Archive for the ‘Kansas City Royals’ category

The 2020 Giants Won’t Be Good, But They’ll Be Familiar

February 8, 2020

The SF Giants signed Hunter Pence for a reported $3M plus incentives, and they just brought back Pablo about a week ago.  We’ll see if Hunter has one more year in him, and while I’m not too excited about the Panda, I like the fact that the Gints signed all-around infielder Wilmer Flores for his age 28 and 29 seasons at a total of $6M.

Signing Flores is a good move, but it’s not a great move.  It’s more of a signing I’d expect to see from the Royals or the Marlins.  Makes the Giants just good enough not to lose 100, maybe.

I’m actually hoping the Dodgers complete the Mookie Betts, David Price deal.  Even without them, the 2020 and 2021 Giants aren’t likely to compete with the Dodgers the next two years.  In 2022, David Price will be two years older, and Mookie Betts will be gone or an extremely pricey part of the Dodgers’ salary cap considerations.  It’s a win now, pay later strategy, and the Giants won’t be any good until later.

Kansas City Royals Sign 3B Maikel Franco

December 20, 2019

Here’s the kind of signing I like to see a small market team like the Royals make — they’ll be giving former Phillie 3rd-sacker Maikel Franco $2.95 million for his age 27 season.  Franco was mediocre at best last season (he had a .705 OPS, which isn’t terrible, but fangraphs says he was worth negative $3.9 million), but he has had reasonably good seasons in the past (2015, 2016 and 2018), and he’s coming into what should be his prime seasons.  At $2.95M (plus $1.05 in performance incentives), the Royals don’t have a lot to lose, and they can’t be much worse than they were in 2019.

As it stands, Franco has a lot to prove in 2020, and K.C. is a relatively low-pressure place for Franco to put his career back together.  In fact, I think it would have been an even better move for the Royals if they’d guaranteed Franco a little more, say $3.3M, and obtained an option for 2021 at, say, $7M.  If Franco does bounce back in 2020, he’ll be set up for a salary arbitration-enhanced contract of well over $10M.  Of course, Franco might not have agreed to a team option, because if he has a good 2020 campaign and the Royals non-tender him, he effectively becomes a free agent a year early.

Still More Asian Comings and Goings

December 13, 2019

It’s been an exciting week for International pro baseball, at least for baseball nerds like me.  We’re seeing more movement between the World’s major leagues than ever and for more money than ever.

The Milwaukee Brewers signed KBO ace Josh Lindblom for three years and $9.125 million guarantee.  It’s a big commitment by the standards of former MLB washouts returning to MLB after honing their craft in Asia, but it makes a certain amount of sense.  Even if Lindblom can’t really cut it as a major league starter, the odds are good he’d be an effective major league reliever.  At roughly $3M a season, that’s currently a successful middle reliever/set-up man salary.

NPB’s Orix Buffaloes signed still major league starter Adam Jones to a two-year $8M guarantee with the possibility that the contract could be worth $15.5 million to Jones if the Buffaloes exercise a third season option and Jones earns all performance incentives.

Jones has obviously slipped a bit over the last few seasons, but the decline has been gradual and he’s still able to stay healthy and play regularly.  In Japan’s smaller ballparks against generally weaker pitchers, he could still be a big power threat there.

It’s also exciting to see a small revenue club like Orix take this big a risk on a foreign player.  It’s a little like seeing the KC Royals shell out the bucks for one of the off-season’s five best free agents.

Jim Allen recently had a good post comparing Jones to some of the other former major league stars who have gone over to play in Japan after hitting at least 100 major league home runs.  It’s a reminder of just how many and for how long former major league stars have gone to NPB to wind down their careers and haul in a few more lucrative paydays.

Reliever Joely Rodriguez returns to MLB with a two-year $5.5M deal from the Texas Rangers.  It’s almost certain that Pierce Johnson will also be returning to MLB in 2020 after a very successful season for the Hanshin Tigers.  As more players turn success in Asia into big contracts to return to the States, better players will sign to play in the KBO and NPB.

Another KBO ace Angel Sanchez signed a mult-year deal (probably 2 seasons) with the Yomiuri Giants.  It’s being reported that Sanchez turned down bigger offers from MLB clubs to sign with Yomiuri, but I kind of doubt it.  What player from the Americas would turn down more money to play in the U.S. in order to play in Japan?

That said, it’s at least possible that Sanchez figures he’s got a better chance of long term success in NPB, particularly if Yomiuri is guaranteeing at least two years.  One of the toughest things for foreign players in the Asian majors is that they have to be immediately successful or they get shipped out fast.

Needless to say some players (and their agents) are still putting out rumors of MLB interest to squeeze a few more bucks out of their Asian teams.  I saw a rumor that MLB teams had an interest in the KBO’s Casey Kelly.  He re-signed with the LG Twins for a $1.2M guarantee and $300K in incentives.  Similar rumors have been floated about Mel Rojas Jr. which probably means he’ll soon re-sign with the KT Wiz for a nice raise from 2019.

In a strange move I hope to hear more about later, the Kiwoom Heroes will not be re-signing Jerry Sands, who was the KBO’s best foreign hitter in 2019.  The Heroes pay the worst of any the KBO’s teams, at least when it comes to foreign players.  They paid Sands only $500,000 last year for what was his first full KBO season.  My guess is they offered him a raise to something like $800,000 and he wanted something more like $1.2M.  I expect Sands to surface with an NPB team, because at 32 in 2020, he’s a little old for a return to MLB.

The Heroes signed Taylor Motter for a paltry $350,000 to replace Sands, and I doubt it’s going to work out well for the Heroes.  Motter slashed a dismal .206/.298/.343 in 70 games for two AA teams in 2019.  Hard to see him hitting in the KBO.  Odds are he’ll end up as an overpaid back-up middle infielder.

NPB Signings, Rumors and Speculations

November 3, 2019

We are in the phase of the MLB post-season, where teams are mainly designating marginal players for assignment and players and teams are deciding whether to exercise their option rights.  It’s not a tremendously exciting time for anyone but the individual players involved and the real hot stove league die-hards.

Aroldis Chapman exercised his opt-out right to squeeze another season (2022) and $18 million out of the New York Yankees, which seems entirely reasonable for the parties concerned.  It’s hard to imagine a Cuban player like Chapman wanting to leave NYC.

Stephen Strasburg has also opted out of the last four years and $100M with the Nats.  My guess is that he could well command six years at $150M going into his age 31 season.  We’ll see if the Nats are willing to pay that, or if another team steps in and ponies up the bucks.

The most recent two signings of former MLBers by Japanese teams are the Yakult Swallows signing former Kansas City Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar for a reported $800,000 for 2020 and the Hiroshima Toyo Carp signing former Padres and Phillies 2Bman Jose Pirela for a reported $600,000 plus another $250,000 in performance incentives.

Escobar spent most of 2019 at AAA Charlotte in the White Sox organization, until he was released on August 2nd, probably because Escobar was frustrated the Sox had’t promoted him to Chi as he had expected.  Escobar will 33 in 2020, which is old for a foreign player signing a first contract with an NPB team, but Escobar has a record of staying healthy and playing every day.  He posted a .787 OPS in the suddenly hitter-friendly International League in 2019, which seems in line with his past MLB performance.

The most interesting thing about the Escobar signing is whether it means the Swallows are more likely to post 2Bman Tetsuto Yamada this off-season.  Escobar will presumably play SS for the Swallows in 2020, because that’s where is value (mostly defense) is greatest.  The Swallows’ main shortstop in 2019 was Taishi Hirooka, who batted a feeble .203  and struck out an awful lot.  However, Hirooka was willing to take a walk and hit 10 home runs, resulting in a .710 OPS, which isn’t bad for a 22 year old middle infielder.

I don’t really see the point in signing Escobar, unless the Swallows plan to post Yamada and move Hirooka, who is still worth trying to develop into an NPB star, to 2B.  With Yamada going into his age 27 season in 2020, he should bring the Swallows a pretty penny if posted to MLB teams.  We’ll see soon enough.

Pirela is no spring chicken either, going into his age 30 season.  He also mostly played at AAA in 2019.

Rumors have it that Seibu Lions’ star outfielder Shogo Akiyama wants to play in MLB in 2020 now that he’s earned his international free agents rights.  However, he suffered a broken toe on a HBP on November 1st while playing in a post-season exhibition game.  An untimely injury makes it at least a little more likely he remains in Japan.

The Hanshin Tigers reportedly offered 2019 break-out relief pitcher Pierce Johnson a two year contract for 2020-2021.  However, Johnson’s wife just had a baby, leading to speculation he’ll want to return to the U.S. if he can get a major league contract offer from an MLB team.

Rumors also have it that the Hanshin Tigers are targeting Adam Duvall and Tyler Austin this off-season.  I would expect Duvall to get a major league contract offer from an MLB team after his strong late-season performance with the Braves, although the Tigers could certainly offer him more money than an MLB team might guarantee.  Tyler Austin is now a free agent after being outrighted off the Brewers’ 40-man roster.  Going into his age 28 season, Austin looks like a prime candidate for NPB, as does former Brewer and Padre Corey Spangenberg, who turns 29 next March and was also just outrighted by Milwaukee.

Other news out of Japan is that Scott Mathieson, who had by and large eight very successful seasons pitching out of the bullpen for the Yomiuri Giants, announced his retirement at the end of the 2019 Nippon Series, in which the SoftBank Hawks swept the Giants in four games. He won’t be well remembered in MLB circles, but he’s unlikely to be forgotten any time soon by Japanese baseball fans.  And, of course, he made a pile of money playing in Asia.

I haven’t seen anything yet on signings of new foreign players by KBO teams, which usually all take place by the end of November.  Most likely the signings will start once all MLB teams get closer to making their final 40-man roster cut-downs going into the free agent signing period, which starts tomorrow.

Is It Worth Tanking to Improve Your MLB Draft Position?

September 25, 2019

My team, the SF Giants, are currently in line to get either the 13th or 14th pick in the 2020 June Draft.  Gints fans will remember that the team made deals at the trade deadline, but they were kind of push.  The team sold on a couple of relievers, but also made trades designed to help the team going forward in 2019.  The Gints still had an outside shot at making the play-offs at the trade deadline, and they play in a market large enough to make total rebuilds relatively expensive.

Is it worth tanking, at least once the team has realized it has no reasonable chance of making the post-season, in order to get a higher selection in the next MLB draft?

I looked at the first twelve draft picks from the June drafts starting with 1987 (the first year the June draft was the only MLB amateur draft conducted for the year) through 2009 (which is long enough ago that we should now know whether the players drafted were major league success stories).  Suffice it say, with the first 12 draft picks of each June draft, the team imagines it has drafted a future major league star in compensation for sucking ass the previous season.

In order to keep things simple, I used baseball reference’s career WAR totals to determine whether each drafted player was a major league success.  Not precise, I’ll admit, since what drafting teams really care about is the first six-plus major league seasons of control.  However, I don’t know how to create a computer program to figure out the years-of-control WAR for each drafted player, and I’m not sure I’d be willing to spend the time to do so even if I knew how.  Career WAR seems a close enough approximation.

Also, for purposes of my study, no player is considered to have lower than a 0 career WAR — you cannot convince me that a drafted player who never reaches the majors is worth more than a drafted player who played in the majors but had a negative career WAR.  A player reaches and plays in the majors 9 times out of 10 because he is the best player available at that moment to take the available roster spot.  The tenth time, he is worth trying to develop as a major league player because of his potential upside.

As a result, I did not bother with averages.  Instead, I looked at median performances (i.e., for the 23 players picked at each of the first 12 draft slots during the relevant period, 11 players had a higher career WAR and 11 players had a lower career WAR than the median player.

Also, if a player was drafted more than once in the top 12, because he didn’t sign the first time drafted, I still counted him as his career WAR for each time he was drafted.

Here we go:

1st Overall Pick.  Median player:  Ben McDonald (1989, 20.8 Career WAR).  Best Players drafted with the No. 1 pick: Alex Rodriguez (1993, 117.8 career WAR); Chipper Jones (1990, 85.3 WAR); Ken Griffey, Jr. (1987, 83.8 WAR).  Odds of drafting a 15+ WAR player = 61%.  [Examples of 15+ WAR players are Mike Lieberthal (15.3 WAR); Gavin Floyd (15.6 WAR); Eric Hosmer (15.7+ WAR); and Phil Nevin (15.9 WAR).]  Odds of drafting a 10+ WAR player = 65%.  [Examples of 10+ WAR players are Rocco Baldelli (10.2 WAR); Shawn Estes (10.4 WAR); Todd Walker (10.5 WAR)  ; and Doug Glanville (10.9 WAR).]  Odds of drafting a 5+ WAR player = 70%.  [Examples of 5+ WAR players are John Patterson (5.0 WAR); Mike Pelfrey (5.3 WAR); Billy Koch (5.4 WAR); and Sean Burroughs (5.5 WAR).]

2nd Overall Pick.  Median player: Dustin Ackley (2009, 8.1 WAR).  Best Players drafted with the No. 2 pick: Justin Verlander (2004, 70.8+ WAR); J.D. Drew (1997, 44.9 WAR).  Odds of drafting a 15+ WAR player = 35%.  Odds of drafting a 10+ WAR player = 43%.  Odds of drafting a 5+ WAR player = 70%.

3rd Overall Pick.  Median player:  Philip Humber (2004, 0.9 WAR).  Best Players drafted at No. 3: Evan Longoria (2006, 54.2+ WAR); Troy Glaus (1997, 38.0 WAR).  15+ WAR player = 22%10+ WAR player = 35%5+ WAR player = 43%.

4th Overall Pick.  Median player: Tim Stauffer (2003, 3.8 WAR).  Best Players drafted at No. 4: Ryan Zimmerman (2005, 37.7+ WAR); Alex Fernandez (1990, 28.4 WAR).  15+ WAR player = 17%10+ WAR player = 26%5+ WAR player = 39%.

5th Overall Pick.  Median player: zero value.  Best players drafted at No. 5: Mark Teixeira (2001, 51.8 WAR); Ryan Braun (2005, 47.7+ WAR).  15+ WAR player = 30%10+ WAR player = 35%5+ WAR player = 39%.

6th Overall Pick.  Median player: zero value.  Best players drafted at No. 6: Derek Jeter (1992, 72.6 WAR); Zack Greinke (2002, 71.3+ WAR).  15+ WAR player = 9%10+ WAR player = 13%5+ WAR player = 26%.

7th Overall Pick.  Median player: Calvin Murray (1992, 2.1 WAR).  Best players drafted at No. 7: Frank Thomas (1989, 73.9 WAR); Clayton Kershaw (2006, 67.6+ WAR).  15+ WAR player = 30%10+ WAR player = 39%5+ WAR player = 48%.

8th Overall Pick.  Median player: zero value.  Best players drafted at No. 8: Todd Helton (1995, 61.2 WAR); Jim Abbott (1988, 19.6 WAR).  15+ WAR player = 13%10+ WAR player = 26%5+ WAR player = 39%.

9th Overall Pick.  Median player: Aaron Crow (2008, 2.6 WAR).  Best players drafted at No. 9:  Kevin Appier (1987, 54.5 WAR); Barry Zito (1999, 31.9 WAR).  15+ WAR player = 26%10+ WAR player = 26%5+ WAR player = 48%.

10th Overall Pick.  Median player: Michael Tucker (1992, 8.1 WAR).  Best players drafted at No. 10: Robin Ventura (1988, 56.1 WAR); Eric Chavez (1996, 37.5 WAR).  15+ WAR player = 39%10+ WAR player = 48%5+ WAR player = 52%.

11th Overall Pick.  Median player: Lee Tinsley (1987, 1.7 WAR).  Best players drafted at No. 11: Max Scherzer (2006, 60.5+ WAR); Andrew McCutchen (2005, 43.6+ WAR).  15+ WAR player = 13%10+ WAR player = 17%5+ WAR player = 22%.

12th Overall Pick.  Median player: Bobby Seay (1996, 3.0 WAR).  Best players drafted at No. 12: Nomar Garciaparra (1994, 44.2 WAR); Jared Weaver (2004, 34.4 WAR).  15+ WAR player = 26%10+ WAR player = 39%5+ WAR player = 48%.

What do I conclude from all of the above number-crunching and name-dropping (and my cursory review of the Nos. 13-15 draft picks during the relevant period)?  It’s worth tanking to get the first or second pick in the June Draft or to get one of the top ten picks.  Since teams bad enough at the trade deadline to have a reasonable shot to get the No. 1 or 2 picks will be tanking no matter what, the only real lesson is that teams that have the 11th to 15th worst record in MLB approaching the trade deadline and realize they have no reasonable shot to make the post-season should SELL, SELL, SELL in order to get one of the top ten draft picks the next June.

The second lesson I take from my study is that teams should ALWAYS draft the player they think to be the best available/remaining if they have a top 12 or 15 draft pick and PAY what it takes to sign the player, unless the potential draftee has made it clear he will not sign with the team under any circumstances.  After the two best players in any given draft, there is too much uncertainty for teams not to draft the player they think is the best available.  Drafting a player the team thinks is a lesser player in order to save $2 million to throw at a high school player drafted in the 11th round is going to be a bad decision in most cases, particularly in the current regime where teams get a finite budget to sign their first ten draft picks, and the draftees know the cap amounts.

I see no obvious difference in the results for the third through tenth rounds, because, I assume, after the first two consensus best players in any given draft, teams have different opinions about the merits of the next, larger group of potential draftees, to the point where it more or less becomes a crap shoot.  After the first two rounds, and with the notable exception of the 10th round, the median player drafted with the third through 12th pick isn’t really worth a damn, and the odds of selecting a 15+ WAR player, a true star, are considerably less than one in three.

As a final note, I don’t like the fact that post-trade-deadline waiver deals can no longer be made.  I don’t see the downside in allowing losing teams to dump their over-paid veterans after the trade deadline (but before the Sept. 1st play-off eligibility deadline) in exchange for some, usually limited, salary relief and prospects, while play-off bound teams get to add veterans so they can put the best possible team on the field come play-off time.  I hope MLB can find a way for these deals to resume in the future.

Kansas City Royals to Be Sold for a Reported $1Billion

August 31, 2019

The Royals’ current owner David Glass has reportedly reached a deal to sell the team for a cool $1B to John Sherman, who currently has a small ownership interest in the Cleveland Indians.  The reported amount of the sale, if accurate, means that Glass will be making more than ten times the $96 million he paid for the team back in 2000.

The Royals are almost certainly one of the six least valuable franchises in MLB.  Kansas City is a small metro market with limited revenue streams, although the franchise does draw from a fairly large section of the western Mid-West.

What the $1B sales price says to me is that two new expansion teams could probably command expansion fees of $900M each.  For two new teams, that would mean each of the 30 current teams would get $60M apiece.  That isn’t chump change, particularly when you don’t have to share that money with the players.

Of course, part of the reason that the Royals proved to be worth $1B is because there is more demand for major league teams among rich men than there are teams to purchase.  The real money in MLB is made when teams change hands, and the fewer major league teams potentially for sale, the higher the value.

Even so, two new times would not dilute the value of the other 30 teams all that much.  It has now been 21 years since the last expansion, by far the longest of the expansion era which started in 1961.  Growth is almost always good for industries, and I see no reason why MLB should be one of the exceptions.  If anything, MLB needs to expand into new markets to make up for the relative loss of interest in MLB baseball in recent years.

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.

What Will Cody Bellinger End Up Batting in 2019?

May 18, 2019

After today’s game in Cincinnati, Cody Bellinger is batting a lusty .404 46 games into the 2019 Dodgers’ season.  What might he end up hitting when the year is out?

I’ll go out on a limb and say that Bellinger won’t hit .380 this season, let alone .400.  The last player to hit .380 in a season was Tony Gwynn in 1994 when Gwynn batted .394, the closest any player has come to .400 since Ted Williams last did it in 1941.  Since 1941, only three other players have batted .380 in a season: Ted Williams batted .388 in 1957, Rod Carew batted .388 in 1977 and George Brett batted .390 in 1980.

By my calculation, Bellinger would have to bat .372 for the rest of the season (assuming that Bellinger stays healthy) in order to hit .380 for the season.  Seems unlikely.

The last player to bat .370 or better in a season was Ichiro when he hit .372 in 2004.  While a great season and a great hitter, Barry Bonds had hit .370 in 2002 and both Nomar Garciaparra and Todd Helton had batted .372 in 2000.

To hit .370 for the season, Bellinger would need to hit about .356 the rest of the way.  Certainly doable, but I’d think certainly less likely than not.

The last player to bat .360 or better in a season was Joe Mauer when he batted .365 in 2009.  As with Ichiro’s 2004, Mauer’s 2009 was not wildly better than other batting leaders of the previous few seasons:  Chipper Jones had batted .364 in 2008, and Magglio Ordonez had batted .363 in 2007.

To bat .360 on the season, Bellinger would need to hit .344 the rest of the way.  That certainly seems doable, given Bellinger’s talent level and the facts that he is a left-handed hitter who runs extremely well.

The last player to bat .350 in a season was Josh Hamilton, who batted .359 in 2010.  To hit .350 for the season, Bellinger would only need to hit .328 the rest of the way.  I’d be willing to bet even money on Bellinger hitting at least .350 this season if he can stay healthy.

Maybe Free Agents Just Aren’t Worth It

February 3, 2019

On February 1st, I was planning to write a post about how strange it is that four of the top five free agents (at least according to mlbtraderumors.com) are still unsigned.  Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post beat me to it.  However, the title of his article got me thinking whether not signing free agents means not trying to win.

Analytics are showing that free agents aren’t worth the money they are getting in terms of actual performance on the free agent contracts they sign and that MLB teams are finally catching up, although it has taken them a long time to do so.

I thought it might be interesting to look at what last year’s top 50 free agents (according to mlbtraderumors.com) did in  2018, the first year of their free agent deals, when everyone expects free agents to be worth the most.  Everyone basically understands that signing a free agent is a win-now strategy and that players are overpaid in the latter years of their free agent deals to provide big value in the first year or two of their contracts.

So what were free agents worth in the first year of the new contracts they signed during the 2017-2018 off-season, which was the off-season when free agent contracts dramatically tightened up in terms of guaranteed seasons?  As it turns out, not what they were paid.

I used the average salary over the years of multi-year contracts, rather than the actual first year salaries, which are in many cases lower, because it was less work to calculate.  It also gives a more accurate value, in a sense, of what the team will end up paying annually for the term of the contract.

By my calculation, teams committed $441.9 million in first year salaries, and got total production value, according to fangraphs.com, of only $356.6 million in return.  Of the 47 free agents I included, only 12 players performed in 2018 at a level greater than their average annual average salary over the lengths of their contracts, while 34 performed worse, 10 of whom cost their new teams money by playing at a level below replacement level.  The 47 players have a remaining 62 seasons on their combined contracts, when as a group they will almost certainly perform at a lower level than they did in 2018, since free agents as a group do not age well at all.

Free agent contracts look like a lottery gamble for teams.  A team might hit it big with the kind of performance J.D. Martinez, Lorenzo Cain, Jhoulys Chacin, Miles Mikolas and Mike Moustakas gave their teams in 2018, but teams were more likely to get the the underwhelming and overpaid performances Yu Darvish, Eric Hosmer, Wade Davis, Zack Cozart and Jay Bruce gave their 2018 teams.

There are a lot of reasons why teams would continue to sign free agents, even if they are overpaid even in their first seasons with their new clubs.  It’s good public relations to sign free agents, particularly if you have lost one or more of your own players to free agency.  The cost in talent, compared to trades, of signing a free agent is very low (although the current collective bargaining rules make it more expensive in terms of talent for the wealthiest, highest spending teams to spend big on free agents, which has always been the driver of the free agent market).  It might be worth overpaying a free agent in order to plug a glaring hole in your line-up.

However, what I take from this information is that it makes little sense to sign a free agent, particularly one in the bottom half of the top 50, unless you are fairly certain one or two performances is all that is separating your team from making or returning to the post-season.  Rebuilding teams shouldn’t be signing free agents until they are truly ready to compete.  Even if you don’t have a replacement level player in your organization at the position you are looking to improve at, a replacement level player can probably be obtained cheaply from another organization, particularly when compared to the financial cost of free agents, even with the sharp tightening in the market the last two off-seasons.

While I still suspect that teams are engaging in some kind of soft collusion — maybe MLB is holding meetings where MLB’s analysts are lecturing teams on the actual value of free agents each November — in-house analytics departments for each team are probably telling teams the one thing they need to do with respect to free agents is sign them for fewer seasons than they did in the past.

mlbtraderumors.com predicted that Bryce Harper and Manny Machado would get respectively 14 and 13 season contracts at $30M per.  The reason they may not yet be signed is that, while teams are willing to pay the $30M per, they aren’t willing to guarantee more than eight or 10 seasons, even for free agents so young and so good.  The only rumors I have heard for either is that the White Sox may have offered Machado somewhere between $175M and $1250M for seven or eight seasons only.

The current collective bargaining agreement terms are devastating the free agent market, because the ten richest teams can’t spend like they once did.  The talent bite that comes from overspending the salary cap for three seasons in a row, in terms of draft picks and international amateur spending, is steep enough that the richest teams are all trying to keep close enough to the cap amount that they can dip under at least once every three seasons in order to avoid the most severe penalties.  It is the richest teams that drive the upper limits of free agent contracts, so the current rules are bound to effect free agent contracts in a big way.

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.