Archive for the ‘Independent-A Leagues’ category

The Best Foreign Pitchers in the History of Taiwan’s CPBL, Post-2019 Season Update

October 5, 2019

This is the post-2019 season update on an article I first published two years ago.  I have not published a piece on foreign hitters because no foreign position player has played enough in any relatively recent CPBL season to qualify for the batting title.

WINS

1.      Osvaldo (Ozzy) Martinez  108-85     MiLB, WiL Stats and more MiLB Stats

2.     Mike Loree                84-50     MiLB, Indy-A stats

3.     Jonathan Hurst        76-52     MLB, NPB, MiLB Stats

4.      Jose Nunez                62-30*     MLB, NPB, KBO, etc Stats

5.      John Burgos             58-34     MiLB, Indy-A Stats

6.      Mark Kiefer             55-27     MLB, MiLB, KBO stats

7.      Don August               52-48*   MLB, MiLB Stats

8.     Joe Strong                  47-33     MLB, MiLB, Indy-A Stats

9.     Orlando Roman       44-28     MiLB, NPB Stats, WiL

10.     Gabriel “Gab” Ozuna     43-39     MiLB Stats

Martinez, Loree and Hurst are the only long-term veterans among pitchers I could find in my search of the CPBL website.  Martinez pitched nine seasons, while Loree and Hurst each pitched seven with Loree likely to return for an eighth season in 2020.  Burgos had a terrific 4.5 seasons, Kiefer had four terrific seasons, and Nunez had an even-better-than-either three seasons.  Kiefer won 34 KBO games over three seasons later in his career.

Mike Loree is the most successful foreign pitcher currently pitching in CPBL or since Oswaldo Martinez’s and Jonathan Hurst’s CPBL careers ended after the 2005 season.  After missing the first month of the 2019 season with an abominal strain, the same injury that caused him to miss about the same amount of time at the beginning of the 2017 season, Loree was once again the CPBL’s best starter.  While his 12-9 record wasn’t particularly impressive (but still tied for second most wins), he led the circuit with a 2.78 ERA and finished second with 167 strikeouts.  Loree passed Jonathan Hurst on the all-time wins list this season, but still has about two more full seasons at his current performance level to catch up to Ozzie Martinez.

Joe Strong was a 37 year old MLB rookie in 2000 for the Florida Marlins, but he pitched better in the Show in limited use in 2001.  He pitched professionally through his age 41 season.

* Jose Nunez and Don August both later pitched a season in Taiwan’s other major league, the Taiwan Major League (TML).  Don August only won 18 games in the CPBL, but he then went went 34-30 in the TML, the same as his career MLB major league record.  The CPBL counts TML stats for purposes of career records, but unfortunately does not publish the TML records on its website, making it very difficult for a non-Mandarin speaker to obtain these records.  Thanks to Rob over at CPBL STATS for providing the TML stats necessary to make this year’s edition of this post as accurate as possible.

ERA   (650 IP)

1.      Jose Nunez             2.18

2.     Jonathan Hurst        2.56

3.     Joe Strong               2.71

4.     Mark Kiefer              2.82

5.     John Burgos             2.84

6.     Gab Ozuna               3.16

7.     Mike Loree              3.19

8.     Osvaldo Martinez    3.20

8.     Enrique Burgos     3.20     MLB, MiLB Stats 

10.  Don August              3.49

11.    Orlando Roman     3.78

I set the 650 IP limit because I wanted to include Jose Nunez (687 CPBL innings, but he topped 700 with TML innings included) and Orlando Roman (691).  Nunez won 56 games over three seasons, before moving on to greener Japanese NPB pastures.  As mentioned above, he returned to pitch in the TML in 1998, during that competitor league’s six-year history before it folded/merged into the CPBL after the 2002 season.

In this extreme hitter-friendly era of the CPBL, Mike Loree’s and Orlando Roman’s higher ERAs are at least equivalent to what the best foreign pitchers accomplished in different, less offensive eras than today.  I base this claim on their W-L records, the fact that Loree has been arguably the league’s best pitcher in each of his six full CPBL seasons, and the fact that Roman used the CPBL as a springboard to a four-year NPB career, where he won a total of 18 games and saved another six, before returning to CPBL in 2016.  Alas, Roman’s CBPL career ended after the 2017 season, but he was still around to pitch in three Puerto Rican Winter League games last winter as he approached his 40th birthday.

STRIKEOUTS

1.     Ozzie Martinez      1,286

2.     Mike Loree             964

3.     Jonathan Hurst      779

4.     Enrique Burgos      736

5.     Michael “Mike” Garcia      651     MLB, MiLB, KBO etc Stats

6.     Orlando Roman    564

7.     Jose Nunez            545

8.     John Burgos          541

9.     Mark Kiefer           532

10.    Gab Ozuna           508

Enrique Burgos had some of the best strikeout stuff CPBL had ever seen, but it didn’t translate into his W-L record.  He finished his CPBL career an even 36-36.

SAVES

1.     Mike Garcia             124

2.     Ryan Cullen           70     MiLB, Indy-A, WiL Stats

3.     Brad Thomas        59     MLB, NPB, KBO etc Stats

3.     Brandy Vann         59     MiLB, Indy-A Stats

5.     Alfornio (“Al”) Jones     50     MLB, MiLB Stats

6.   Dario Veras           49     MLB, MiLB, KBO etc Stats 

6.   Tony Metoyer       49     MiLB, Indy-A Stats

Mike Garcia is far and away the best foreign closer in CPBL history, and certainly one of the best in league history overall, second only in career saves to Yueh-Ping Lin.  He pitched five seasons in Taiwan (1996-1998, 2004-2005) in between which he was a 31 year old MLB rookie for the 1999 Pittsburgh Pirates.  His career CPBL ERA is an even 2.00.  He last pitched professionally at age 39.

Ryan Cullen pitched 3+ seasons in Taiwan, saving a then record-setting 34 games for the Brother Elephants in 2010 and recording a career CPBL ERA of 1.60.  Cullen is best remembered for his final CPBL game, when he threw a pitch, felt pain in his throwing shoulder, and walked off the mound and off the field without motioning to the dugout and waiting for the manager to take him out of the game.  He was released the next day.

Cullen said he didn’t intend to disrespect anyone, but it does not appear that he ever played professional baseball again.  Since he was only 32 and still pitching effectively at the time of his release, I suspect that he either just decided that he’d had enough of pro ball or the injury he suffered that caused him to walk off the field was more serious than it looked in the video of it I’ve seen.

Brad Thomas is an Aussie who pitched professionally in at least seven countries on four continents, concluding his baseball odyssey with 2.5 seasons in Taiwan.  Tony Metoyer pitched parts of seven seasons in the CPBL, where he was used as both a closer and spot starter.

Brandy Vann was a former 1st round MLB draft pick by the Angels.  He had good stuff, but not enough command to reach the MLB majors.  He pitched three years in the CPBL, followed by two more in the TML.  Vann may well be the first foreign player signed by a CPBL team out of an Independent-A league, something that happens all the time today.

Unfortunately, the CPBL doesn’t hire foreign relievers much any more.  Werner Madrigal saved 16 games for the 7-11 Uni-Lions as recently as 2015, and in 2014 Miguel Mejia saved a record-setting 35 games and posted a 1.24 ERA for the Lamigo Monkeys, although that record was bested in 2017 by Chen Yu-Hsun, who recorded 37 saves for a Lamigo Monkeys team that set a league record for wins in a season.  Today, though, CPBL teams have decided that starting pitchers are just too valuable for their three available foreign player roster spaces, even though there are almost always some good relievers in the Mexican League to choose from.

It’s hard for a foreign player to have a long career in the CPBL.  If the player has a bad year or even a bad half-season (most foreigners initially receive half-season contracts), he’s too expensive to keep around and too easily replaced.  There are a lot of players of the age and talent level to whom the CPBL salary scale is highly appealing, so CPBL teams can pick and choose their foreign players.  For example, Brian Woodall entered 2019 appearing ready and able to make his way onto my lists by the end of the season, but he was ineffective and released well before the 2019 season ended.

If a foreign player has a great full season or two, he typically moves on to NPB, KBO or back to MLB AAA.  However, a lot of departing foreign players have come back to the CPBL a few years later for another go ’round when it was their last best chance to make a substantial wage playing summer baseball.

In its early days, the CPBL appears to have recruited heavily among Latin American players who put up successful seasons in the winter leagues, which makes a lot of sense, since the Latin American winter leagues are pretty good and pay accordingly.  However, with the CPBL season now longer (it has climbed from an initial 90 game season to 120 games today), fewer Latin players seem willing in playing in Taiwan, because it interferes with their ability to play a full season of winter league ball in their home countries.  However, this trend didn’t prevent the Lamigo Monkeys from inking Dominican former KBO star Radhames Liz — at age 35 in 2019, he led the CPBL this year in wins (16) and strikeouts (179).

In recent years, the independent-A Atlantic League has been a major source for CPBL teams looking for in-season pitching help, and the (summer) Mexican League has been a prime source particularly for off-season signings.

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The Best Foreign Pitchers in KBO History

October 5, 2019

We are currently in what amounts to the Golden Age of foreign starters in South Korea’s KBO, with most of the leaders listed below still active or only a season or two removed from the KBO.  The KBO decided around 2006 that what it needs in terms of foreign players is starting pitchers.  Two of every KBO team’s current three roster spots for foreign players are held by starting pitchers, with the third spot typically going to a power hitter only because current KBO rules provide that the third foreign player cannot be a pitcher.  As a result, the all-time leader boards for foreign pitchers is changing on an annual basis.

Wins

1.  Dustin Nippert   102-51

2.  Danny Rios           90-59

3.  Henry Sosa           77-63

4.  Andy VanHekken   73-42

5.  Josh Lindblom     63-34

6.  Eric Hacker          61-37

After last off-season’s purge of expensive, veteran foreign aces, I was thrilled to see Henry Sosa dominate Taiwan’s CPBL for the first half of the 2019 season and earn another shot in the KBO in the second half.  He pitched well enough that he should be back in South Korea in 2020 in spite of his on-going South Korean income tax issues — he can’t pay those back taxes if he isn’t working!

It remains to be seen where Josh Lindblom pitches in 2020.  He was so good in 2019, going 20-3 with a 2.50 ERA (2nd best) and 189 Ks (1st), that he’s the odds-on favorite for the KBO MVP Award, but he may also have pitched his way to a lucrative MLB contract.  He earned about $1.92 million in 2019, making him the year’s highest paid foreign player, but that’s an amount an MLB team could easily beat.  The knock on Lindblom is that he will be 33 next season, which may keep him in the KBO.  I’m still he hoping he gets the KBO’s first multi-year guaranteed deal provided to a foreign player.

Andy VanHekken, like Danny Rios in 2008, tried jumping to Japan’s NPB in 2016 immediately following his strongest KBO season.  As with Rios in 2008, it did not work out for VanHekken.  He was able to return to the Nexen Heroes, but they weren’t going to show him much loyalty once they decided he’d gotten old.  VanHekken spent most of 2018 in the Atlantic League, but finished the season with his second stint (the first in 2007) in Taiwan’s CPBL.  He appears to have retired after the 2018 season, during which he turned 39.

Eric Hacker also tried to catch on with a CPBL team in 2019 after getting dumped by the Nexen (now Kiwoom) Heroes last off-season.  However, his salary demands were more than any CPBL team was willing to pay, particularly coming off a not very successful KBO campaign.

 

ERA (800 Career Innings Pitched)

1.  Danny Rios    3.01

2.  Josh Lindblom  3.55

3.  Andy VanHekken  3.56

4.  Dustin Nippert    3.59

5.  Eric Hacker    3.66

6.  Chris Oxspring    3.90

7.  Brooks Raley   4.13

8.  Henry Sosa     4.28

As far as I am aware, these eight are the only foreign pitchers in the KBO’s history to reach my 800 career innings pitched cut-off.  Brooks Raley was reasonably effective in 2019, although he recorded a 5-14 record for this season’s worst team, the Lotte Giants.  He’s relatively high paid and may fall victim to what is likely to be another off-season of re-trenching by KBO teams.

Stikeouts

1.  Dustin Nippert   1,082

2.  Henry Sosa    1,059

3.  Andy VanHekken   860

4.  Danny Rios   807

5.  Brooks Raley  755

6.  Josh Lindblom 750

7.  Eric Hacker 675

8.  Merrill Kelly 641

As everyone should know, Kelly returned to MLB in 2019 and had a season that turned out to be a tremendous bargain for the Diamondbacks in terms of the two-year $5.5M contract Kelly received.

Saves

Jose Cabrera   53

With a limited number of roster spots for foreign pitchers, KBO teams want starting pitchers, not relievers.  The 23 foreigners who pitched in the KBO in 2019 appeared in a combined 560 games, only one of which was a relief appearance.

The best season by a foreign reliever was Scott Proctor‘s 2012, when he had a 1.79 ERA and saved 35 games.  However, he returned to the U.S. in 2013 to play at AAA.  The KBO has yet to have a foreign closer last more than a couple of seasons and not even one in the last five seasons.

Daniel Nava Sighting

August 9, 2019

Boy, I thought Daniel Nava had retired.  I was wrong.

Nava didn’t play in 2018, so imagine my surprise to see that he’s back in the Indy-A Leagues at age 36.  He’s currently slashing .269/.377/.418 as mainly a 1Bman for the Kansas City T-Bones of the American Association.  He’s played in 55 games, and has filled in an emergency in the corner outfield positions, as well as 1B.

I always liked Nava because he was a SF Bay Area guy, and he made his way up to the majors and really amounted to something after playing in an Indy-A League to start his pro career.  That’s really an accomplishment, in terms of the few players who actually do it.  Glad to see him staying true to his roots.

If he’s willing to play in an Indy-A League at age 36, one would have to think he’ll go into coaching as soon as they tell him he can’t play anymore.

Carter Stewart Pitches in First Japanese Game Action

July 11, 2019

MLB Draft buster Carter Stewart made his first game-action pitching appearance for the SoftBank Hawk’s third team against Mitsubishi Motors’ industrial league team based in Kyushu.  He threw two shutout innings after surrendering a lead-off double, and hit 93.8 miles per hour on the radar gun, throwing at what Stewart described as “90%”.

NPB teams maintain a second team which plays at NPB sole minor league level, while the third team of players, whom I assume are mostly young players just getting started in professional baseball, play mainly against independent minor league teams, industrial league teams and university teams, at least according to jballallen.com.

As I understand it, there are several independent minor leagues in Japan, including the Baseball Challenge (BC) League, in which Eri Yoshida famously pitched, and the Shikoku Island League, which has sent All-Stars teams to play against teams in the Indy-A Can-Am League for at least several of the last five seasons.  There are urban areas in Japan not big enough for the 24 major and minor league NPB teams which are likely good homes for independent minor league teams, particularly with so many NPB teams centered around Japan’s three largest metropolitan areas.  Indeed, my review of wikipedia indicates that the vast majority of Japanese independent minor league teams play in prefectures underserved by NPB.

NC Dinos Add a Couple of New Foreign Players

July 3, 2019

I was interested to see yesterday that the NC Dinos of South Korea’s KBO have swapped out two of their three foreign players for new ones.  Christian Bethancourt and Eddie Butler got the ax, and Jake Smolinski and Christian Friedrich got the opportunity.

Bethancourt hadn’t hit the way the Dinos had hoped, and I’m not sure how much use the Dinos got out of him at his principal position (catcher) because of the language barrier.  Butler wasn’t terrible, but he wasn’t good in KBO either (at least relative to his salary), and he was experiencing shoulder problems.

One thing is certain: Smolinski and Friedrich will be making a helluva lot less for the Dinos’ final 62 games than Bethancourt and Butler made for the Dino’s first approximately 82 games.  As an expansion team, the Dinos probably play in a secondary South Korean market, and the big contracts go to the players brought in at the beginning of the season.  Both Betancourt and Butler received $200,000 signing bonuses to come to South Korea at the start of 2019 and earned more than half of the total $1.3 million in salaries they had been promised before getting cut.  I very much doubt that either Smolinski or Friedrich will be earning more than $150,000 for the remainder of the 2019 KBO season, and each could be earning as little as about $90,000.

The small replacement salaries are in line with the players selected.  Smolinski was hitting fairly well in the AAA International League, but with newly introduced baseballs adding more power-hitting to what had been a pitchers’ league, his .864 OPS wasn’t quite in the top 20 among players with at least 200 IL plate appearances this year.

Christian Friedrich was pitching in the Independent-A Atlantic League for what I would guess was $2,500 a month, after missing most of 2017 and all of 2018 with elbow problems.  He was pitching well in the Atlantic League, but I can’t remember the last Atlantic League player signed by a KBO team.  Friedrich does have 296.2 career major league innings pitched, so that and his likely very cheap cost were presumably the main attractions for the Dinos.

In recent years, numerous foreign players have had success in the KBO in spite of being brought in as cheap, late-season replacements.  Jamie Romak, Michael Choice and Jerry Sands have all taken advantage of the opportunity as mid-season replacements to stick around and make some real money for at least one more season after the ones in which they were brought over.  The quality of KBO play is close enough to AAA that any successful AAA player has a shot at making in the KBO if he can get off to a hot start.

It’s worth noting that in the KBO’s salary scale, if your first contract amount is small, it tends to stay smaller even after a few months of successful performance have been established.  Even so, coming back the next season for a $500,000 salary sure beats AAA pay, and a full season’s strong performance in Year 2 can mean a $1 million salary for a third KBO season.  None too shabby for playing baseball.

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.

Trey Hair and Garrett Harris

June 23, 2019

Trey Hair and Garrett Harris are a couple of still young players playing extremely well in the Indy-A Can-Am League.  Major League organizations should sign them.

Trey Hair is a 2B/3B who is still only 24 years old.  He was drafted in the 34th round by the Rays out of the University of Evansville in 2017.  He slashed an impressive .290/.362/.438 in 2018 in 243 plate appearances at full season Class A ball, but got cut nevertheless.

Hair is currently slashing .362/.431/.569 after 139 plate appearances for the Sussex County Miners.  He currently leads the Can-Am League in both batting average and OPS.

Garrett Harris, now age 25, was an undrafted pitcher out of Texas A&M Corpus Christi who signed with the Royals and spent 2016 and 2017 making a total of 27 appearances for two Royals’ rookie league teams.  His strikeout rates were better than one per inning, but his command wasn’t good, and he was hit hard.  He pitched in the Indy-A Frontier League last year, and while his strikeout rates were again good, his ERA and run average didn’t impress.

This year, Harris has become a starter for the Trois-Rivieres Aigles, and he’s been great.  He’s currently tied for the league lead with five wins, and his 58 K’s leads the circuit free and clear.  His 2.54 ERA is currently the league’s fourth best.  His command appears to have improved markedly, and he’s been hard to hit.

Hair and Harris are young enough that it’s a little surprising that major league organizations haven’t already bought their rights.  If they keep performing in the Can-Am, I would expect they’ll return to the MLB system before the end of July.  Here’s wishing them luck.