Archive for the ‘KBO’ category

Bruce Maxwell Signs with Mexican League’s Acereros del Norte

March 7, 2019

It sure is unusual to see a 28 year old once promising major league catcher sign with a Mexican League team, but Bruce Maxwell has done it, due to conduct the last two seasons that has made him unappealing to all 30 major league organizations.

Maxwell is the only major league player to have taken a knee during the National Anthem to protest racial discrimination in America back in 2017.  My first thought in reading that he had signed with a Mexican League team is that he has been unfairly black-listed because of the National Anthem issue.  However, I resisted my gut reaction, because Maxwell’s situation is a lot more complicated than that.

He was arrested during the 2017-2018 off-season for allegedly pulling a gun on a fast-food delivery person and charged with aggravated assault and disorderly conduct.  He ultimately pleaded out to disorderly conduct, which mlbtraderumors.com describes as a “class 6 undesignated offense,” which I assume means not very serious, and received probation and community service.  Presumably, the probation period has expired, or he wouldn’t be able to play in Mexico.

Also, Maxwell was absolutely horrible in 2018, both for the A’s and also at their AAA affiliate in Nashville.  The A’s also reportedly had concerns about his conditioning (he’s currently listed at 6’1″, 250 lbs — conditioning is always going to be an issue for someone with those dimensions).

As such, teams could legitimately believe that Maxwell is a head-case and would prefer that he work out his issues some place else before signing him.  It certainly raises issues when a player his age and on the verge of major league stardom engages in crazy behavior and doesn’t keep himself in shape.  Add to that the fact that as a major league veteran, Maxwell couldn’t be signed to play at the minor league level for less than about $90,000, it is not entirely surprising that all 30 major league teams would take a pass on him.

The Acereros de Monclova (the city in which the team plays) are one of the top Mexican League teams and routinely collect the best foreign players (which in this case includes Americans) to play for them, so it’s no surprise that they would jump at the chance to sign a player of Maxwell’s talents.  Obviously, NPB and KBO teams will be keeping an eye on how Maxwell performs in Mexico, although neither league likes to sign foreign catchers because of worries about foreign catchers’ ability to communicate with domestic pitchers — although the ability of foreign pitchers to communicate with domestic catchers is not considered an issue at all, as both leagues routinely sign foreign pitchers.

If nothing else, playing in Mexico should determine pretty quickly whether Maxwell now has his head on straight.  It’s a big let-down playing in Mexico under Mexican League conditions for Mexican League money (probably no more than $5,000 or $6,000 a month for rookie foreigners), and it takes a certain determination to move past that and put in the work to succeed even in what is probably a AA class league.  If Maxwell plays up to his abilities, MLB teams (or NPB or KBO teams) will come calling soon enough.  If not, then maybe we’ll see Maxwell playing next in the Indy-A Atlantic League or American Association.

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Yoon Suk-Min Takes Record Pay Cut

January 30, 2019

Remember Yoon Suk-Min (or Suk-Min Yoon, if you prefer)?  He was a top KBO hurler who fell on his face after the Baltimore Orioles signed him and sent him to AAA Norfolk in 2014.

He returned to South Korea after his disastrous American season on a generous four year deal with the KBO Kia Tigers.  Unfortunately, arm problems (too many innings pitched at too young an age for a guy who isn’t very big) have kind of dis-railed his pro career.

Anyway, Yoon is back in the news in a very minor way.  He just set a KBO record by taking a 1.05 billion ($940,000) won pay cut for the 2019 season.  He made 1.25 billion won in 2018 and will be making 200 million won ($180,000) in 2019.

By way of comparison, MLB players cannot be paid less than 80% of their previous year’s salary by their current time, although, of course, teams can simply release any player who they don’t think is worth 80% of their previous year’s salary.  As a practical matter, no MLB player ever takes a 20% pay cut unless they are badly injured.  Players who aren’t arbitration eligible generally aren’t paid enough to take a 20% pay cut, and arbitration eligible players are either non-tendered or get a pay raise simply by virtue of service time additions.

The good news for Yoon is that he made good money on his previous four-year deal, and even $180,000 a season is a good two or three years of income for the average South Korean man Yoon’s age (he’s now 32).  Playing professional baseball in a true major league is good work if you’re good enough to get it.

The Miami Marlins Sign Hector Noesi

January 19, 2019

The Miami Marlins signed Hector Noesi to a minor league contract which will pay him $800,000 for major league service time.  Noesi presumably will earn an invitation to major league Spring Training.

Noesi made a reported $1.7M to play in the KBO last season.  While he would have had to take a major pay cut to stay in the KBO, after a season in which he posted a 4.60 ERA, that probably wasn’t the reason he didn’t return to the KBO.  After the fine KBO seasons he had in 2016 and 2017, he probably could have found another KBO team to sign him in the $800K to $1M range.

Instead, South Korea recently changed its tax policies for foreign athletes and applied the changes retro-actively specifically because numerous foreign athletes weren’t paying up their taxes.  The changes don’t affect American citizen athletes nearly as much as players from the Caribbean, because the U.S. and South Korea have an existing tax treaty which makes the changes less onerous for U.S. citizen foreigners.

Noesi is from the Dominican Republic, however, and by some reports, had he stayed for another season in the KBO in 2019, he would have had to pay essentially his entire 2019 salary in taxes, current and past.  This tax law change also explains why fellow Dominican Henry Sosa will be pitching in Taiwan’s CPBL in 2019 for a lot less money than he made in the KBO in 2018, in spite of having one of his finest KBO seasons in terms of ERA and strikeouts.

Nine Caribbean-origin ballplayers were included in the 30 foreign players who started the 2018 KBO season (Mel Rojas Jr. is the son of Dominican Mel Rojas, but Jr. was born in Indianapolis and is thus a U.S. citizen by birth).  Only one of those nine is returning to the KBO in 2019, although there are numerous Caribbean-origin players who will be KBO rookies in 2019.  Of course, KBO rookies can’t be required to pay back-taxes they haven’t accrued.

I’m a little surprised, given Noesi’s fairly extensive MLB track record, that he’ll only be paid $800K for major league service time.  Jon Heyman tweeted that the deal involves many incentives, and I would guess it may pay Noesi relatively well ($250K to $300K for minor league service time).

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.

KT Wiz Re-Sign Mel Rojas Jr. for $1.5 Million

December 28, 2018

The KBO’s KT Wiz re-signed slugging outfielder Mel Rojas Jr. to a deal that will pay Rojas a $500,000 signing bonus, $1 million in salary (likely not guaranteed) and an additional $100,000 in performance bonuses.  Rojas fills the last of 30 KBO major league roster spaces reserved for foreign players, and his contract is potentially the third largest for a foreigner this off-season, after the possible $1.92M that pitcher Josh Lindblom could earn and the possible $1.7M slugger Darin Ruf could earn — all three contracts include performance bonuses which will presumably require the players to remain productive and healthy for the full 2019 KBO season.

I wouldn’t normally write a post just on a single, non-record setting contract to play for a KBO team, but I found this signing interesting because there was a lot of talk this off-season that after a huge 2018 KBO season in which Rojas set a Wiz franchise record with 43 home runs and slashed .305/.389/.590, both scoring and driving in 114 runs, Rojas was hoping for a return to MLB.  Most of the time such expressions of desire to return to MLB turn out to be a negotiating ploy with the player’s KBO or NPB team, as no MLB organization is willing to match what the KBO or NPB team is willing to pay the player for the next season.

Nevertheless, it is a tried and true negotiating position, and with more foreign KBO and NPB players making triumphant returns to MLB in recent seasons, it is a negotiating strategy that’s likely to be better today than it ever was.  In fairness to Rojas and other foreign players who have made noises about returning to MLB, they probably do wish they could return to MLB for roughly same money they made the previous year in Asia.  I don’t think it is easy for foreign players to adjust to living and playing in Japan or South Korea.

The reality, of course, is that the players (with the exceptions of the very best foreigners like Eric Thames and Miles Mikolas) typically can’t get an acceptable MLB deal for precisely the same reasons that sent them to Asia to play in the first place.  They went to Asia to make major league money when no MLB team thought they were worth a major league contract.

If Rojas is truly serious about returning to MLB, he needs to have a 2019 season in the KBO even better than his 2018 season.  That might be what it takes to convince at least one MLB organization that Rojas has really gotten better since he joined the KBO in 2017.

Most of the 4-A players who find success and earn major league money to play in Asia ought to stick to playing in Asia.  As I like to say, it’s better to be a big fish in a small pond than a minnow in the ocean.  That said, a foreigner’s expressions of desire to keep playing for his current KBO or NPB team don’t generally carry a whole lot of weight with these teams.  The Asian teams want on-field production from their foreigners first, second and last and typically dump their foreign players as soon as they believe that their future on-field production won’t justify their substantial salaries.  Just ask Dustin Nippert, who was forced into what increasingly looks like an earlier KBO retirement than Nippert wanted or deserved.

In light of the lack of loyalty Asian teams show their foreign “mercenaries,” foreign players are certainly justified in using whatever leverage they have to obtain the best contracts they can.  In short, for as long as foreign players have successful seasons in the KBO or NPB, they will be threatening, or at least leaking the possibility, that they will return to MLB unless their Asian team makes it worth their while to stay.

A Couple of Interesting Asian Signings

December 13, 2018

The KBO’s Lotte Giants today announced the signing of former Philadelphia Phillie Jake Thompson.  What is interesting about this signing is that Thompson is not yet 25, which makes him extremely young to be signed by an Asian team, particularly in light of the fact that Thompson is not yet 25 years old and has had some significant major league success (4.87 ERA across 116.1 IP).  Players of Thompson’s age and past major league success usually aren’t ready to give up on their major league dreams.

Obviously, it’s largely about the money.  Thompson will earn $900,000 if he sticks with the Lotte Giants through the 2019 season.  After being designated for assignment by the Brewers last season, Thompson was a free agent who was reasonably looking at minor league contract that would not have paid him more than $650,000 for major league service time.  Thompson didn’t pitch particularly well in 2018 either in the Show or at AAA, although he probably impressed Lotte with six very strong starts in the Dominican Winter League through November 18th.

Also, Thompson’s signing likely reflects the new reality that MLB-system players going to the Asian majors can easily return to MLB later after they have succeeded in Asia.  Two big seasons in the KBO, and Thompson could potentially return to MLB for his age 27 season on the kind of guaranteed money deal that Merrill Kelly just received from the Arizona Diamondbacks (two years plus options for a $5.5M guarantee).  Even if he isn’t a big success in South Korea, Thompson can still return to AAA in 2020 at age 26 with $900,000 (less South Korea’s new higher taxes for foreign players) in his pocket.

Former San Francisco Giant Albert Suarez is another former major leaguer who appears to have turned a strong winter league performance into an Asian majors contract.  The 29 year old Venezuelan has been signed by NPB’s Yakult Swallows after leading the Venezuelan Winter League in strikeouts through today’s date.  He had a mediocre 4.97 ERA at AAA Reno (a very tough place to pitch) in 31 appearances including four starts with no major league appearances in 2018, so his winter league effectiveness no doubt helped him get an Asian contract for 2019.

Nippon Ham Fighters Sign Wang Po-Jung

December 7, 2018

CPBL Stats reports that the Nippon Ham Fighters of NPB have signed young Taiwanese star Wang Po-Jung for three years at $4 million on top of a reported $1 million posting fee paid to his former team, the Lamigo Monkeys.  The deal may also include additional performance incentives.

The reported amount is a lot more than I expected Wang to get for a first NPB contract.  North American foreigners typically get a relatively modest first NPB contract, with the understanding that if the player succeeds in NPB, his second contract will be much more generous.

Wang’s situation is different in that there was a posting fee involved and Wang is younger than former MLB-system foreigners when they go to Japan.  Even so, I expected that Wang would get a three-year deal but for closer to the reported $1M posting fee, like maybe $1.5 million, an amount more than Wang would make for three years in the CPBL, and would position Wang as a free agent after his age 27 season, where he would then get the really big deal once he had proved he was an NPB star.

Nippon Ham must be convinced that Wang will be an NPB star, particularly since he’ll be taking up a valuable foreign player roster spot (NPB teams get only four foreigners on the active roster at any given time).  I also think that Wang’s contract hints at the fact that Nippon Ham can afford to take a $5M risk on Wang because NPB player salaries are artificially low relative to actual revenue streams even for mid-market teams like the Fighters.  The Fighters are now drawing roughly two million fans a season across a 71 or 72 game schedule, plus TV revenues, so the team can certainly afford $5M for three seasons of whatever performance Wang actually gives them.

I’m certainly wishing Wang luck, but now it’s up to him to rise to the contract he just signed.

In other NPB news, the Rakuten Golden Eagles have reportedly reached a deal with 4-A player Jabari Blash.  I have been suggesting for years that Blash should take his talents to NPB, because he’s the kind of talent that often has great success in Japan.  Blash has been terrorizing AAA pitching since 2015, but he’s fallen flat in three major league trials and he’s now entering his age 29 season.  In fact, Blash really should have signed with an NPB or KBO team last off-season, as he turns 30 next July 4th, meaning his window to establish himself as a star in one of the Asian majors is short.