Archive for the ‘Baseball Abroad’ category

Remembering Jonathan Sanchez

March 21, 2017

According to mlbtraderumors.com, the Royals just released Jonathan Sanchez as he attempted what will almost certainly be his last MLB comeback attempt.  The thought of Sanchez brings back at least some fond memories.

Giants’ fans will remember a largely frustrating career — great stuff, not enough command — that culminated in one fine year in which the Giants just happened to win their first World Series since 1954. That, and his 2009 no-hitter.

2010, when Sanchez went 13-9 with a 3.07 ERA, was his one full season to remember.  His command still wasn’t great that year, but his stuff was so good that he allowed only 142 hits in 193.1 innings pitched, and he struck out 205.

Sanchez last pitched in the majors in 2013.  Injuries set in quickly in quickly after the 2010 season, and his career was straight downhill from that point.

He pitched well in the Puerto Rican Winter League in post 2015, but this past Winter League season he pitched only two innings in one start in which he gave up only one hit, but walked four while striking out three.  If his arm is healthy, he could get a shot pitching in the Puerto Rican Winter league next off-season, but that’s about it, unless he’s willing to pitch in Mexico this summer.

In today’s game, it’s hard to feel sorry for Sanchez.  His career may not have been what he and the SF Giants hoped for, but he made more than $15 million playing professional baseball, and he’s earned a substantial major league pension, which will go far indeed if he spends any significant part of each year in Puerto Rico.

It’s tough to be an MLB player this generation, but those who can have any kind of career are now well compensated.

MLB Teams Should Develop Two-Way Stars

March 18, 2017

Baseball America recently published its list of its top ten prospects for the 2017 Amateur Draft.  The top two players, high school star Hunter Greene and Louisville 1B/P Brendan McKay are described as two-way stars (offense and defense) who the drafting teams will probably develop as pitchers.

I wish MLB teams and the players themselves would be more willing to develop the players as two-way stars, like Japan’s Shohei Otani.  There is a certain logic to what I am saying, at least so far as those prospects who are developed as pitchers in pro baseball.  Because pitchers are so susceptible to arm injuries, developing the player at least in part as a position player is basically a kind of insurance policy, since if he blows out his arm, he could still prove to be a major league hitter.

In the case of Greene and McKay, their talent levels as baseball players are probably so high that they could potentially develop into stars either as pitchers or afield.  If the player quickly proves in the low minors that the player’s professional potential is as one or the other, you haven’t lost much but committing a minor league season or two to doing double duty.

MLB teams and amateur players don’t typically do so for a number of reasons.  The teams quickly decide how they like the youngster better and train him toward that narrow goal.  That’s what they based their 1st round draft pick on.

Also, each MLB team ideally wants to be developing one player at each position on each minor league team, because in most cases those are the guys who are one day going to contribute at the major league level. Developing a player as a two-way star means some degree of platooning somewhere, as I explain below.

The amateur player’s primary concern is getting as big a signing bonus as possible.  Since the team almost always considers their value at the moment of selection as either or, the player’s financial incentive is clearly with doing what the team wants the player to do.

I would love to see a young player like Greene or McKay say, “I’m willing to sign for $1M under slot if you will agree to play me at least X number of games in the field.  I’m good enough to do both, and I just might add a great deal of value if I can prove it.

In 2016’s NPB season, Shohei Otani went 10-4 as a pitcher with a 1.86 ERA and 174 Ks in 140 innings pitched.  As mainly a DH, he slashed .322/.416/.588 in 104 games and 382 plate appearances.  Otani would have led the Pacific League in OPS if he’d had only 61 more plate appearances.  Oh, and by the way, his team the Nippon Ham Fighters won the 2016 Nippon Series.

You can’t tell me that the way the Fighters used Otani in 2016 didn’t have a lot to do with the team’s success, since while he could have potentially pitched exclusively for the same overall value, he would have had to throw a truly unhealthy number of innings to do so.  Otani, who is still only 22 years old, could be better, on both sides of the ball, in any of the next few years than he was in 2016.

Developing a two-way player requires a team to be willing to platoon, at least at the DH position, since a two-way player is going to miss games recovering from his pitching efforts.  Also, teams willing to do so don’t typically get to select the two-way player before the team that most highly values him as a pitching prospect.

On the other hand, MLB organizations realistically expect only a couple of players at any level below AA ball to eventually make the Show.  Platooning to develop a true MLB prospect on both sides of the ball is not overly burdensome, since it’s unlikely that any one MLB team will have more than one of these players in its minor league system at any one time.

I’d don’t think it’s any surprise that the very best of the best amateur players feature real two-way prospects.  Youngsters with great physical talent who really understand the game at a physical level are going to be able to hit, pitch and field.

That said, I will admit that it’s either to find the next Shohei Otani in NPB than it is in MLB.  Since MLB is the better league, you have to be better on both sides of the ball to be either a pitching ace or an hitting star, let alone both.

At the end of the day, it’s probably going to take Greene saying, “I’m willing to take only $5.4M or $6.4M in order to play both ways,” or Brendan McKay saying, “I’m willing to accept $5.0M or $5.85M to play both ways,” in order for MLB to develop a true two-way player.

I’m sure we haven’t seen the last two-way player in MLB, but it’s sure unlikely to be any more common in the future MLB than in its been in MLB past, for the reasons suggested above.

Will 2017 Be a Tough Year in South Korea’s KBO?

March 10, 2017

The South Korean team has already been eliminated from the World Baseball Classic.  They went 1-2 in the first round, beating Taiwan and losing to Israel and the Netherlands, both teams the South Korean squad was expected to best.

South Korean fans put a lot more stock in WBC performance than MLB fans do, and the KBO isn’t as developed as MLB or Japan’s NPB.  KBO attendance boomed when the South Korean team lost the final in 2009;and KBO attendance tanked after the team was knocked out in the first round (even though they went 2-1) in 2013.

KBO teams spent big this off-season, blowing away the old salary records, largely out of the belief that the national team would do well in the WBC this year and attendance would spike again in 2017.  This was an entirely reasonable assumption, because the KBO is getting better as a league every year.

As I like to say, anything can happen in a short series, but the KBO fan base isn’t quite developed enough to understand this or care.  KBO average attendance is between 12,000 and 13,000 a game, which is half that even of Japan’s NPB.  There is huge room for growth, but it still takes the national team making national news in a positive way to spur the casual fans to go to the ballpark more regularly.

Israel went 3-0 in the first round, a big surprise, although the Israeli team appears to be loaded with American players of some Jewish ancestry, including most notably Jason Marquis and of personal interest,one of my favorite minor league stars, Blake Gailen, who unfortunately hasn’t hit a lick in the first three games.

It’s no surprise to see that the Netherlands team made it to the second round, but it is surprising they lost to the Israeli team.  The team is loaded with players from Curicao at a time when the small Caribbean island has become a hot bed of professional baseball talent, including Andrelton Simmons, Jurickson Profar, Xander Bogaerts, Wladimir Balentien, Jonathan Schoop and Didi Gregorias.  That’s a line-up that will take the Dutch team as far as its pitching will hold up and then some.

The Oakland A’s Bargain Basement Sluggers, Part I

February 25, 2017

Earlier this off-season, ESPN’s David Schoenfeld wrote an article to the effect that older sluggers like Brandon Moss were having trouble finding contracts because teams were looking for the next Brandon Moss, i.e. minor league players past the age of 27 who could give a team a few productive seasons at a very low price.  At the time, I opined that the failure of these players to sign so far this off-season had more to the do with these players coming to terms with what teams were willing to pay them, rather than teams trying to find the next player of this type, because. as a practical matter, the next Brandon Moss isn’t so easy to find.

Ultimately, the St. Louis Cardinals gave Moss $12 million for two years, roughly ten times what the next Brandon Moss found now would cost his team in 2017 and 2018.

Schoenfeld’s article also drew attention from fangraphs, which wrote a piece on who would most likely be the next Brandon Moss in 2017.  Not surprisingly, about half of the players fangraphs identified will be playing in Japan or South Korea next year, because they are the kind of no-longer-prospects that NPB and KBO teams look for each off-season.

I still like 27 year old Jabari Blash, whose .914 OPS in 646 AAA at-bats suggests he’s a major league player, even if he hits .220 at the MLB level.  However, the Padres successfully passed him through waivers in January, so my opinion is apparently not shared by any of the other 29 major league teams.

Anyway, it’s all got me thinking about these kinds of players and the team, the Oakland A’s, that has made them famous.  What follows is a list of the players at least 28 years old the year they broke out in MLB, whom the A’s obtained for essentially peanuts in the last 25 years.

1.   Geronimo Berroa (28 years old in 1994; signed as free agent).  Berroa is the first of these players I remember the A’s finding.  He had three and a half terrific seasons for the A’s in which he hit 87 HRs with an on-base percentage well over .350, before the A’s traded him to the Baltimore Orioles.

2.  Matt Stairs (28 in 1996; free agent).  Stairs had one of the great major league careers for a player who didn’t have even 200 plate appearances in a season until his age 29 season.  In four and half seasons with the A’s, Stairs hit 122 HRs and posted the high on-base percentages the A’s were hoping for.

3.  Olmedo Saenz (28 in 1999; free agent).  Saenz was never an every day player in his four seasons with the A’s, but he was a valuable bench player who posted an OPS over .800 in three of his four seasons with the team and who could play 3B when needed.

4.  Marco Scutaro (28 in 2004; claimed off waivers from Mets).  Scutaro wasn’t a power hitter by any stretch of the imagination, but he was an older, undervalued minor league player whom the A’s acquired for peanuts.  He gave the A’s four strong seasons in what turned out to be a long and successful major league career.

5.  Jack Cust (28 in 2007; cash purchase from Padres).  Cust was perhaps my favorite player of the bunch, mostly because he was such an extreme example (at the time) of what the A’s recognized as an undervalued player.  Cust didn’t hit for average, and he struck out a hell of a lot; but in his four seasons with Oakland, he slugged 97 HRs and walked 377 times.  Only a decade later, this type of player is common in MLB, to the extent that teams can find them. There were so many one dimensional sluggers who had a hard time finding contracts mainly because none of them drew walks like Cust, Stairs or Berroa.

[I don’t know what the A’s paid the Padres to get Jack Cust, except that it was peanuts by MLB standards.]

6.  Brandon Moss (28 in 2012; free agent).  Moss is actually the least representative player on this list, as he played regularly, if unproductively, at the major league level in 2008 and 2009.  When he finally put it together for the A’s, he hit 76 HRs in three seasons, before the A’s traded Moss to the Indians.

7.  Stephen Vogt (28 in 2013; cash purchase from the Rays).  It’s somewhat difficult to know whether catchers count, since this is the non-pitching position at which players tend to develop at the latest age.  Even so, he was past the age 27 when the A’s acquired him, he’s hit 45 HRs in his four seasons with the A’s, and he likely cost the A’s peanuts to acquire.

Honorable Mention.  Frank Menechino (29 in 2000; selected from White Sox in minor league portion of Rule 5 Draft 12/97).  Menechino had only one season as an every day player for the A’s (2001), and he hit only .242.  However, he was a 2Bman with a little pop and a .369 OBP that year.  The A’s won 102 games in 2001, so one has to assume that Menechino had to have done something right.

 

Mike Napoli and Chris Carter Finally Have Teams for 2017

February 8, 2017

Mike Napoli and Chris Carter finally agreed to 2017 contracts today.  The Texas Rangers have reported guaranteed Napoli $8.5 million for one year, and the New York Yankees $3.5 million to Chris Carter.  Carter can earn another $500,000 in plate appearance based performance incentives.

Napoli’s contract is about what I had been expecting, although the deal reportedly includes a team option for 2018 and so presumably a buy-out.  Carter’s guarantee is less than I expected, although perhaps not a lot less.

Fangraphs valued Napoli’s 2016 performance at $8.1 million and Carter’s at $7.1 million.  Given the age difference, the Yankees appear to have made the more team-friendly signing.  Carter also gives the Bombers a power bat they sorely need.

Carter must feel seriously disrespected after leading the National League in home runs last year.  That could be a good thing for the Yankees if it inspires Carter to try to improve his game and prove that 2016 was no fluke, at least in terms of his ability to hit home runs in bunches.  If he hits 40+ HRs for a second consecutive seasons, he’ll get a much better deal next off-season, regardless of his lack of other marketable skills.

It’s also interesting to see the Yankees engaged in February bargain-basement shopping.  Things have sure changed since George owned the team.

Somehow, it seems like kind of a relief that these two are finally signed.  Despite Carter’s talk of possibly playing in Asia in 2017, he ultimately did get a deal that’s just enough to keep him in the U.S.

Guys like Napoli and Carter, who don’t find the market they were expecting, almost always end up signing before Spring Training starts.  Still, until it happens, there’s always at least a chance that something weird will happen, like the NL’s reigning home run champ playing the next season in Japan or South Korea.

The Glut of Power-Hitting 1B/DH Free Agents

February 4, 2017

One of the things that has most captured my interest this off-season is the glut of power-hitting 1B/DH free agents, and the long slow dance that has been going on as teams have fully realized they can sign these guys for relative bargains if they just wait long enough.

Early in the off-season, it seemed likely that at least the best of these guys would do well in what was a generally weak free agent class, but it sure hasn’t turned out that way.  Edwin Encarnacion, who was probably the best of the bunch, made a whole lot less than the Blue Jays offered him before the season ended.  Mark Trumbo, MLB’s 2016 home run leader, also notably signed for a whole lot less than anyone expected when the 2016 ended.

The players who signed early did well.  In fact, the contracts that the Blue Jays gave Kendrys Morales and the Rockies gave Ian Desmond now look like wild over-pays with the market playing out the way it has.  Desmond’s deal didn’t make any sense when it was announced, but it looks even worse now, in spite of the fact that Desmond can play a lot of positions other than 1B.

Another of the remaining musical chairs was taken away today when the Tampa Rays signed Logan Morrison for one year at $2.5 million and another million in performance bonuses.  That leaves the Texas Rangers as the only team left virtually certain to sign one these guys.  They seem set on signing Mike Napoli, once Napoli agrees to the one year deal the Rangers want to give him.

That leaves Chris Carter, the NL’s 2016 home run leader, Pedro Alvarez, Adam Lind, Billy Butler, Justin Morneau and Ryan Howard with few obvious landing spots.  I’ve heard of the Mariners, the Marlins and the White Sox as possibilities, but that would still leave at least three of these guys looking at minor league offers at best.

Chris Carter has floated the idea of playing in Asia in 2017, a first for a reigning MLB home run leader.  Another sign of how bad the market for these guys is is that the Minnesota Twins just designated Byung-ho Park for assignment because they don’t think anyone will claim him because he still has three years and a total of $9.25 million left on the deal signed last year that has already cost the Twins more than $15 million when the posting fee is included.  I don’t think the Twins are writing Park off so much as convinced that no one will claim him even at this modest remaining commitment.

A KBO team, most likely the Samsung Lions, reportedly offered Mark Reynolds a $3 million one year deal, but Reynolds decided to re-sign with the Rockies on a minor league deal.  If that KBO team is willing to pony up similar money for another of these guys, I would have to think at least one of them will be playing in South Korea next year, because he sure won’t be getting a better offer in the U.S.

As a final, only tangentially related note, the Rays also signed Rickie Weeks to a minor league deal.  I’m disappointed, because it means the San Francisco Giants could have signed Weeks to a minor league deal also.  Weeks’ left field defense was terrible last year, and he hasn’t played 2B since 2014, but he hit pretty well last year, and I expect his left field defense would get better with more experience.  An experienced right-handed power hitting outfielder was something the Giants sure could have used, particularly on a minor league commitment.

The KBO Is All in for 2017

January 24, 2017

South Korea’s KBO teams have been spending dramatically more money on free agents and foreign players this off-season than they did even a year ago.  I suspect the surge in investment is connected directly to the 2017 World Baseball Classic to be played in March, some of which games will be played in Seoul, South Korea.

Professional baseball in South Korea is heavily dependent on the national team’s showing in the World Baseball Classic to generate future attendance increases.  In 2009, South Korea surprised the world with a strong second place finish in that year’s WBC, and KBO attendance surged starting with the 2009 regular season.

In 2013, South Korea was surprisingly knocked out of the WBC in the first round (three of the four teams in their initial pool went 2-1 with the South Korean team having the worst runs scored/runs allowed differential and thus failing to move on the second round).  KBO attendance dropped dramatically in 2013, and has only just in 2016 caught up to where it was before the national team’s ignominious 2013 WBC performance.

With Pool A’s games being played in South Korea, the South Korean baseball world is expecting the home team to have an advantage.  If the national team makes the final game again, I would expect KBO attendance to surge in 2017.  Anything less than a top four finish, however, it’s likely that KBO 2017 attendance will be down from 2016.

Right now, it’s looking like some of South Korea’s best players won’t be playing in this year’s WBC.  Jung-ho Kang is off the national team after being arrested recently on his third drunk driving charge.  Shin-soo Choo will miss the WBC because of injury concerns of his MLB team, the Texas Rangers.  Top starter Kwang-hyun Kim had or is going to have elbow surgery this month.

Needless to say, every national team has to deal with injuries to one degree or another.  However, with as much as the KBO has riding on this WBC, not to mention South Korea in general, the loss of any of South Korea’s top players has to be cause for consternation.

Japanese baseball fandom also puts a great deal of weight on their national team’s performance in international events.  I expect that a Championship performance, or, conversely, a disappointing performance in the WBC has a discernable effect on NPB attendance.  However, I very much doubt that the effect is anywhere near as dramatic as in the KBO.

NPB has roughly 50 years of history on the KBO, which only started play in 1982.  I, therefore, suspect both that NPB teams have solid fan bases and fans sophisticated enough to realize that performance in as small a sample size as the WBC doesn’t really prove much of anything, at least when Japan’s team doesn’t win.

Meanwhile, here in the U.S., the average baseball fan doesn’t spend much time thinking about the World Baseball Classic one way or another.  We have MLB, the undisputed world’s best baseball league, and most MLB stars don’t even play in the WBC because their major teams don’t want their players getting hurt in what MLB considers mere exhibition games.

As a die-hard baseball fan, I find the WBC interesting in terms of which teams perform well each go ’round, and I’m sure it would be interesting to attend individual games, particularly if you can see Asian stars we don’t see much of in the U.S.  However, I don’t put much stock in what amounts to a series of one-game series to determine the alleged “world’s best” national team.