Archive for the ‘Boston Red Sox’ category

Ichiro Is Done

May 4, 2018

Ichiro retired into the Mariners’ front office where he will presumably work to bring more elite Japanese players to Seattle.  He finishes at age 44 with 3,089 hits, after all those hits in Japan.

Suzuki may the last of the hitters in the Paul Waner, Rod Carew, Wade Boggs and Tony Gwynn line, the pure hitters.  Power’s too important in today’s game, perhaps unless Japan can produce another Ichiro, or at least another better than Nori Aoki. the poor man’s Ichiro.

If it’s a style that all but gone, Ichiro brought a talent set to MLB that will be missed if we don’t soon see it again.

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Dice-K Sighting

May 3, 2018

Diasuke Matsuzaka won his first NPB game since 2006 two days ago.  It was a long time in coming, as he’s been out of MLB since 2014. Matsuzaka has been trying to re-start his Japanese career ever since, but arm problems limited him to a total of 15 games pitched at various levels from 2015 through 2017.

Matsuzaka seems to be healthy this year, but he’s now 37 years old and his command doesn’t appear to be back to where it once was.  Given how much he’s accomplished in his professional career and how much money he’s made, it’s a testament to his desire to keep pitching that he’s kept at it through what must have been three very long and difficult seasons when he couldn’t get or stay healthy.

He hit 91 mph on the radar gun on April 30th and threw 114 pitches over six innings, which is lot for a pitcher of his age and injury history.  It certainly remains to be seen if can put in one final strong season before he elects or is forced to call it quits once and for all.

Baltimore Orioles to Sign Alex Cobb for a Reported $57 Million

March 21, 2018

In a deal that I find shocking given everything that came before in this off-season, the Orioles signed Alex Cobb at the last minute for four years at a total guarantee of $57M.  There is apparently a lot of deferred money in the contract, but even so it’s a lot of money for a lot of years this late into Spring Training.

The signing invites the question if Baltimore was willing to shell out this much, why did it take so long to get this deal done?  Wouldn’t Cobb have accepted a $57M guarantee on March 1st or February 1st or January 1st this off-season once the obvious down market trend had been set?  Did Baltimore think that Cobb’s price was going to come down eventually and finally just caved in completely when it became apparent that Cobb would not sign unless he got top dollar and the season was about to start with Baltimore still in need of pitching?

For the life of me, I can’t imagine what the circumstances could have been that caused a deal this big to happen this soon before the real 2018 games start.  Maybe the O’s just decided at the last minute that with many of their best players becoming free agents next off-season, they’d have to make one last push for the post-season in 2018.  Still, they’re going to have a hard time keeping up with the Yankees and Red Sox, Alex Cobb or no.

I was thinking that at this point, Cobb was holding out for two years and $25M.  He even beat the four years and $48M that mlbtraderumors.com predicted.  My goodness!

As mlb trade rumors points out, the O’s back out of more deals at the last minute than most teams if they see anything questionable in the player’s pre-signing physical exam.  Cobb better hopes he looks good to the doctors in that exam.

Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain and apparently now Alex Cobb were big free agent winners this off-season.  There weren’t many others.  At least it gives next off-season’s class of free agents hope that a few more of them will pull rabbits out of their free agent hats even if the market has changed for the worse overall.

Texas Rangers Claim Tommy Joseph off Waivers and CTE

March 20, 2018

The Rangers claimed former SF Giants prospect Tommy Joseph off waivers today from the Phillies.  I had wondered whether another team would claim him or wait until he passed through waivers when he would have likely elected free agency as a veteran major league player.

Joseph was originally the Giants’ second round pick (55th overall) in 2009.  He was extremely promising as a catcher on both sides of the ball, but was eventually quite literally knocked out of the position by concussions.

I’m predicting that we start to hear about more former major league baseball catchers developing CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) in the not too distant future.  Ryan Freel is still the only former MLBer diagnosed after death with CTE that I am aware of, but with many more catchers’ careers ending now because of concussions (pitchers throw harder and batters swing harder than ever before), it’s just a matter of time.  More on this thought later.

Back to Joseph — Tommy hit well enough that he was able to convert to 1B and reach the majors solely on his abilities as a hitter.  He was good in his 2016 rookie season, posting an .813 OPS in 347 major league plate appearances.

In 2017, Tommy Joseph had his sophomore jinx season.  He still hit with power (22 HRs), but his .721 OPS in 533 plate appearances with an ugly .289 on-base percentage isn’t going to cut it anywhere as a 1Bman.

Joseph is an old 26 in 2018 (he turns 27 on July 16th and he looks older than 26 in his baseball reference photo), but any kind of 26 is good for a righted-hitter with power who already has almost 900 career plate appearances.  He seemed to me like he was an obvious candidate for an American League team that could use a better right-handed hitter with power on the bench, and I feel gratified that at least one AL team agreed with me.

The Rangers are clearly that team.  Joseph shouldn’t play first base in any more games than are needed to rest Joey Gallo, who is a younger, better version of Tommy Joseph.  However, Gallo is a lefty swinger and so is 35-year old DH Shin-soo Choo, so there’s an obvious fit for Joseph.  Choo isn’t likely to play 149 games as he did last year, and he may well continue to spend time in the corner outfield positions as needed.  Joseph is also insurance if either Gallo or Choo gets hurt.

The one thing standing Joseph’s way is that he hasn’t had much of a platoon split in his MLB career.  He has a career .781 OPS against lefties and a .748 OPS against righties.  He better improve his hitting against lefties in 2018 if he wants to re-establish himself as a full-time major leaguer going forward, because right now his role is as right-handed power bat off the bench.

Back to CTE in a roundabout way — earlier today I happened to look up catchers who hold the records for most games caught in a season.  Randy Hundley is still the only MLB player to have caught more than 155 games in a season when he played a whooping 160 games behind the dish in 1968.

Playing 150 games a season as a catcher has been accomplished only 27 times in MLB history.  The first such iron man was George Gibson for the World Champion 1909 Pittsburgh Pirates.  He caught at least 140 games in each of 1908 and 1910, and then the injuries set in as he had also reached the age of 30.

There are only two eras in major league history when catching a 150 games in a season wasn’t rare — the expansion era generation from 1962-1983 (17 such seasons) and the last two years of World War II 1944-1945 (four times).  In the expansion era more games were played in a season and catching talent was thinly spread.  In the late War years, there was a real lack of major league caliber catchers, even at the lower wartime level of play, such that some of the good ones who were available had to work double duty.

I would guess that in the days of the old Pacific Coast League when seasons were routinely 180 to 200 a season, it wasn’t rare for a catcher to catch 150 games in a season.  However, two of the greatest catchers in PCL history, Billy Raimondi and Truck Hannah, appear to have accomplished the feat a total of only three times between them during their combined 37 PCL seasons.  Of course, the fact that they weren’t overworked may be part of why they had such long professional careers.

78 times has a catcher caught at least 145 games in a major league season.  Here is a list of the only eight catchers (by my count) who wore the tools of ignorance that many times in three or more different seasons: (5 times) Jim Sundberg, Jason Kendall; (4) Randy Hundley, Gary Carter; and (3) Yogi Berra, Bob Boone, Jody Davis and Tony Pena.  Needless to say, most of these seasons happened early in these catchers’ careers.

My point, I guess, is that there are a lot of retired catchers who caught a whole of games in their major league (and professional) careers who are reaching the age when we should start to hear more about CTE in former major league catchers.

Is the Atlantic League an Option for Free Agents Tied to Draft Pick Compensation?

March 8, 2018

I read a post on mlbtraderumors.com today stating that Scott Boras and Mike Moustakas might be comfortable waiting until after the June Draft to sign a contract so that Moustakas will no longer be tied to loss of draft picks and international bonus money by any team that signs him.  I don’t really believe that’s true, because missing 60+ games is going to cause Moustakas’ value to drop more than it will be increased by de-coupling him from draft pick compensation.

I also well remember Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew were both pretty dreadful in 2014 when they waited until June of that season to sign contracts after not receiving the free agent contracts they wanted.  In fact, it arguably sent Drew’s career into a fatal tailspin.  I can’t believe that teams and agents haven’t reached the obvious conclusion that it’s extremely difficult to start the season two months after all the other major leaguers have begun playing every day.

For that reason, if any of the remaining free agents tied to draft pick compensation fail to sign contracts before well into the 2018 MLB season, I wonder if it would make sense for them to sign to play with Atlantic League teams until a major league deal comes along.  At least they’d be playing baseball and getting up to speed for MLB, even if the level of play is substantially lower.

Obviously, Atlantic League teams would love the idea and would certainly allow MLB players to leave as soon as an MLB deal along, even if it means the MLBer only plays for few weeks or less.  Nothing would boost the Atlantic League’s profile and attendance better than being to play MLB stars, even if only briefly.

Problems here, of course, are that the Atlantic League season doesn’t begin until late April, which is already more than three weeks into the MLB season.  Also, MLB free agents probably aren’t going to be willing to risk injury playing baseball for at most $3,000 a month, particularly if they are over 30 and thus more prone to possible injury.  Still, playing in the Atlantic League would at least allow them to stay sharp and show off their talents until an MLB team comes calling.

At the end of the day, the best possible option is for these free agents to sign a major league contract for only one season like Nelson Cruz did in late February 2014 for $8M after turning down a $14M qualifying offer earlier in the off-season.  He had a great season in 2014, and signed a four-year $57M deal which turned out to be a bargain for the signing Mariners.

In Moustakas’ case, another 30+ home run season might well get him the pay day next off-season he was hoping for this off-season.

Diamondbacks Did Well to Sign Dyson

February 20, 2018

The Arizona Diamondbacks reportedly just reached a tw0-year deal with Jarrod Dyson for $7.5 million guaranteed.  That’s a lot less (proportionately) than the $12 million predicted by mlbtraderumors.  In Dyson’s case, I think it’s age discrimination.

Dyson will be an old 33 in 2018, but he’s the kind of player who ages well because he runs so well.  Fangraphs says that Dyson was worth $16.9M in 2017, mainly because of his still great defense.  Fangraphs also says that Dyson is coming off a five-year period in which he’s been worth as much as $24.8M and never less than $14.6M in a season.

The teams have not been kind to over-30 free agents this off-season, and this is the latest example.  Dyson’s value afield will likely dip in 2018 given his age and the overall trend of the last four seasons, but at worst he’ll be an above average defensive center fielder.  Playing half his games in Arizona, he may yet have his best offensive season in 2018.

$16M for two seasons would be a more realistic bet for Dyson’s value over the next two seasons, but why pay more?  Apparently, only Arizona thought he was worth $7.5M for two seasons, and only because they just lost J.D. Martinez.  Teams have been more than willing to sign free agents in Dyson’s expected contract range this off-season, so it seems likely there really wasn’t much interest anywhere until Martinez committed to Boston.

The Dbacks weren’t going to replace Martinez’ bat.  So why not add defense?  Martinez’ defense is pretty bad, so Dbacks pitchers should get two outfielders better in 2018 with the addition of Dyson.

Boston Red Sox Reportedly Reach Agreement with J.D. Martinez

February 20, 2018

The Boston Red Sox have reportedly reached an agreement with J.D. Martinez on a five year contract that guarantees Martinez $110 million and contains opt-outs after both years two and three of the deal.  The deal is front-loaded with Martinez earning $50 million through the first two seasons and $72 million through the first three seasons but only $38 million over the last two seasons.

Martinez is guaranteed a full $40 million less than mlbtraderumors.com predicted, but he gets the two opt-outs.  The effect of the deal is that it is much more future performance driven that the free agent contracts of old, as Martinez will almost certainly opt out if he has seasons in either 2019 or 2020 in which he plays in 150 game and has an OPS at the average of his last four seasons (2014-2017).

What I find interesting about this contract and to a lesser degree with Eric Hosmer‘s recently reported contract with the Padres is the degree to which the contract is front loaded.  In years past, teams always tried to push the highest paid seasons toward the end of the contract term in order to take advantage of the time value of money.  When added to the 100 year old tradition of paying superstars more as they got older, even as their performances began to decline, the time value of money was a powerful incentive for teams to back-load contracts.

What is clearly going on is that teams no longer want albatross contracts, where the teams are paying massive amounts of money for poor performance later in the contract period.  In particular, wealthy teams like the Red Sox expect to contend every year and certainly do not intend five year rebuilding periods that small market teams resign themselves to.

Teams are now obviously more concerned with paying top dollar for the years they reasonably anticipate getting top performance and paying less as the player gets older.  Teams are realizing that no matter how wealthy or poor they are, they have a certain budget for player salaries each season which increases over time at a fairly predictable rate in line with predicted future revenue increases.  If you push back free agent contract compensation to the later years, those are years in which the team is predictably resigning itself to mediocrity or worse.  Added to this are the incentives in recent collective bargaining agreements which punish teams for going over an imposed salary cap.

In the late 1980’s Bill James wrote an article about how the New York Yankees under George Steinbrenner were on what amounted to a second-place treadmill.  At that time the Yankees were building their teams largely around elite free agents, who were really good only for a year or two and then became expensive mediocrities that prevented even baseball’s richest team from building a truly great ball club.  It’s taken awhile for teams to learn the point that James was making all those years ago, but it now seems the teams have learned it.

As time passes, we will see more contracts which reject the old rules of free agent contracts.  I’m certain of this, because we’ve seen over the years the way in which free agent contracts have evolved, for example using team options, player options and opt-out clauses.

Also, I took a sports law class in law school in which the students negotiated various player contracts.  Coming into the practice negotiations with fewer preconceptions about what the contract should look like and negotiating only on the basis of the factual situations involving the player and the team, we came up with some pretty wild contracts.

In representing an imaginary football player in negotiations with an imaginary team that was hoping to win it all the next season and had the money to spend now, I negotiated a two year deal in which the player received 85 or 90% of the contract amount in the first season with most of the 85 or 90% in the form of a signing bonus, so that the money would already be paid out to the player even if he got hurt as soon as he started play for his new imaginary team, since NFL contracts are typically not guaranteed due to the frequency of serious injuries in football.  Also, I wasn’t taking into account taxation or the fact that young athletes tend to spend money as they make it and won’t necessarily be prepared to save enough in year one to handle the steep drop in compensation in year two.

In the real world, past practice tends to shape contracts in the short term, not to mention the fact that the parties involved in the negotiations are better aware of all the real world variables.  Over time, however, real world contracts will ultimately get to roughly the same place as law school experiments if the factual situations are roughly the same (and taking into account all the real world variables).

Owners would love to get back to the world before free agency, not only when players could not access a free market of teams competing for their services, but also when a player’s compensation was determined a year at a time and was thus largely linked to the immediately preceding year’s performance and thus anticipated next season performance, and could be quickly reduced if the player ultimately had a bad season the next year.

Both Martinez’ contract with the Red Sox and Yu Darvish‘s recent contract with the Cubs require the players to perform at an extremely high level in the early years of their respective deals to fully reap the potential benefits of the contract.  That is well to the advantage of their signing teams, and this year the teams have been able to impose these terms on these players.  We’ll see what happens next off-season, but I think we’ll be seeing more of the same.