league season in his home Dominican Republic.  It’s a lot of money for a pitcher entering his age 34 season with no other likely 2020 option than MLB AAA or the Mexican League, but Rogers has the back-story CPBL teams love.

The Brothers are trying to keep pace with Guardians, who also re-signed CPBL Ace Mike Loree, and the hot-hitting Rakuten Monkeys, who are presumably going to have more money to spend on foreign pitchers since the sale by Lamigo to Rakuten.  Also, the expansion Wei Chuan Dragons, who start major league play in 2021, are already showing signs they will spend big on foreign pitchers next off-season in order to get competitive in a hurry.  Add to that the fact that the Brothers’ 2019 foreign starters, paid in line with last year’s CPBL salary scale, were as a group well less than adequate.

I also think that new roster rules for foreign players is having an effect on salaries.  Before 2020, teams could have three foreign players (in practice, all starting pitchers) on their major league rosters, and typically at least three of the four CPBL teams would keep a fourth foreign pitcher on hand at the minor league level.  However, in order to call up the fourth pitcher in the minors, one of the team’s three major league foreigners had to be released.  Starting in 2020, teams will be able to transfer foreign major leaguers to the minors and call up the foreign minor leaguer with the only restriction that the first pitcher can’t be recalled for 15 days.

The Brothers have, in addition to Sosa and Rogers, re-signed Mitch Lively and brought in fourth foreign pitcher, Dominican Jose De Paula.  This probably means that De Paula, a pitcher of the type CPBL teams in the past signed to pitch at the major league level, will start in the CPBL minor league and wait for one of the other three starters to get hurt or pitch ineffectively.  De Paula’s signing is going to put pressure on the other three CPBL teams to sign a better class of 4th foreign pitchers.

As with all things in professional baseball, little is set in stone when it comes to spending money, and we’re going to have to see if bringing in a better and better paid class of foreign pitchers has an effect on CPBL attendance, which, frankly, isn’t what it should be given baseball’s popularity in Taiwan and the size of Taiwan’s major urban areas.

Also, most of the foreign pitchers signed for the 2020 season are over age 30, which means that a fair number of them will be injured during the season.  If the higher paid foreigners bomb or flame out, there won’t be as much incentive to repeat the experiment in 2021.  I do think, though, that expansion in 2021 will add some excitement for the league and unlock some wallets.

If CPBL teams are willing to compete with small market KBO and NPB teams for at least one foreign starting pitcher per team, the CPBL will get better, and we’ll see more movement of foreign pitchers between the CPBL and the other Asian majors.  I’m excited about that prospect.

Delmon Young Sighting

December 31, 2019

And the beat goes on for Delmon Young.  He’s playing in Australia’s Winter (their Summer) League this season.  Needless to say, he’s leading the league with seven home runs, although his .995 OPS is only seventh best just shy of 25 games into the season.

Young played in Mexico the summer of 2018 and he played in Venezuela that winter.  However, he didn’t return to Mexico for the summer 2019 season.  That was probably a mistake, as 2019 was an exceptionally good year for power hitters, and Young could have perhaps impressed somebody in Asia with a hot first half.  Given his major league pedigree a full year in Mexico could pay him as much as $80,000 or $90,000 with no income taxes, which if nothing else gets him a year closer to his MLB pension, which is likely to be substantial given his major league service team, even if he starts collecting it as young as 45.

Young is now 34 years old, and his chances of getting picked up by a KBO or NPB team are slim.  He may be playing in Australia solely as a way to see the world while getting paid a little to do it.  Salaries can’t be big to play baseball in Oz, however.

I surely don’t blame him for not returning to Venezuela, though — that can’t be worth $5,000 or $6,000 a month unless you really need the money.  However,  there are a lot of beautiful women there with low financial expectations for a sugar daddy.  Daily meals at nice restaurants, plus a few 25 kg sacks of corn meal and one or two whole chickens for the family are probably all it takes to get your pick of girlfriends in today’s Venezuela.

Current Blue Jays’ AAA player and former KBOer Andy Burns is also hitting well in Australia this winter/summer.  He’s still only 29 years old, and he played well at Buffalo in 2019 (.833 OPS) at mostly 2B/3B.  He’s likely hoping a KBO team will keep him in mind if he’s playing well in AAA in July and a foreign player isn’t hitting.  He certainly looks like a better KBO option than Taylor Motter, who’s a year older than Burns, but got signed by the Kiwoom Heroes because he was willing to accept a modest but not paltry $350,000.

Burns would have been a better option at $450K or $500K, although it’s possible he would have demanded more since he could be only one injury away from another major league opportunity.

Cincinnati Reds Reach Agreement with CF Shogo Akiyama

December 31, 2019

The Redlegs have reportedly agreed to terms on a three-year deal with Japanese CF Shogo Akiyama for around a $20M guarantee.  It’s a generous deal for Akiyama, who I very much think of as a crap shoot entering the major leagues as a 32 year old rookie.

Acting in Akiyama’s favor are that he’s a true centerfielder (although at age 32, his best years in the field are almost certainly behind him) and that he’s very good at getting on base, which is the most important ability for any Japanese hitter trying to establish himself as a major league player.

Aside from his age, something that concerns me is Jim Allen’s recent report that Shogo doesn’t hit the fastball well.  According to Allen’s numbers, Akiyama has been well below average in hitting the fastball in NPB over the last three years.  In my mind, that’s a big concern, because the biggest difference between major league pitcher and NPB pitchers on average is that the MLBers throw harder.

Akiyama has a big foot-in-the-bucket swing  (you can see the video here), which a lot of Japanese players have and which is going to hard to unlearn at age 32.  One of the things that amazed baseball insiders about Shohei Ohtani was how quickly (basically one Spring Training) he was able to drop his foot-in-the-bucket step for a more compact timing movement which was believed to allow him to better handle/catch up with major league fastballs.  Given Ohtani’s talent level, I wouldn’t be surprised if he one day goes back to a more foot-in-the-bucket swing, but the feeling around MLB was that his quick adjustment was a huge factor in his immediate major league success.

Akiyama better get up to speed in a hurry, because the first thing he’s going to see from major league pitchers is major league fastballs.  In that sense, the professional game is actually incredibly simple.

First, major league pitchers test whether a newly arrived hitter can hit the fastball.  If he can’t, he’s toast.  If he can, then they try off-speed pitches.  If the hitter proves he can hit those too, then the pitchers rely heavily on the scouts and the video footage to try to figure out how to set the hitter up to swing at the pitcher’s out-pitches.

Except that in today’s game, the Reds’ 2020 opponents will be looking at video footage of his recent seasons in NPB to get an idea of how to pitch to him before they ever see him in regular season action.  I don’t have any doubt, though, that pitchers won’t be testing his ability to catch up their fastballs given his high leg lift.

It would be a good idea for Akiyama to get on the phone with Ohtani to find out how Ohtani made the adjustment to MLB so quickly.  Of course, what Ohtani can’t teach Akiyama to do is become 23 again.

Oakland A’s to Build New Ballpark at Coliseum Site?

December 25, 2019

It was announced today that the A’s are going to get a share of the Coliseum site where the current ballpark is located in East Oakland, increasing the likelihood that the A’s will build a new baseball-only park on their portion of the site.

There’s nothing wrong with the Coliseum site.  It’s a crummy industrial neighborhood, but it’s readily accessible by both car and mass transit and it’s in a central location in terms of both Alameda and Contra Costa counties, the core of the A’s fan base.  What sucks is the Coliseum one of the last of the multi-sport concrete monstrosities of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.

With the Raiders moving to Vegas, it’s likely the A’s will build a new stadium in what is now the parking lots and will eventually turn the Coliseum into new parking lots.  Or the City of Oakland could elect to hold onto the Coliseum in a vain hope of attracting another NFL team, and the City and/or A’s could purchase some of the surrounding industrial areas to build more parking.  I don’t have any doubt that the A’s could draw at that site if they had a beautiful new baseball-only stadium.

In other news, I like the two-year $16M deal, with third year team option, the Diamondbacks gave former Angels’ right fielder Kole Calhoun.  Switching to the weaker league and playing his home games in a better hitters’ park, Calhoun could potentially surprise everyone and hit 40 home runs in one of the next two seasons.  Playing in Mike Trout‘s shadow, Calhoun has very quietly been a very good player in five of the last six seasons.

In a final piece of the day’s news I found interesting, the KBO’s Lotte Giants signed former MLB catcher Hank Conger to be a coach for the team in 2020.  Conger is a American son of a South Korean mother who emigrated to the U.S. and Korean-born father who was adopted by an American military family as a child — thus, the non-Korean name.  Conger is perfect to coach in Korea, particularly if he learned any Korean from his parents.

mlbtraderumors.com notes that Conger was once one of MLB’s best pitch-framers and that the Giants likely want him to work with a young catcher they just traded for.  However, what I find interesting is the fact that Conger could also potentially play for the Giants at some time in 2020.  Conger is only turns 32 next month, and he played as recently as 2018 in Mexico (albeit poorly).

KBO teams can now carry additional foreign players to play at the minor league level.  I won’t be surprised if at some point in 2020 if Lotte’s other foreigners aren’t performing Conger gets a shot at resuming his professional career.  Players doing double duty are almost always useful to their teams.

Blue Jays Shell Out for Hyun-Jin Ryu

December 24, 2019

The Blue Jays have elected to give Hyun-Jin Ryu $80 million over four years, which is probably $15M to $20M too much given Ryu’s age (33 in March), weight (255 lbs) and past injury history.

One of the ironies of today’s MLB is that in spite of all the revenue sharing and extra draft picks for small market teams (Toronto isn’t a small market, but the Canadian dollar means the Jays’ revenues don’t match Toronto’s population size), small market teams, particularly those perennially trying to compete with the powerhouse teams, have to spend more to sign an A-list free agent.  It pretty much goes without saying that the Jay Birds had to give Ryu an $80M guarantee to get him.

Ryu’s contract also tends to suggest that Madison Bumgarner really did choose the Diamondbacks instead of maximizing his free agent contract, since it sure looks he could have got a nine-figure deal in this market if he’d held out for it.  Players always say they signed with the team they wanted to play for most, even when it’s obvious they elected to sign with however offered the biggest guarantee.  Here’s some evidence that MadBum had some other priorities.

In a much smaller signing, the Padres signed former NPBer Pierce Johnson for two years at a $5M guarantee, with a team option for an affordable third season.  Johnson is only the latest in a steadily increasing number of former MLBers who have gone to Japan for a year or three and then returned to big money from MLB.  It’s clearly a trend that is increasing.

For Johnson, the deal was a no-brainer.  His wife just had a baby, so he wanted to return the U.S.  Also, his former team, the Hanshin Tigers, likely made him a two-year offer for around $3M, so the Padres’ offer was probably the most money.

The trend of signing players like Johnson is largely a product of the fact that numerous teams have had success bringing in NPB returnees, and the other teams are now copying them.  Also, I think that in a gradual way, NPB is improving relative to MLB.

Although NPB teams are still limited to four foreign players in the major league rosters, every NPB team is now carrying 7 or 8 foreign players per season in order to develop young foreigners and to ensure they are getting the maximum performance from each foreign roster spot.

Also, NPB teams have attendance numbers that suggest that they have the money to sign a better class of not-quite MLB major league performers.  NPB is a mature league, with more than 80 years now in the books, and attendance figures don’t go up or down much from year to year.  However, in recent years, there has been small, steady increases every season.

Here are NPB’s 2019 attendance figures.  Even NPB’s weakest team, the Chiba Lotte Marines, drew 1.67 million fans in 71 home dates.  That’s more than eight MLB teams in more 2019 games.  The Marines’ average attendance of 23,463 per game was better than 12 MLB teams.

The upshot is that NPB have the money to sign foreign players who only need to improve their games a little bit in Japan to make successful returns to the MLB majors.  The big difference now on the MLB side of things is that late bloomers who establish themselves as big stars in NPB don’t necessarily have to stay there anymore.

On the other hand, I’m not convinced that we are about to see a big increase in the number of KBO stars who go on to MLB success.  NPB is clearly much closer to the MLB level of play than is the KBO, and I don’t think it’s likely that the KBO level of play will increase significantly any time soon.

The KBO has decided to let its teams sign two more foreign players each to play at the KBO minor league level, so that will improve performance from the three major league roster spots each team has for foreign players.  However, attendance was down sharply in the KBO in 2019, and it’s revenues can’t possibly be near to NPB’s.  The lack of funds is showing in a big way this off-season, with foreign player salaries down, making it more difficult for KBO teams to compete with NPB for the best foreign players.

The KBO is still a great opportunity for foreign 4-A players, but the league is going to have a hard time signing players like Dustin Nippert, Eric Thames and Josh Lindblom going forward unless it can get its attendance up and keep it there, avoiding a crash every time the Korean National Team does poorly in the World Baseball Classic.