Archive for the ‘Chicago Cubs’ category

Good to See MLB Teams Spending Some Money

December 5, 2019

The Phillies have reportedly reached a deal with Zack Wheeler that will pay the player $118 over five seasons; and the Braves have inked Cole Hamels to a one-year deal for a cool $18M.

Wheeler’s deal beats mlbtraderumors.com’s prediction by $18M and is good news for the other top-tier free agent pitchers.  Obviously, Stephen Strasburg and Geritt Cole are going to top $118M by a bunch, and it’s likely that Madison Bumgarner will do considerably better than the $72M guarantee mlbtraderumors predicted.  It’s also a big commitment from the Phils for a pitcher who has a reasonable shot of blowing out his elbow tendon a second time in the next five years.

While Hamels’ deal is only for one season, it’s still a big commitment for a player entering his age 36 season, who pitched less than 150 innings in 2019 and failed to reach 150 IP in two of the last three seasons.  Again, this deal can’t hurt other free agent starters going forward.  There are lot of free agent starters still on the market, but they have an advantage over position players in that every team could use at least one more good starter.

In completely unrelated news, the Doosan Bears have agreed to post outfielder Kim Jae-Hwan.  Kim was great from 2016 through 2018, but his .796 OPS was only 30th best in the KBO and he’s going into his age 31 season.  I doubt MLB teams will have much interest, but you never know.

That’s Baseball

September 11, 2019

I’m sad to hear that Christian Yelich has a busted kneecap and his 2019 season is over.  He’s an exceptional talent in his age 27 season, and it would have been nice to see him play out the season to see what kind of final numbers he could have put up.  That, and the fact that he was probably the leading candidate for the Senior Circuit’s MVP award.  Now Cody Bellinger is looking like an obvious choice.

The Brute Crew were in 3rd place for the two wild card spots, so Yelich’s injury will make it harder to make the post-season.  However, what was once Beer City (how much beer is still made in Milwaukee?) is still only two back in the loss column to the Cubbies, and the Brewers have won five in a row.  Repeat after me — one player doesn’t make that much difference.  The Brewers could now collapse, or keep winning to pick up for their best player or (most likely) keep winning at the same rate they have won so far (10 of their remaining 18 games) and just miss the play-offs.

That’s why they play all of the games – there are no guarantees.

Will the Bryce Harper Contract Be a Bust?

August 17, 2019

espn.com is running a piece: “Is Bryce a Bust? …”  His contract won’t be a bust if the Phillies win at least one World Series during the length of the contract.

This year, Bryce is still hitting the way I complained about 13 months ago.  He seems convinced that every hit has to be for extra bases.  Watching the replays of his walk-off grand slam and strikeouts to Yu Darvish, it seems clear that Harper is trying to hit every pitch 450 feet, even though 400 foot home runs count just as much.

Harper’s swing looks violent to me, and it certainly involves a great deal of torque through his core.  He hasn’t had any back problems so far in his career (his injuries have been left knee, shoulder and thumb), which is one of the reasons he got the record-setting contract.

Harper’s a big guy at 6’3″ and 220lbs.  He can swing like that now at age 26, no problem, but if he keeps it up, his back may be barking by the time he’s 30.  If the Phils haven’t won a World Series by then, the contract could turn out to be a real stinkeroo.

Detroit Tigers Were Arguably Trade Deadline Winners

August 1, 2019

I just read this article on espn.com from David Schoenfield regarding trade deadline winners and losers.  He failed to mention the Tigers as a trade deadline winner, which in my mind they definitely are.

The 2019 Tigers are a dreadful team with an albatross of a contract in Miguel Cabrera.   The team badly needed a talent infusion and more low-cost controllable players.  They got that today by trading away a third of a season of Nick Castellanos and 1.33 seasons of closer Shane Greene.  In return, they got three former late 1st round draft picks and a former late second round draft pick.

Except for 24 year old jack-of-all-trades-type Travis Demeritte, none of these high-draft-pedigree prospects is playing particularly well in the minors this season.  Even so, the Tigers got more than if they’d held on to Castellanos and extended him a qualifying offer (which they might not have done, given his 2019 performance and the possibility that Castellanos might accept an $18M qualifying offer — See Miguel Cabrera above and Jordan Zimmerman, whom the Tigers owe $25M for 2020).

Further, the teams saves about $4M in salary for the rest of the season, and it isn’t likely the 2020 Tigers are going to need a great closer.  The team also gets out from under the big raise Greene was going to get in his final year of arbitration eligibility.  Better to try to develop Joe Jiminez as the team’s closer for 2020-2023.

Trading Castellanos and Greene probably locks in the Tigers finishing with the worst record in MLB this year, and with it, receiving the first overall pick in the 2020 Draft.  If any team could sorely use the first overall draft pick next June, it’s the Tigers.

In short, the Tigers did what they needed to do this trade deadline, and it looks like they got as much as they could for what they had to trade away.  It would have been nice of the Tigers had another one or two veterans nearing free agency who were playing well enough to draw trade interest, but you can’t have everything.

I think the team did the right thing holding onto Matthew Boyd, who still has three more seasons of control, although it is presently unknown what, if any, trade offers were extended for him.

ChinaTrust Brothers Sign Casey Harman

June 27, 2019

The ChinaTrust Brothers of Taiwan’s CPBL have apparently reached a deal to sign Casey Harman, who is currently pitching for the Pericos de Puebla (Puebla Parrots) of the Mexican League (“LMB”).  Foreign pitchers playing in the CPBL come and go like minor-hit pop songs and their performers, and what I’m more interested in his how Casey Harmon got to this point in his professional career.

Originally a 29th round draft pick out of Clemson by the Chicago Cubs in 2010, Harman didn’t start pitching professionally until the 2011 season.  He reached AA ball in 2012 at age 23.  While he wasn’t terrible there, he wasn’t very good either and found himself pitching in the Indy-A Can-Am League and American Association in 2013 and 2014.

Then he appears to have had a three-year absence from professional baseball.  If I had to, I’d guess he tore and replaced his elbow tendon and/or tried to get a real job for a while before deciding to give pro ball another try.  He caught on with the Wichita Wingnuts back in the American Association in 2018, pitched reasonably well (although not in a brief two game trial in the better Indy-A Atlantic League), and parlayed that into a winter assignment starting in the Mexican Pacific League.

Harman pitched well in seven Mexican Winter League (“LMP”) starts and landed a job with the Pericos this summer, where he is 8-1 with a 4.57 ERA and 54 Ks in 69 innings pitched so far.  While the ERA doesn’t look impressive, it’s currently 17th best among qualifying starters in LMB’s 16-team hit-happy circuit.  So the Brothers came calling.

I’m always interested in figuring out how and for how much players end up moving between leagues throughout the world of professional baseball.  The Atlantic League is the best of the Indy-A leagues.  However, every Indy-A League has caps on how many “veteran” players each franchise can carry at any given time.  Thus, some good players (relatively speaking) filter down to the second- and third-tier Indy-A leagues.  This both keeps team salaries low, and allows teams in the second- and third-tier leagues to develop and hold onto their own local “stars.”

Anyway, the LMP seems to have some kind of relationship with the American Association whereby the best AA starters each season in each of the last few years have ended up pitching in the LMP the following winter.  A good winter in the LMP can lead directly to a job in the LMB the next summer, where salaries are better than in the Atlantic League ($10,000/month salary cap v. $3,000/month).  It certainly gives veteran pitchers a round-about incentive to pitch in the American Association if they can’t secure a job in the Atlantic League.

I was surprised to see the Pericos were willing to let Harman leave for Taiwan mid-season, since the Pericos are a contending team this year, and Harman had been well more than adequate as a starter for them.  CPBL teams can and do pay foreign players more than LMB teams, but CPBL teams can’t afford to pay high purchase fees of the kind that LMB teams typically charge for players they sell directly to MLB, NPB or KBO teams.

One thing I’ve noticed is that throughout pro baseball, teams generally don’t charge big (or at least market-rate) transfer fees when transferring a player to a league that isn’t much better, or is worse, but which will pay the player better.  MLB organizations do sometimes charge KBO and NPB teams meaningful transfer fees in the $500,000 to $1M range, but it’s usually less than what the player is actually worth either to the MLB or the KBO/NPB team.

Obviously, players sometimes negotiate contract terms that let them leave for a better paying opportunity in a different league for nominal or no transfer fees.  However, I also think that MLB organizations are willing to let their 4-A players go to Asia for less than market value, because of the good will it generates among the MLB organization’s minor league players by letting players who can’t establish themselves as regular major league roster-holders go to Asia where they’ll make a lot more money.

The same thing may be going between LMB and the CPBL.  MLB, NPB and KBO teams only seek to acquire the very best LMB players, who are naturally worth the most money, and LMB teams try to sell these players for market value or something close.  A player like Harman, while playing well in LMB, is more readily replaceable by signing the best current pitcher in the Atlantic League willing to play in LMB.  Meanwhile, Harman might not make it in the CPBL, in which case the Pericos could always bring him back and probably for a contract amount significantly lower than the $10,000 cap, since both player and team know that even $5,000 or $6,000 a month is lot better than the $3,000 a month Atlantic League cap, assuming Harmon could even get a max Atlantic League salary after washing out in Taiwan.

Earlier this season, the Fubon Guardians signed former KBO foreign Ace Henry Sosa, after tax law changes forced Sosa out of South Korea.  Given that Sosa had been one of the KBO’s top five or six starters in 2018, the Guardians likely had to pay Sosa a hefty-for-CPBL $25,000 or $30,000 per month (although probably with only a three-month guarantee) to start the 2019 season for them.  Sosa pitched like gang-busters in Taiwan, and after only 12 starts the Guardians sold him to the KBO’s SK Wyverns (all of Sosa’s signing bonus will reportedly be paid to the South Korean government as part of Sosa’s back-taxes).

Because the Guardians were still well in the hunt for the CPBL’s first-half pennant, I assumed that the Wyverns had had to pay the Guardians $150,000 to $200,000 for Sosa’s rights, in line with what the KBO’s KT Wiz had reportedly had to pay LMB’s Acereros de Monclava for LMB Ace Josh Lowey‘s rights mid-season in 2016.  However, Rob over at CPBL Stats guestimated that the buyout for Sosa’s rights was more likely in the $50,000 to $100,000 range.

Now, it’s possible that at the CPBL season’s half-way point, Sosa could have signed with a KBO or NPB team with no money payable to the Guardians, which would have greatly weakened Fubon’s ability to demand a big buy-out price.  It’s also possible that because CPBL teams make the biggest chunk of their revenues during the post-season, which is still a long way off, the Guardians were willing to get out from under whatever relatively high salary was being paid to Sosa.  The Atlantic League is full of much less expensive, although also much less effective, pitchers to replace Sosa.

However, it’s also possible that the Guardians figure that by letting Sosa return to the KBO, where he’ll make a lot more money, it will be easier for the Guardians in the future to lure in other foreign pitchers who are trying to work their way back to the KBO or NPB after a down season.  Unfortunately, unless you know all of the contract terms and what each organization’s and league’s unwritten rules are on these matters, it simply isn’t possible to know for sure.

Luis Robert, Robel Garcia and Other 2019 Hot Starts

May 4, 2019

I thought it would be fun to write a couple of pieces on minor leaguers off to particularly hot starts in 2019.  Here goes:

21 year old $26 million Cuban bonus baby Luis Robert got off to the hottest start anywhere in organized baseball.  In 19 games in the Class A+ Carolina League his 1.432 OPS was a whopping 437 basis points better than the league’s next best hitter.  Not surprisingly, he has already been promoted to the AA Southern League, where he is off to an 0-for-6 start after two games.

Robel Garcia‘s 1.050 OPS leads the AA Southern League by 100 basis points.  He’s already 26 years old and has only played 17 games this season, so it’s probably a fluke.

However, Garcia’s back-story is extremely interesting.  Before this season, baseball reference lists no professional statistics for him since 2013.  He washed out of the Indians’ organization all those years ago, but he apparently kept his baseball career going by playing on Italy’s National team, even though he’s a Dominican.

Garcia makes me wonder how many other players who can play never get the chance because they take too long to develop or don’t get the right breaks.  Some NPB teams have academies in the Dominican Republic that occasionally turn Dominican MLB system wash-outs into servicable NPB major league players.  Xavier Batista is a current example.

Yordan Alvarez is ready for the majors.  The soon-to-be 22 year old Cuban’s 1.421 OPS leads the admittedly hit-happy Pacific Coast League.  Alvarez is an LF/1B and the 35 year old also Cuban Yuli Gurriel isn’t hitting in Houston, so Alvarez may get his first major league shot right quick.

Brian O’Grady‘s 1.189 OPS leads the AAA International League by 58 basis points.  Alas, he turns 27 in two weeks and has yet to play in the majors.  Hopefully, he can get some major league action this season in order to put himself in a position for an Asian payday next year.

21 year old catcher Sam Huff is ready for a promotion.  His 1.189 OPS leads the Class A Sally League by 127 basis points, and he’s thrown out 10 baseball stealers in 16 attempts.

25 year old 1Bman Chris Gittens has a 1.264 OPS, which leads the AA Eastern League by 110 basis points.  He’s also ready for a promotion.

Trey Cabbage leads the Class A Midwest League with a 1.029 OPS.  I wonder if his teammates call him “Cole Slaw” or “Trey Cole”.

What is former NL home run champ Chris Carter doing in the Mexican League?  He’s leading this hot weather hitters’ league with a 1.397 OPS.

Chicago Cubs Extend Role Player David Bote

April 4, 2019

MLB’s future is here, and it is contract extensions and more contract extensions.  The Cubs extended jack-of-all-trades, super-sub David Bote to a five year deal that covers 2020 through 2024 and guarantees Bote a hair over $15M.

All for a much smaller amount, I see this contract extension as being as consequential and the recent extensions signed by Eloy Jiminez and Ronald Acuna Jr. I can’t remember a young bench player like Bote ever receiving a multi-year contract extension before.

It’s definitely a risk for the Cubs.  Bote has all of a hundred days of major league service entering his age 26 season.  He wasn’t a high draft pick and he spent years in the minor leagues honing his skills.  Players like this generally don’t have long and successful major league careers.

What the Cubs like about Bote is his versatility.  In the minors he played every position except catcher and center field, even pitching in about half a dozen presumably emergency situations.  Fangraphs.com rated his defense highly in his limited 2018 major league play.

The Cubs probably also like the fact that after a slow professional start, Bote hit better the last three seasons as he reached the upper levels of the minors.

The question is whether Bote will hit well enough as a major leaguer for the Cubs to be able to take advantage of his versatility.  Apparently, the Cubbies see Bote as having a realistic chance to be the next Ben Zobrist, which if he were would make this contract a bargain.  We shall see…