Archive for the ‘Boston Red Sox’ category

Go East, Not So Young Men

October 20, 2017

Every year around this time, I like to do a post regarding MLB-system players who are good bets to be playing in Japan’s NPB or South Korea’s KBO next season.  In the past, these posts typically identify players who had great seasons in AAA, but didn’t get much MLB playing time.

This year, I’ve decided to try to be a little more thorough about the subject, including looking at contract issues more likely to push some players, but not others, to try their luck in Asia.  The biggest factors for a player entering his age 26 or older season in deciding whether to give up the MLB dream and go to Asia are likely whether he has received a major league contract offer from an MLB team and also his personal, subjective belief about his likely future chances of MLB success.

I suspect that a lot players who play in MLB for the first time in September of their age 26 or 27  seasons and play well during that cup of coffee will elect to stay in the MLB system the next season, even if they get a better offer from an NPB or KBO team.  On the other hand, players who received substantial major league playing time in their early or mid-20’s, who then spend the next couple of years mostly at AAA, have a much better idea how tenuous MLB success can be and are a lot more tempted by better offer from abroad.

Here’s my list of some hitters who are good bets to be playing in Asia next year.

Oswaldo Arcia (27 in 2018).  Arcia played in 200 games for the Twins in 2013 and 2014 at the ages of 22 and 23.  Since then, his major league career has gone straight downhill, in large part because he isn’t patient enough, i.e., he doesn’t walk enough and strikes out too much.

At age 26, Arcia led the Pacific Coast League with a 1.049 OPS.  However, he didn’t play in even one major league game because he got hurt on August 30th, right before the September roster expansions.  I wasn’t able to determine the nature of his injury, and injuries have plagued him the last few seasons.  If he’s fully healthy by December 1st, though, he’d be a great bet for an Asian team.

Bryce Brentz (29).  Brentz hit a league-leading 31 home runs (Asian teams want their foreign hitters to hit the long ball) and his .863 OPS was second best in the International League.  Even so, the Red Sox never called him up, even after the rosters expanded in September.  A player can’t get a much stronger message his team doesn’t see him as part of their future than that.

Jabari Blash (28).  Blash has a lot of talent, but through his age 27 season, he hasn’t been able to put it together at the major league level.  If the Padres don’t offer him a major league contract, he should seriously consider any Asian offers he receives.

Leonys Martin (30).  NPB teams love Cubans as much as cigar aficionados do.  Small wonder — Alex Guerrero and Alfredo Despaigne respectively led the Central and Pacific League in home runs this past season.

Martin isn’t likely to hit 35 home runs in a season even in Japan, but he could 25-30 in a season there, and he still runs well. He has more than three full seasons of MLB service time, entitling him to salary arbitration, and will almost certainly be non-tendered by his current MLB club.  I’m guessing his best free agent offer will come from Japan.

Will Middlebrooks (29).  Middlebrooks’ MLB career has gone down the toilet, but he’s the kind of power-hitting 3Bman NPB teams like.

Mark Canha (29).  I could definitely see him getting a $1M offer from the Doosan Bears this off-season, if the Bears decide to replace Nick Evans as their foreign position player.

Cody Asche (28).  Another 3B candidate with power potential in Japan’s smaller ballparks, Asche was the Phillies’ main 3Bman in 2014 and 2015.  Now he’s just another guy coming off a strong minor league season looking for a decent contract going into his age 28 season.  Still, Asian teams love past MLB experience.

Xavier Avery (28).  A center fielder whose .816 OPS was 5th best in the International League, Avery’s only major league experience (32 games with the Braves) came way back in 2012.  You would have to think he’d be receptive to a foreign offer.

Nick Buss and Brandon Snyder (both 31).  A couple of left fielders coming off strong AAA seasons.  Buss led the Pacific Coast League with a .348 batting average, and his .936 OPS was 7th best.  Snyder’s .846 OPS was 3rd best in the International League.  You can guess which of the two AAA leagues is a pitchers’ league and which is a hitters’ league.

Chris Johnson and Eric Young, Jr. (both 33).  Two aging veterans with substantial MLB experience, both played well enough in AAA to suggest they still have something left going into 2018.  Both would provide an Asian team with a certain amount of defensive flexibility.  Johnson is probably more likely to get an offer because he has more power.

In my opinion, age 27 is the ideal age for a foreign MLBer to try his luck at a successful Asian career.  Here is a list of players who will be 27 next season, had great AAA seasons, have at least a little MLB experience, but don’t look likely to receive major league contract offers for 2018: Richie Schaffer, David Washington, Christian Walker, Mike Tauchman, Tyler Naquin, Ji-man Choi, Garrett Cooper, Tyler White, Christian Villanueva, Luke Voit, Max Muncy and Cesar Puello.

Almost all of these guys will elect to stay in the MLB system, but don’t be surprised if you hear that one or two of them have signed with Asian teams later this off-season.  Tyler Collins (28) and Travis Taijeron (29) are a couple of slightly older players who are reasonable possibilities of getting Asian offers.

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Chris Sale’s Tired Wing

September 5, 2017

I read this article on espn.com this weekend regarding Chris Sale‘s history of pitching poorly after September 1st, and in fact, his first September start this season was not up to his pre-September standards.

It is hardly surprising that a pitcher listed at 6’6″ and 180 lbs would get tired late in the season.  I found a couple of articles on the internet from March 2016 about how Sale was trying to get his weight up to 200 lbs in order to improve his strength and stamina later in the season, based largely on a diet of cheeseburgers, steaks and his wife’s “taco nights.”  He was able to get his weight to 190 lbs when he reported to camp that year, but at least one teammate opined that he thought Sale would never reach 195 lbs, let alone 200.

My guess would be that Sale probably arrived at training camp closer to 200 this year.  Sale is 28 this year, and his metabolism has to slow down eventually.

I also think that Sale will pitch better this September than he has in the past, his Sept. 3 start notwithstanding.  Sale is experienced enough now that he should be able to get hitters out even when he doesn’t have his best stuff.  Also, this is his first opportunity to pitch in the post-season, and secure his status as one of MLB’s absolutely best pitchers.  I have to think he will rise to the occasion, even it has longer term consequences on his career going forward.

One of the reasons that even the best major league pitchers don’t last longer is that in contending years like this one, the pressure is on them in spades to do more than any one pitcher can reasonably be expected to do.  Despite the fact that Sale is not built to be a workhorse, he’s currently leading MLB in innings pitched and is second only to Rick Porcello, another pitcher already showing the signs of prolonged overwork, in number of pitches thrown this season.

On that note, I wonder if Madison Bumgarner‘s injury this year won’t end up being a positive thing.  But for the dirt bike accident, it’s almost certain MadBum would have pitched 220+ innings this season.  At the very least, it would have been his seventh consecutive season throwing at least 200+ innings.

Bumgarner has only recently turned 28 and with all of those innings pitched under his belt already, I wouldn’t count on him to last too much longer.  Maybe being limited to half his typical innings pitched total this year will mean at least a season or two longer that he’ll remain one of MLB’s top arms.

In fact, I am less sanguine at this moment about Clayton Kershaw‘s future prospects than I am about Bumgarner’s.  This will be the third year in the last four that Kershaw hasn’t pitched 200 innings, but his lost time has mostly been due to back problems rather than freak accidents.  It’s hard to imagine those back issues not cropping up again in Kershaw’s professional future.

As a final note, in these days of eight-figure annual salaries for front of the rotation starters, it’s a whole lot harder to feel sorry about the fact that they are routinely overworked and that their careers don’t last longer.

San Francisco Giants Trade Eduardo Nunez to Red Sox for Prospects

July 26, 2017

Thankfully, the Giants traded Eduardo Nunez to the Boston Red Sox last night for two right-handed pitching prospects, Shaun Anderson and Gregory Santos.  Both Anderson and Santos look like Grade B prospects to me, but Nunez is only a two month rental before he becomes a free agent this coming off-season, so I’m glad the Giants pulled the trigger and got something.  Right now, the Giants need organizational depth, even if they can’t get anything more.

Anderson is 22 this year and a former 3rd round draft pick.  He’s roughly split the 2017 season so far between full-season A and A+ ball, not surprisingly pitching a lot better in the former than in the latter.  Anderson’s strikeout rates at these levels aren’t particularly impressive, but it’s hard to know, because he pitched only 2.2 professional innings before this season.  I wouldn’t be surprised, however, if his strikeout rate drops dramatically when he reaches AA.

I like Santos better as a prospect, mainly because he hasn’t even turned 18 yet.  He’s pitching very well in his second season in the Dominican Summer League, where he has an 0.90 ERA after seven starts.  His strikeout rates are not impressive, but he may still be learning how to pitch, and his strikeout rates may improve once he learns how better to set hitters up for his strikeout pitches, or he improves his strikeout pitches.  He’s listed as 6’2″ and 190 lbs, which sounds like he’s got a projectable body for this age.

The odds that either Anderson or Santos will eventually have a significant major league career probably aren’t great.  With Santos in particular, he’s got a lot of years in which to potentially blow out his arm before he ever reaches the majors.

Giants’ management has talked about “reloading” for 2018, rather than “rebuilding” this trade deadline, but this is much more a “rebuilding” move, as the odds are slim and none that either Anderson or Santos will contribute anything to the major league club in 2018.

Assuming the Giants intend to keep Brandon Belt, I was kind of hoping that a Nunez deal with the Red Sox might include Chris Shaw, a Massachusetts native and Boston College star, whose minor league defensive numbers suggest he’s an American League 1B/DH type, in exchange for at least one Grade-A prospect.  However, Shaw has gone cold again at AAA this past week, and it’s possible the Giants still value him more highly than anyone else does, since they drafted him only two years ago.

I hopeful that Nunez won’t be the only veteran the Giants move for prospects of almost any caliber before the trade deadline passes.  The Giants need all the additional young talent they can get and then some.

San Francisco Giants Bringing Back Pablo Sandoval

July 20, 2017

The Giants are bringing Pablo back!  It’s a move born of desperation on both sides, but as a Giants’ fan, of course I love it.

I’m doubtful Pablo has a lot left.  His inability to push himself away from the dinner table has taken its tole on his body.  But, on a minor league deal it’s a no-lose proposition.

Still, the Giants know Pablo, and Pablo knows the Giants.  Maybe the Giants will expend $75,000 for a year on a full-time personal trainer who can whip Pablo back into shape.  From what I’ve read, Pablo will work hard in the gym and eat healthy so long as he has someone working with him consistently (constantly).

Then, who knows?  The raw baseball skills have always been there.

I like this move for reasons beyond the obvious.  The Giants in the Sabean ERA have consistently rewarded the players who they developed and played well for them.  I strongly believe this faithfulness has more often than not brought out the best in their players and helped them break the San Francisco curse, not once but three times in five seasons.  Obviously, scouting and trading for the right players has helped too.

Fans in Sacramento will enjoy seeing Pablo suit up for the River Cats.  I also believe that having your minor league clubs within reasonable driving distance for fans to be able to at least see the major league squad a few times a season is good for the organization and the box office at all levels.

It doesn’t hurt to have the minor league squads pay for themselves.  The River Cats have the third best per game attendance despite having the 14th best record (out of 16) in this year’s Pacific Coast League.

As a final note, teams should be more willing either to pay for personal trainers or require the player as part of his contract to hire a personal trainer, at least in situations like Pablo’s.  Traditionally, teams have left it up to the players to get themselves in elite condition, since the player ultimately has more to gain or lose by the seriousness with which he takes his own conditioning.

Sometimes, though, you have a player like Pablo, with exceptional talent, but less than exceptional maturity and discipline, who needs a helping hand.  Personal trainers cost pennies to the dollars invested in elite players, so why not find a way to get them involved, at least so long as the player will work hard if he someone pushing him during his professional down time.

In Pablo’s case, it might have made, and might yet make, a real difference.

Japanese Baseball News

June 23, 2017

Tad Iguchi, now age 42, has announced that this will be his last professional season.  It has been quite a career, as he has combined to date for more than 2,200 hits, 294 HRs and 224 stolen bases between MLB and Japan’s NPB.  Lusty numbers indeed for a career 2Bman.

On June 14th, Shun Yamaguchi, Scott Mathieson and Arquimedes Caminero combined for a no-hitter for the Yomiuri Giants against the SoftBank Hawks.  It was Yamaguchi’s first start or appearance of the 2017 NPB season.

A few years ago, Yamaguchi was definitely an MLB prospect, but it’s now looking like he’ll stay in Japan for his career.  Does anyone remember the first time two pitchers combined for a no-hitter in MLB?  (Answer at bottom.)

Chris Marrero, whom I wrote about in my last post on the 2017 NPB season about a month ago, appeared to hit his first NPB home run on June 9th.  But he missed home plate!  The catcher went over and tagged Marrero, and the umpire called him out.

That’s no way to make an impression on your new team in a foreign country.  However, the man on base ahead of Marrero still scored, and Marrero has continued to hit with power in what appears to be a platoon role.

The Rakuten Golden Eagles signed American Josh Corrales recently.  What is interesting about this move is that Corrales was signed out of the BC League, Japan’s independent-A league.  He’s not the first player from the Americas to be signed by an NPB organization out of the BC League.

Corrales had an interesting year in the full season A League Midwest League at age 22, posting a 4.09 ERA and striking out 54 batters in 55 innings pitched but also walking 40.  After he was apparently released, he must have somehow decided that his chances of one day reaching NPB were better than reaching MLB, because he has no record of pitching in any of the more stable American Indy-A Leagues.  He’s only 27 years old, so an NPB big payday is still possible!

The first time two pitchers combined for a no-hitter in MLB history was when Babe Ruth and Ernie Shore did it on June 23, 2017.  The Babe, who was then one of the Junior Circuit’s aces, walked the first batter of the game and was promptly thrown out of the game for arguing about it with the umpire.  Shore came in, the runner on first was thrown out trying to steal second, and Shore retired the next 26 batters consecutively for what has widely, but not unanimously, been recognized as a perfect game, sort of like Harvey Haddix‘s 12-inning perfect effort in 1959.

The first time in MLB history three or more pitchers combined for a no-hitter was September 28, 1975, when Vida Blue, Glenn Abbott, Paul Lindblad and Rollie Fingers accomplished the feat.  The A’s had already clinched a play-off birth and decided it was wise not to overwork their ace Vida “True” Blue (a little joke there for Charlie Finley fans).  Seems kind of ho-hum today, but it was a big deal in the 1970’s.

The Flood of Cuban Players

June 20, 2017

I just read a good article on espn.com about one of the side effects of the flood of Cuban baseball players into the international market since the beginning of 2014: huge numbers of Cuban professionals are stuck in the Dominican Republic unable to play baseball professionally because they aren’t quite good enough to sign lucrative contracts with MLB organizations.  The article reports that 349 Cuban ballplayers have left Cuba since the start of 2014.

I’ve written about the flood of Cuban players several times in recent years (see this article for example), mainly as it effects the major leagues.  The espn.com article reflects one obvious effect of the ginormous contracts that the very best Cuban players have signed in recent years.

The problems for the perhaps several hundred Cuban players stuck in the Dominican Republic are fairly obvious.  Most of them were good but not great Serie Nacional regulars who are past age 28, who simply do not have a reasonable chance of making the major leagues going forward, and thus cannot get offers from mlb organizations that the buscones, who fronted the money to smuggle the players out of Cuba and who typically get about 30% of the player’s first post-Cuba professional contract, are hoping to get.

The last three-plus years have already begun to show that the early bargains (by MLB standards) for players like Aroldis Chapman and Jose Abreu resulted in irrational exuberance on the part of many MLB organizations who signed a number of Cubans players for too much money and got burned.  For example, the Dodgers and Red Sox have committed a grand total of $193 million to Hector Olivera, Rusney Castillo, Alex Guerrero and Yaisel Sierra in deals which now look like wild overpays (Sierra may yet be a capable major league reliever, but I’m doubtful he’ll prove to be worth the $30 million the Dodgers will be paying him through 2021).

In short, we have probably reached a point now where mlb organizations will still pony up eight figure contracts for the very best Cuban defectors, some of whom will pan out and some of whom will not, but organizations aren’t going to throw even low six figure amounts at players who don’t have a reasonable chance of playing in the majors going forward.  Japanese NPB teams will offer signing bonuses between $100,000 and $1M for a handful of these players, but that still leaves the vast majority with few prospects.

After the major leagues, there are plenty of places for these second-tier Cubans to play professionally, including Mexico, the Independent-A Leagues and the Carribbean Winter Leagues, but none of those will offer the kinds of signing bonuses the buscones are looking for just to cover their initial investments in bringing the players in from Cuba and supporting the players in the D.R. for up to a year.  Meanwhile, many players end up sitting around in the Dominican Republic for years, their skills rapidly atrophying, often without proper papers and unable to play professionally anywhere.

One thing that some of the recent over-pays for Cuban players also shows is that the value of baseball talent to MLB organizations is just enormous.  The MLB Draft and the International bonus pools artificially decrease the monies teams pay for amateur talent subject to these regimes substantially.  As a result, any player who can escape these regimes, such as MLB free agents or foreign veteran professionals from Cuba, tend in a mature market to be overpaid as a result of the fact that mlb organizations have a surplus of money freed up to throw at these players who are operating in much closer to a free market environment.

Remember Rotator Cuff Injuries?

March 17, 2017

Today, the injury every pitcher dreads is the torn ulnar collateral ligament.  When I was young, it was the torn rotator cuff.

A couple days ago I wrote about Ed Hobaugh, a pitcher who basically had one real year in the Show and then quickly faded off into oblivion.  Probably my favorite player fitting this description is Bill Dailey.  His career progression was almost identical to Hobaugh, except that Dailey’s one full season was truly a tremendous year.

Dailey was the closer for the Minnesota Twins in 1963.  The Twins finished 3rd in 1963 (91-71) in a ten-team league, in large part due to Dailey’s one out-sized season.  Dailey went 6-3 with 21 saves and 1.99 ERA while throwing 108.2 innings.  His save total was 3rd best in the league, tied with  Hoyt Wilhelm, but behind Stu Miller (27) and Dick Radatz (23).  The Monster was the Junior Circuit’s best closer that year, but Dailey was an impressive second.

Dailey was 28 in 1963.  I’d guess he mastered command of a sharp curveball shortly before that season.  He only stuck out 72 batters in 1963, but he still had a K/BB ratio of 3.8 and a WHIP well under 1.0.

In 1964 Dailey tore his rotator cuff, and his professional career was over at age 29.  That made him the Mark Fidrych of his day, only without the Bird’s youthful promise.  Wayne Garland is another pitcher from Fidrych’s era with the same basic story.

San Francisco Giants’ broadcaster Mike Krukow had a riff about how when he entered professional baseball, teams’ pitching coaches would ask youngsters whether they wanted their shoulders to hurt or their elbows to hurt.  If the former, the pitcher was taught to throw the curveball, and if the latter the slider.

The curveball was a much more popular pitch in the 1960’s and 1970’s than it is now when the slider is the dominant off-speed pitch.  That may in part be due to the fact that pitchers as a group come back better from Tommy John surgery than from rotator cuff surgery, which is now often referred to as the labrum.  Shoulder injuries more often involve cartilage than tendons, which is probably why they are harder to come back from than elbow injuries.

For pitcher after his age of 30 season, shoulder injuries pretty much spell the ends of their careers.  A 30+ year old with a strong enough arm can still come back from an elbow tear, at least so long as the doctors can find a good elbow tendon transplant.