Archive for the ‘KBO’ category

Conspiracy Theory

August 18, 2019

The best current KBO hitter not to have gotten a shot at playing in the MLB system is SK Wyverns’ 3B Choi Jeong.  The internet stories I read in 2013 indicated that Choi could play the hot corner on defense; and he certainly hit a ton.

In his ninth season with the Wyverns, he got off to a slow start in 2014.  The Wyverns sent Choi down about a third of the way into the season, even though his OPS was still well above .700.  The KBO was until the 2019 season a hitters’ league.  I’d have let Choi play through his still not unproductive slump.

Maybe the Wyverns wanted to hold onto Choi, and that is part of the reason the Wyverns sent Choi down when they did.  Choi spent about a third of the season in the KBO minor league, and hit like himself upon his return to the majors.  Still, the damage had been done.

Choi played only 82 of the 126 Wyverns’ games that season, and his OPS was “only” .907.  That wasn’t good enough to interest MLB teams in the off-season when Choi was going into his age 28 season.

That was Choi’s MLB opportunity, and he missed it.  Choi also got hurt in 2015.   He was still a tremendous hitter in both 2016 and 2017.  And the Wyverns won the 2018 Korea Series, even though Choi’s OPS was back down to .915 (on a .244 batting average!?!) and he missed 29 of the Wyverns’ 144 games.

Although Choi lost his shot as an MLB star, the Wyverns gave him a six-year roughly $9.4 million contract before the 2019 season coming off a four-year $7.7M deal after the send-down season — so Choi will not be going home hungry any time soon.  And I haven’t even mentioned the endorsement deals Choi no doubt gets in Incheon, a city of now about 3 million people.

Maybe the SK Wyverns and Choi Jeong were meant for each other.

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Mac Williamson Set to Join KBO’s Samsung Lion

July 23, 2019

Former San Francisco Giant Mac Williamson has reportedly reached a deal to play for the Samsung Lions of South Korea’s KBO.  Williamson is an ideal player to try his luck in the KBO, since it now appears clear he’s never going to establish himself as an MLB major league regular.

What is particularly interesting about the signing is that the Lions will be finishing the season with two position players — big time KBO star Darin Ruf is the Lions’ 1Bman.  KBO teams universally elect to start each season with two pitchers and one position player for their three permitted foreign players.  When the circuit expanded from two foreign players per team to three, the rules required that the third player had to be a position player, since foreign pitchers are considerably more valuable to KBO teams than foreign hitters.

Ruf is one of the highest paid foreign players in the KBO this year.  He’s making $1.4M plus an additional $300,000 in performance incentives, most of which he’s likely to earn because he’s been reasonably healthy this year.

As a result, if Williamson hits well enough in the Lions’ remaining 50 games, Williamson may take Ruf’s roster spot in 2020.  Ruf turns 33 in a few days, so he’s not getting any younger.  If Williamson plays well enough to take Ruf’s roster spot, Williamson likely won’t be much cheaper, given Williamson’s fairly extensive MLB major league experience, particularly because Williamson could also draw interest from Japan’s NPB after a successful 50 game run in the KBO.

How well Williamson actually plays in his 50 game KBO trial run remains to be seen.  Williamson certainly hit in the Pacific Coast League over parts of the last two seasons, but his inability to hit in the majors in spite of numerous opportunities over the last five seasons suggests he may not hit the ground running in South Korea.  If Williamson can get off to a hot start, he certainly has the tools to become a major star in the KBO.

All Those 4-A Outfielders

July 18, 2019

Former SF Giants Mac Williamson and Jarrett Parker both cleared waivers today and out-righted back to AAA.  They’ve both hit great in the Pacific Coast League this year, which isn’t surprising given their talent levels and the amount of offense in the PCL.  Hitting in the majors is a whole ‘nother story.

At this point, it seems clear that neither Williamson nor Parker has any reasonable shot as regular major league roster spot holders and both should immediately begin looking into opportunities to play in the Asian majors.  Parker, in particular, needs to move fast, or he’ll be too old to interest a KBO or NPB team.

It feels like every single player the Giants have used in the outfield this season should seriously consider trying to get a high paying job in Asia no later than next off-season.  The only exceptions are Brandon Belt and Steven Vogt who played the outfield for the Gints this year mainly out of pure desperation.  Obviously, Kevin Pillar won’t be going to Asia anytime soon, but his career is fast approaching a stage where he should at least give it some consideration.

Yangervis Solarte, in fact, has already signed with an NPB team.  I am certain that between now and the end of the 2020, he won’t be the last former Giants outfielder to go to Asia.

Will the KBO Start Giving Multi-Year Contracts to Foreign Players?

July 17, 2019

About two months ago I wrote a post about former major league pitcher Josh Lindblom winning his 50th game in South Korea’s KBO.  Since then, he’s won another eight games.  He’s currently 15-1 (!), and he’s leading the KBO in ERA (2.01) and strikeouts (126 in 130 IP).

Meanwhile, fellow foreigner Angel Sanchez is second in wins (13-2), second in ERA (2.28) and 5th in strikeouts (98 in 110.2 IP).  It’s got me wondering whether they will become the first foreign players in KBO history to get multi-year contracts this coming off-season.

Until this last off-season, KBO teams could only sign the three foreigners each team was allowed to single year contracts.  Teams dealt with this by giving the best foreigners one-and-one contracts: one year contracts with a team option for a second year.  These contracts typically worked something along these lines: the star foreign player got a $1M contract with a $300,000 option for a second year at $1M.  The actual amount of the first year contract obviously varied, but the ratio of the option amount to the second non-guaranteed season was typically about the same as the example given.  This type of contract meant the player got a big guarantee, the team reduced risk, and if the player played well in year one, the team got the second year at a good price, relative to the guarantee for the first year and option.

This last off-season, the KBO changed the rules on foreign players.  Now, if a player signing a first contract with any KBO team could not be paid more than $1M for the first season with the team.  This cap applies to foreign KBO veterans who switch KBO teams: $1M max for the first year with the new team.  In order to give something for the cap, the KBO now allows teams to sign foreign players to multi-year deals.

No foreigner signed for a multi-year deal last off-season.  Lindblom, an established KBO ace, got a reported $1.77M guarantee for 2019 (plus another $150,000 in performance incentives that he’ll earn absent injury), which is the most any foreigner is making in the KBO this year, but is pretty poor compared to what the best domestic KBO free agents get, typically four years at $2M to $3M per season.  The KBO doesn’t formally require teams to limit free agent contracts to four seasons, but like Japan’s NPB, there is a de facto four year cap on free agent contracts that teams follow strictly.

In the past, a foreign KBO star’s only real option to get more than what his KBO team wanted to pay him was to jump to Japan’s NPB (or in the rare case of Eric Thames, return to MLB).  Now, at least in theory, Josh Lindblom, Angel Sanchez and possibly one or two others could squeeze two-year deals out of their respective KBO teams.  Lindblom’s Doosan Bears could easily afford to give him a two-year $4M deal this coming off-season, which would compare very favorably with what Lindblom could get as a guarantee from an NPB team.  I fully expect that both Lindblom and Sanchez will threaten to go to NPB this off-season in order to squeeze at least two years out of the Bears and the SK Wyverns, respectively.

Given how conservative professional baseball is everywhere, I can’t imagine either Lindblom or Sanchez getting more than two years next off-season.  What typically happens in situations like these is that the rule changes, the right players force a change (in this case, a multi-year contract), and the teams take baby steps, because why would any team rush to guarantee players more money?  What will happen over time is that Lindblom or Sanchez (or their successors) will pitch well for the two seasons of their new contracts, and teams will realize that the two year deal will actually save them money.  Then we’ll start to see three year deals for KBO foreigners.

My suspicion is that multi-year contracts for foreign players will likely cap at around three seasons, because I don’t think that NPB teams will go beyond a two-year guarantee for only slightly better than KBO money for any foreign player who hasn’t previously played in Japan.  If teams are acting rationally, there is no reason to give players more than what the market will bear.

Tommy Joseph Is Out; Carlos Peguero Is In

July 11, 2019

The KBO’s LG Twins put former Philly and SF Giants’ prospect Tommy Joseph on waivers today as a prelude this release and announced the signing of former marginal MLBer and brief NPB star Carlos Peguero, who had been playing in the Mexican League this season.  Not a big deal as far as the baseball world goes, but it interests me in terms of what it says about what KBO teams are thinking.

Joseph hadn’t been terrible in the KBO.  He hit nine home runs in 55 KBO games this season, and his .761 OPS wasn’t terrible this year what with the KBO having introduced less resilient baseballs that cut deep into offensive production.  However, he missed 33 games so far this year, mostly due to back problems; and he was highly paid by KBO standards, having inked a deal that gave him a $300,000 signing bonus and a $700,000 salary.  That’s about as much as first year foreign players can expect to make in the KBO now that a $1M salary cap for first-year foreigners has been imposed.

Peguero will earn $150,000 for the rest of the way with an additional $30,000 in performance incentives.  By my rough calculation, this means the Twins will save between $90,000 and $120,000 by replacing Joseph with Peguero.  That’s not much when you consider that Joseph hadn’t been playing badly, and the odds aren’t great that Peguero will play significantly better.  After only 22 Mexican League games, Peguero had been slashing only .259/.362/.481, which isn’t impressive in what has been an extreme hitters’ league this summer.

The Twins are currently in 4th place in the KBO.  The top five teams make the playoffs and then play a weird system where the 5th place and 4th place teams play, the winner plays the 3rd place team, the second winner plays the 2nd place team and the third winner plays the 1st place team.

The Twins are 6.5 games up on the 5th place NC Dinos and eight games up on the 6th place KT Wiz.  The Twins are three and 3.5 back of the 3rd and 2nd place teams.  In short, the Twins could move up to 2nd or 3rd place with improved performance from their lone foreign position player, but they likely make the post-season with or without the move.

In sum, the move seems to be based primarily on saving $90,000 to $120,000 this season, which sure isn’t much for a play-off bound team, even in the KBO.  It does suggest, perhaps, that KBO team finances aren’t all that strong.

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.