Archive for the ‘Baseball Abroad’ category

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) one four out of five games and beat 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 Matos, Andy Otero and Harold Arauz allowed only two runs (one earned) over a combined 26 innings pitched.  The Dominican Matos 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.

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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).

Best Foreign Pitching Prospects for Taiwan’s CPBL 2019

January 6, 2019

The last few years I have been taking a greater interest in the foreign players, nearly all pitchers, who pitch in the Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) each season.  Like every independent league, the CPBL is looking for the best, most immediately effective foreign pitchers it can find within the league’s salary structure for the three roster spots available to foreign players on each CPBL major league roster.

Foreigners signing a first CPBL contract typically receive a $45,000 to $55,000 guarantee for the season’s first three months.  If the foreign pitcher pitches well enough to be retained for a full season, said foreign pitcher can earn $120,000 to $150,000 for what amounts to an eight month season, given the many, many rainouts in Taiwan and including Spring Training.

A player with at least one day of MLB major league service cannot be paid less than $90,400 for minor league service time or less than $555,000 for major league service time in 2019.  Thus, most players with any amount of past MLB major league service time who are able to secure a contract to pitch in AAA in 2019 will elect to do so, rather than travel to Taiwan.  Further, these players can also usually secure an opportunity to pitch in one of the top four Caribbean Winter Leagues, where they can make as much as $50,000 or $60,000 if their Winter League team makes the playoffs, which run long relative to short Winter League regular seasons of 40 to 60 games.

The next best summer league after the CPBL is the Mexican League, and CPBL teams often sign American-born pitchers to contracts the off-season after the pitcher has a successful season in the Mexican League.  Mexican League salaries cap at about $8,000 a month for what is usually no more than a five month season, but there is rumored to be extensive cheating on salary caps for the best foreign players, real compensation may be closer to $60,000 for the season.

While Mexican League players definitely make less than CPBL players, Latin American players, particularly those from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Mexico or Venezuela, typically prefer to pitch their summers in Mexico and then pitch in their home countries in the Winter, where they are big, big stars and likely have some endorsement opportunities if they play at home.  Because the CPBL 120-game season tends to run so long, pitching in the CPBL can interfere with the player’s ability to play the first month of the Winter Leagues, which is a definite drawback for these players.

The CPBL signs a relatively high number of first contracts with foreign pitchers age 32 or older.  A lot of pitchers who can still pitch have by their age 29 to 32 seasons aged out of the MLB system and either aren’t quite good enough or young enough to be signed by KBO or NPB teams.  KBO and NPB teams rarely sign any foreign player to a first contract over the age 31 unless the foreigner has a very substantial MLB major league record.

With those considerations in mind, here’s my list of the best pitchers who might reasonably sign with a CPBL team this off-season.  There are many available pitchers with the necessary talent to pitch in the CPBL, particularly among 2018 AAA starters who aren’t able to obtain an MLB minor league contract for 2019, so I don’t claim my list is definitive.  It’s simply too difficult predict whether any individual pitcher no older 28 with the necessary talent and track record will elect to pitch in the CPBL during the off-season.

Kyle Lobstein (age 29 in 2019).  Kyle Lobstein pitched 128 major league innings with a 5.06 ERA between 2014 and 2016 for the Tigers and the Pirates.  However, at the start of 2018, he found himself without an MLB minor league contract and thus began the season in the Mexican League.  He pitched well enough there in the first half (2.95 ERA in 11 starts with good ratios) to secure a contract in the Dodgers organization.  He pitched well at AA Tulsa (2.56 ERA in seven starts) but not as well at AAA Oklahoma City (5.14 ERA in seven starts).  He’s still unsigned for 2019 as I write this.  Lobstein tops my list because he’s still reasonably young and has a major league pedigree.  He’s also a left-hander, which doesn’t hurt.

Barry Enright (33).  Another former major leaguer with a career major league record similar to Lobstein’s, Enright also had a similar 2018 to Lobstein’s.  After pitching well in 13 Mexican League starts, he signed with the DiamondBacks organization.  He pitched O.K. at AA Jackson, but got bombed in four appearances totaling eight innings at AAA Reno.  Reno is a tough place to pitch, playing in possibly the best hitters’ park in the already hit-happy Pacific Coast League.

Lobstein is obviously a better CPBL prospect, but Enright is certainly more likely not to receive an MLB contract between now and when CPBL teams begin signing new foreign pitchers later this month or in February.

Josh Lowey (34).  Josh Lowey is to the Mexican League what Mike Loree is to the CPBL.  Mike Loree is currently the CPBL’s best starter and one of the most productive foreign pitchers in CPBL’s 29 season history.  Josh Lowey has never pitched in the MLB system, having worked his way up from the Independent-A Leagues.  In five Mexican League seasons, he now has a 55-24 record, which is fine indeed.

Lowey got a chance to pitch in the KBO in 2016, and he got hit pretty hard (6.30 ERA in 60 IP) and his command was poor.  However, he was playing for the KBO’s worst team that season, and he struck out 68 KBO hitters.  He certainly has the talent to succeed in the CPBL.

Lowey is getting up there in age, but he was still terrific in 2018.  He went 14-5 in Mexico during the summer with a 3.12 ERA, a 1.178 WHIP and 133 Ks in 144.1 IP.  This Winter he pitched in the Dominican Winter League (DWL), where he went 6-2 with a 2.26 ERA and 1.293 WHIP in 12 starts.  In the DWL’s post-season, he has a 2.45 ERA after three starts.

Lowey didn’t pitch in the Winter Leagues last year, which may have been the reason no CPBL team signed him then.  CPBL teams tend to like at least some Winter League performance the off-season before they bring a new foreign pitcher in.  Lowey has that in spades this year, as he was one of the best starters in what is probably this off-season’s best Winter League.

Tyler Alexander (27).  Another lefty, Tyler Alexander spent three full seasons pitching in Fargo in the Indy-A American Association.  He had been in the Brewers’ organization, but during a period when his grandmother died and his long-time girlfriend broke up with him, he tested positive twice for marijuana, which led to an 50-game suspension from MLB.  Because the Brewers released him, it meant that any signing team had to wait while Alexander served out the 50-game suspension.  So no MLB organization signed him, and he pitched in baseball’s boondocks for three years.

Alexander pitched well in the Mexican Pacific League (LMP), Mexico’s winter league, the previous two off-seasons, but he didn’t get a shot from a summer Mexican League team.  Instead, he joined the Indy-A CanAm League this past spring, which isn’t any better than the American Association, but gets more attention from scouts because the teams play on the East Coast.  He pitched reasonably well and was signed by the Quintano Roo Tigres to pitch in the Mexican League’s second half.  He went 4-3 with 3.81 ERA and a 1.223 WHIP and 48 Ks in 54.1 IP south of the border.

Alexander has been even better in the DWL this winter, posting a 2.68 ERA with a tiny 0.87 WHIP and striking out another 48 batters in 50.1 IP.  He also has a 1.42 ERA after three DWL post-season starts.  The DWL is an extreme pitchers’ league this off-season, but Alexander, like Lowey, has unquestionably been one of the league’s best starters.

After all these years, MLB has waived Alexander’s old 50-game suspension last spring, so an MLB organization could sign him without penalty.  MLB teams are fully aware of what’s going on in the DWL, as are NPB teams, to it’s quite likely either an MLB organization or an NPB team could soon sign him.  If not, he’d make a great prospect for the CPBL.

Tyler Cloyd (32).  Another pitcher with more than 100 MLB major league innings under his belt, Cloyd pitched badly in 17.2 major league innings with the Marlins in 2018, but pitched fairly well for the AAA New Orleans Baby Cakes in 2018, posting a 5.17 ERA in 15 starts with a 1.336 WHIP and 68 Ks in 85.1 IP while walking only 18.  Cloyd is still presumably looking for a minor league contract for 2019, but at his age probably won’t receive one.  He’s another pitcher I could definitely see pitching in Taiwan in 2019.

Bryan Evans (32).  Evans had an interesting 2018 season.  After spending 2017 in the Atlantic League, he started the 2018 season in the Mexican League where he went 3-3 with an unimpressive 4.82 ERA and a WHIP over 1.5 in 11 starts.  But that was good enough for the Mariners to sign him to pitch at AAA Tacoma, where he pitched better.  He went 6-3 for the Rainiers in 14 starts with a 4.40 ERA with a 1.262 WHIP and 71 Ks in 77.2 IP.

Evans also pitched this winter in the DWL where he went 0-3 with a 4.34 ERA, but struck out 29 batters in 29 innings pitched with a 1.372 WHIP.  Evans looks a lot like the kind of pitcher who pitches in the CPBL, and he hasn’t done so yet.  Maybe 2019 will be his year.

Patrick Johnson (30).  He had a good 2018 in the Mexican League, going 12-5 with a 4.02 ERA, 1.307 WHIP and 86 Ks in 116.1 IP.  He didn’t pitch for a winter league team this year, which I think will hurt him with CPBL teams, particularly since his 2018 season looks a lot like a small right-hander (5’10 and 170 lbs) about to have arm problems.

Will Oliver (31), Nate Reed (31) and James Russell (33).  Three 2018 Atlantic League stars who have pitched well in the LMP this winter.  Oliver and Reed are still pitching effectively in the LMP’s post-season, and James Russell has 394 career MLB major league appearances, mostly in relief.

Colin Rea (28), Burch Smith (29) and Sean Nolin (29).  Three pitchers with MLB major league experience coming back from Tommy John surgery, who are all still young enough that I expect they’ll be pitching in the MLB minors in 2019.  However, one could slip through to Taiwan.

Andre Rienzo (30), Paolo Espino (32) and Guillermo Moscoso (35).  Three Latino pitchers with MLB major league experience who I could see pitching in the CPBL in 2019.  Rienza is a Brazilian who has had arm problems, but he had an 0.76 ERA in nine second half starts in the Mexican League season and was brought in at the end of the LMP season to allow only two runs in 18.1 IP across three starts including one in the post-season so far.

Espino is a Panamanian who pitched effectively but certainly not spectacularly in 10 AAA starts for the Colorado Springs Sky Sox this past summer.  He’s been fantastic in the DWL so far this winter.

Guillermo Moscoso has already pitched in NPB, so he’s willing to play in Asia,  but he’s also a Venezuelan who has played eight seasons in the Venezuelan Winter League (VWL).  I could see him deciding that the situation is so dire in Venezuela now, what with two VWL players, including major leaguer and top VWL hitter Luis Valbuena, being murdered while driving back to their home city after a road trip this season, it’s time to go to Taiwan.  He’s enough of a star in Venezuela, they’ll let him start next year’s VWL season late.

Finally, the KBO jettisoned a lot of older but still effective foreign KBO veterans this off-season.  Dustin Nippert (38) rumoredly advised CPBL teams that he’d sign for $50,000 a month, although that’s a non-starter if typical CPBL salaries for first-year foreigners range from $15K to $18K a month.  $50,000 for three months?  Sign ‘im!

So which former KBOer would sign a $75,000 for three month contract?  Maybe Eric Hacker (36) who has previously been rumored as a CPBL prospect.  I see Dominican Henry Sosa (33) doing the Mexican League/DWL combo in 2019, hoping to catch on with an NPB team.

Because of his age, Taiwan’s Wang Wei-Chung (27) is more likely to pitch in AAA or NPB in 2019 than the CPBL.  David Hale (31) and Pat Dean (30) seem like better possibilities for the CPBL.

This Year in the Australian Baseball League

January 4, 2019

With this off-season’s MLB free agent signing period slow going indeed, this baseball blogger has been somewhat hard-pressed to come up with topics to write about.  Thus, you, gentle reader, have been subjected to numerous posts about Asian baseball, where the signings of foreign players have been more forthcoming.  Besides, the fringes of the professional baseball world interest me and seem like a ripe topic that few other baseball blogs cover.

Thus, it feels like a good time for a post on the action in this year’s Australian Baseball League.  The ABL isn’t in the same class as the big four Caribbean Winter Leagues (Mexico, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Venezuela), but is probably better than the Winter Leagues in any of Panama, Nicaragua or Colombia.  It plays a short season, even by Winter League standards, of about 40 games.

The ABL is heavily subsidized by MLB as a way to develop interest in baseball in Australia and to help generate a continuing supply of Aussie prospects for MLB.  I could not help but notice earlier today that, while the ABL’s website provides very detailed box scores, including game temperatures and wind speeds, it does not report attendance numbers, a sure sign that the games are not well attended by the standards of even this level of professional baseball and must be subsidized by someone to keep the league afloat.

The ABL draws an interesting mix of Australian players and Independent-A American players not quite good enough during the summer to secure work in the Big Four Caribbean Winter Leagues.  The Circuit also draws a smattering of pro players from Taiwan, South Korea and Japan.

The top pitcher in the ABL this season is Shota Imanaga.  Imanaga is a potentially a world class NPB pitcher, who is coming off a brutal 2018 summer season and apparently pitching in the ABL this winter to get himself back on track.

After the 2017 season, Imanaga looked like a potential future MLB prospect, as I mentioned that off-season.  In 2018, however, he went 4-11 in NPB with a brutal 6.80 ERA.  His command deteriorated significantly from the prior two seasons, and he seems to have hurt by the rise in NPB home-running hitting this past season.  He still managed to strike out 80 batters in 84.2 innings pitched, and his performance in the ABL this winter suggests there is nothing fundamentally wrong with his pitching arm, always a concern for a pitcher listed under 5’10” and 180 lbs.

Against a much lower level of competition, and limited so far to six starts and 35 IP, Imanaga has posted a 0.51 ERA and 57 strikeouts while allowing only 14 hits, one home run and one walk.  If nothing else, Imanaga’s foray to the ABL should certainly boost his confidence going into the 2019 NPB season.

Frank Gailey, Ryan Bollinger, Mikey Reynolds and Zach Wilson are examples of typical North American players playing in the ABL this winter.  Ryan Bollinger pitched pretty well in the Yankees’ system last summer, mostly at the AA level, and he struck out 97 batters and 111.2 IP.  He has been signed by the Padres this off-season with an invitation to Spring Training, but will most likely start the 2019 season at AAA El Paso.

Needless to say, the ABL is a refuge for Australian players who just can’t give up the enjoyment they get from playing professional baseball.  Former major leaguer Travis Blackly, for example, is still around at age 36 pitching effectively Down Under (and in the very low Indy-A Pacific Association during the Northern Hemisphere summer).  He’s now pitched professionally in at least seven countries (U.S., Canada, Mexico, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Australia).

Steve Kent and Luke Hughes are a couple of old Aussie war horses who have played in the MLB system and the ABL for many years.  Hughes played in the majors for the Twins and the A’s from 2010-2012.

More recent major leaguer Gift Ngoepe, originally of South Africa, is playing well in the ABL this season.  After a brutally bad 2018 season mostly for the Blue Jays’ AAA team in Buffalo, which caused him to get released in mid-August, Ngoepe is obviously hoping a strong winter in Oz will get him contract to play baseball somewhere next summer.

Pete Kozma and Josh Collmenter, two other familiar major league names, are in basically the same boat as Ngoepe — Kozma is trying to resuscitate his career after a rough year in the Tigers’ organization, and Collmenter is trying to come back from injuries that kept him out of action throughout the 2018 regular season.  Kozma, at least, has signed an minor league contract to return to the Tigers’ organization with invitation to spring training in 2019.

 

What Did Kenta Maeda Earn in 2018?

January 1, 2019

By my calculation, Kenta Maeda earned $6.275 million in 2018 on his incentive-heavy contract with the Dodgers.  This includes a pro-rated portion of his $1 million signing bonus, but does not include the post-season money Maeda earned.

The $6.275M amount is $1.75M less than Maeda earned in 2017 and $5.75M less than he earned in 2016.  Meanwhile, fangraphs says his performance had a value of $20.7M in 2018, compared to only $16.0M in 2017 but $26.4M in his 2016 MLB rookie campaign.

With the Dodgers’ decision to trade Alex Wood, it is likely that Maeda will begin the 2019 season in the Dodgers’ starting rotation.  However, because the contract did not take into account the reasonably foreseeable likelihood that Maeda might well end up pitching largely out of the bullpen in MLB, there are no provisions for performance bonuses based on appearances or games finished.  This may become an issue, if Maeda continues to be used a spot starter and becomes increasingly resentful that his compensation does not reflect his actual contributions on the mound.

The fact that Maeda earned World Series money each of the last two seasons and play-off money each of the last three seasons has probably taken much of the sting out of a contract that has proven to be much too favorable to the Dodgers.  Also, Maeda has made significantly more money the last three seasons in MLB than he would have made in NPB, at least excluding endorsement deals, which are much more lucrative for Japanese baseball stars than for MLB stars in America.  I don’t know how pitching in MLB affects Maeda’s endorsement income in Japan  — it may well have no effect at all, because everyone in Japan knows that he was a big enough star to make a successful transition to MLB.