Archive for the ‘Los Angeles Dodgers’ category

Take Two, They’re Small

March 31, 2018

That’s why they play the games.  Who would have expected the Giants to start the season with consecutive 1-0 victories over the Dodgers, each decided by a Joe Panik home run?  Very strange indeed.

Panik is 27 this year, and perhaps he’ll have a age 27 season to remember.  Of course, it’s only two games into the season, so we’ll just have to wait and see.

Also glad to see Hunter Strickland save another one.  It’s starting to look like the Gints got Mark Melancon just in time to get old.  If Strickland could fill the closer role, maybe Melancon returns to become the top set-up guy, and the Giants bullpen is better than it looked going into the season.

160 games to go, but at least the Giants are still in first place.

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So Far, So Good

March 30, 2018

So said the man who jumped off a ten-story building as he passed a fifth floor window.

Anyway, the Ty Blach beat Clayton Kershaw today 1-0 to start the 2018 San Francisco.  The game’s only run came on a Joe Panik home run.  Go figure.

Well, with only 161 more games to go the Giants are in first place.  Better enjoy it now while it lasts, because things do no look incredibly promising for the 2018 Oldsters.

Aside from Blach’s five effective innings, the most promising sign was the strong efforts by four different relievers.  Hunter Strickland allowed a single to the first batter he faced in the 9th, and recorded three consecutive outs for the save.  A good nickname for Strickland coming out of Pike County, Georgia would be “Country Hardball.”

I have a lot more confidence in Strickland as the Giants’ early season closer than I do in Sam Dyson.  Hunter successfully converting his first save opportunity probably means he’ll get at least two more opportunities to close games before Bochy turns to Dyson.

Any time the Giants open the season by beating the Dodgers, it’s a time to celebrate.  Enjoy it now, because tomorrow who knows?

The Contractual Reasons Why Free Agent Contracts Are Down This Off-Season

March 15, 2018

I had read earlier this off-season that the owners had pantsed the players’ union in the latest collective bargaining agreement (CBA) on terms affecting free agency, but I didn’t actually look at the CBA to see for myself until two days ago.  There are certainly reasons to think that the new contract terms have an awful lot to do with this off-season’s disappointing free agent signing period, at least as far as the free agents and their agents are concerned.

The current CBA punishes free agents in a less direct way than the old free agent compensation system, but by separating the compensation paid from the actual free agent signed, it may be boosting owners’ resolve in refusing to sign sign free agents, at least if it means going over the salary cap to do so.

The new rules much more steeply punish teams for going over the team luxury tax thresholds (i.e., a soft salary cap).  Under the system that started with the 2017 season, penalties are much steeper if a team goes over the luxury tax, particularly if they are over the base luxury tax amount ($197 million in 2018) three years in a row.  Plus, the penalties increase by the amount over the luxury tax threshold, up to a 95% on the payroll amount over $237 million (the third luxury tax threshold) in 2018 if  the team has been over the $197M base luxury tax threshold for the third year in row.

Meanwhile, each time a team gets itself under the luxury tax threshold in a year, it resets the taxes at the lowest rates the next time the team goes over any of the three luxury tax thresholds.  Plus, starting with the current season, any team going over the third luxury tax threshold ($237M in 2018) (it’s called the Second Surcharge threshold in the CBA for confusion’s sake) has its top pick in the next Rule 4 amateur draft automatically dropped ten places.  Everyone reading this should know that a team’s first pick in any draft is far more likely to result in a major league regular player than any subsequent draft pick that year.

In sum, the new penalties are steep this offf-season if a team goes over the $237M amount or goes over the $197M amount for the third season in a row.  At the same time, the wealthiest teams can reset the monetary penalties every third season by dipping under the currently $197M amount.

These are powerful incentives for the wealthiest teams (the teams which drive free agent contract amounts as a whole) to keep their annual payrolls within range of the currently $197M base threshold amount so that they can dip below it at least every third season.  It’s also an incentive for the wealthiest teams to shorten free agent contract lengths to three seasons or less, so that they will have the flexibility to try to dip below the first luxury tax threshold (base threshold amount) every third season.

I think the owners also accurately predicted that separating penalties from the actual free agents signed would make teams less likely to spend than under the old system.  Under the old system, a team signing a free agent who received a qualifying offer lost its first round draft pick, so long as the pick was not in the top 10 or 15 overall.  Thus, a team could directly compare the value in the immediately following seasons of the free agent they hoped to sign with the value of the first draft pick they would lose by the signing.

Now the incentive is to keep overall team salaries below the soft but increasingly stern salary caps.  Now teams no longer lose that first round pick by signing any particular free agent, but are instead punished if they go over the third luxury tax threshold.  Because the penalty is now more divorced from any particular player the team hopes to sign, I suspect the psychological effect has made teams more unlikely to sign free agents that will put them over the salary caps.

I had wondered why teams had been willing to negotiate away first round draft pick compensation for signing elite free agents, which looked like a huge win for the players’ union.  Now I understand it — the owners with their tougher salary cap penalties have apparently gotten back even more than they gave up.

However, I also suspect that the typically high-spending Yankees and Dodgers are trying to get under the $197M base threshold this off-season because they want to spend big next off-season.  The Dodgers want flexibility to re-sign Clayton Kershaw, this generation’s Sandy Koufax, if he has a 2018 season in line with his career averages and opts out of his current contract; and the Yankees want flexibility to throw money at Manny Machado next off-season.

Notes on NPB Free Agents

March 2, 2018

I had long thought that NPB free agent contracts were effectively limited to four years in length.  I may well be wrong.

Some reporting says that last off-season, Taiwanese NPB star Daikan Yoh (real name Yang Dai-kang) may have signed a five year long deal with NPB’s wealthiest club, the Yomiuri Giants.  In fact, free agency exists in NPB only because the Yomiuri Giants in the early 1990’s wanted to make it easier for themselves to pry away the best veteran players from the other NPB teams.

An NPB player becomes a domestic free agent after seven or eight seasons of major league play, depending on whether the player is initially signed out of high school (8 yrs) or college/industrial league (7 yrs).  A domestic free agent effectively forces a trade, by being able to sign with another NPB team (usually but not always one of NPB’s three rich teams) with the team losing the free agent getting to select an unprotected player from the signing team and/or getting a cash payment.  For example, when the Yomiuri Giants signed Yoh last off-season, his former team the Nippon Ham Fighters elected to receive solely a portion (60%) of Yoh’s 2016 salary, which came out to a payment of 96 million yen ($900,000).

An NPB player becomes an international (true) free agent after nine full seasons of major league service.  He is then free to sign with anyone without his former team receiving compensation.  Needless to say, a very small percentage of NPB players play in NPB’s major leagues long enough to become true free agents.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that if a player elects to become a domestic free agent (NPB players must affirmatively elect to become a free agent, and for mainly cultural reasons, many players choose not to exercise their domestic free agent options) and signs with another NPB team, he cannot become an international (true) free agent for four more seasons beyond the seven or eight it took to become a domestic free agent.

As you may have surmised, the best NPB free agents who sign with NPB clubs typically sign four year contracts, since that is how long it will take for them to become free agents again.  These players are typically the best NPB players who aren’t quite good enough to tempt MLB teams or wish to stay in Japan for their own reasons.  Like the de facto 600 million yen annual salary cap (no one in NPB history has ever received a contract for more than 650 million yen in a season and that was only former MLB closer Kazuhiro Sasaki after he returned to NPB on a one-season deal), the four year de facto limit for free agent contracts is determined by the circumstances rather than by an actual rule.

It’s unlikely any NPB player will be good enough to earn more than 650 million yen in a season any time soon, because any such player has already left for MLB and its vastly higher salaries.  For example, the Yomiuri Giants once offered Hideki Matsui $61 million for ten seasons, but he elected to sign with the New York Yankees and made more than $83 million over his 10 year MLB career.  That’s small potatoes compared to Masahiro Tanaka‘s and Yu Darvish‘s more recent MLB contracts.

Reportedly, Daikan Yoh was particularly concerned with a long-term deal, rather than on maximizing his salary per season over a four year deal, and he had other suitors which (may have) convinced Yomiuri to give him a fifth season.  Probably the fact that Yoh is a foreign player (although he may not be considered a “foreign” player for purposes of NPB major league roster limits since he was apparently drafted by the Fighters in the NPB amateur draft in 2007 — he’d have become a free agent much sooner if treated as a foreign player for roster limits) had something to do with his insistence on breaking the unwritten rules.

Texas Rangers Give Tim Lincecum Major League Contract

February 28, 2018

The Texas Rangers have reportedly agreed to give Tim Lincecum a major league contract to pitch for them pending a physical.  The amount of the guarantee hasn’t been reported, but I would guess it’s between $1M and $1.5M, given Lincecum’s veteran status and how they intend to use him.

In his recent showcase, Lincecum reportedly hit 90-93 mph on the radar gun and his breaking ball was sharper than when last seen.  The early word is that the Rangers intend to have Lincecum pitch out of the bullpen, and there is even a possibility he could compete for the closer role.

Lincecum famously wanted to continue to be a starter, but with a year away from the game, he may be willing to do whatever the Rangers want.  Lincecum has only pitched in relief in eight regular season games.  However, he has also made seven relief appearances in the post-season and was terrific in those appearances, mostly pitching long relief throwing at least 1.2 IP and as many as 4.1 IP in six of the appearances.

It will be interesting to see if Timmy can claw back a little of his old glory.  As a Giants fan, I will always root for him to succeed, and I’m also glad he didn’t sign with the reportedly interested Dodgers.

Perverse Incentives

February 22, 2018

On the subject of Kenta Maeda‘s contract with the Dodgers, one obvious problem with the contract, at least as far as Maeda is concerned, is that none of the incentives are applicable to relief pitching.  This could create perverse incentives for the Dodgers going forward.

Two off-seasons ago, Maeda signed an incentive laden deal that guaranteed him $25 million over eight seasons, but could be worth $105 if every performance incentive is achieved.  Maeda made just over $20 million over his first two seasons of the deal, because he met many of the performance incentives.

However, by the end of the 2017 post-season, it’s a real question how much longer Maeda will be a regular major league starter.  He made 25 starts in 2017, but was dropped from the Dodgers’ deep starting rotation several times. At the same time, in 10.2 relief innings pitched in the post-season against the highest level of competition, Maeda allowed only a single run, suggesting that his MLB future may eventually come down to pitching out of the pen.  Needless to say, some Japanese ace starters in NPB have proven more effective as relievers in MLB — see, Kohi Uehara.

Maeda isn’t likely to take the Dodgers closer role from Kenley Jansen in the short term absent the latter’s injury, but it’s easy to imagine Maeda becoming the Dodgers’ top set up man.  The Dodgers will have to make that decision based on what is best for the team, but if Maeda as a top bullpen pitcher comes to pass, Maeda is screwed.

Maeda’s agents negotiated a contract based solely on Maeda as a starter.  If he becomes a top Dodger reliever, he’ll only earn $3.275 a year.  Brandon Morrow, the Dodgers’ top set-up man in 2017, just signed a two-year $21 million deal with the Cubs.  You can see the potential unhappiness that Maeda will feel if the Dodgers decide that his greatest value is in the bullpen.

Precisely because no one can predict the future, if I were the Dodgers management, I would offer to re-open Maeda’s contract now solely for the purpose of creating some performance incentives for relief appearances and games finished.  Maeda wants to be a starter, and the Dodgers want Maeda to a starter, but if it becomes apparent that Maeda’s greatest value to the team is out of the bullpen, then that’s what has to happen.

The Dodgers should get ahead of the situation by negotiating some relief pitcher incentives with Maeda.  They wouldn’t necessarily have to be too generous, since all the parties realize the Dodgers don’t have to renegotiate relief incentives in the first place.

Performance Incentives and Contract Negotiating Inertia

February 22, 2018

Years ago before I started this blog in April 2009 I wondered why you didn’t see major league contracts that contained as much or more incentive money than guaranteed money.  It seemed fairly obvious to me that for players over 29 or 30 coming off a bad year following at least some very good years in the not too distant past, they would be ideal candidates for contracts that didn’t guarantee much up front but could pay the player generously if he was able to recapture a some portion of his old magic.

At the time, I more or less assumed that there were limitations set by the collective bargaining agreement regarding just how much of a major league contract would be in the form of incentives.  However, since starting this blog, I’ve looked through the collective bargaining agreements and never seen anything that limits the amount or percentage of the contract that can be payable as performance incentives that have to be earned.

Instead, I do believe there are written or unwritten limits on the nature of performance incentives.  You can’t get a performance incentive for winning 20 games or hitting 30 home runs, but you can get an incentive based on playing in a certain number of games, accumulating a certain number of plate appearances or pitching a certain number of innings.  You can also get performance incentives for winning or finishing in the top five of Cy Young or MVP voting or by making the All-Star team.

In the last few years, we’ve seen all kinds of contracts which are mostly performance incentives.  Today, Chris Tillman finalized a deal with the Orioles that guarantees him $3 million, but contains an additional $7 million in innings pitched incentives.  Two off-seasons ago, the Dodgers signed Japanese hurler Kenta Maeda to a deal that guaranteed Maeda $25 million over eight seasons but could be worth a potential $105 million if all of the many, many different performance incentives were achieved.

Assuming that there were in fact no collectively bargained limitations on contracts for which 70% to 80% of the value of the contract was in the form of performance incentives, why did it take so long for teams and players to reach the kinds of deals that we see routinely now?  It is particularly strange when you consider that for a very long time minor league contracts for veteran players have routinely provided the player 7 to 10 times as much money for major league roster time as for minor league roster time.

I think that a lot of it has to do with the inertia of past contract negotiating practice, as I suggested in one of yesterday’s posts.  In the past, a player worth a guaranteed major league contract (and his agent) expected that most of the money of the contract would in fact be guaranteed.  That was the whole purpose of collectively negotiating for guaranteed annual contracts.  Everyone in MLB was a little suspicious of the idea of major league contracts that provided more than t0% or 20% of the potential contract amount as unguaranteed performance incentives.  So long as both players and managers took for granted certain salary structures, there wasn’t much reason to adopt a different form of contract, even if it would have made a great deal of sense to do so.

Why have things changed in recent years?  I think Maeda’s contract really changed the way everyone in MLB viewed MLB contracts, and his contract was based on certain somewhat unique circumstances that at the time seemingly applied only to him.  As a Japanese star, Maeda was basically guaranteed a four-year $20 million contract in NPB when he became a free agent.  NPB limits free agent contracts to a maximum of four years and has a de facto salary scale that made Maeda’s future NPB earnings highly predictable.

The Dodgers eight year $25 million offer beat any guarantee Maeda was likely to get from an NPB team (plus, of course, Maeda was determined to test himself against the best in MLB).  Also, Maeda is a small right-hander who had thrown a lot of NPB innings.  MLB has had a long-standing prejudice against small right-handed pitchers, particularly when they’ve already thrown a lot of innings.

I think Maeda’s contract was something of a revelation for MLB teams.  Reliable MLB 4th and 5th starters now command $6M to $10M a season (see e.g., Jhoulys Chacin), and the Dodgers were getting someone potentially better than that for a guarantee of less than $4 million a season.

Meanwhile, the contract has worked out for Maeda, who has pitched well enough and often enough to make far more money pitching for the Dodgers than he could have made in Japan.  In fact, I suspect that the Dodgers in 2017 made it a point to get Maeda his 25th start, when another performance incentive kicked in, because Maeda was clearly worth the extra money and the contract hadn’t taken into account that Maeda might be highly valuable to the the team as a sometime relief pitcher.

The other big factor is how much starting pitchers are now worth.  Chris Tillman was really good from 2013 through 2016, but was pretty awful in 2017.  He isn’t worth more than a $3 million guarantee based on his age (30 in 2018) and his 2017 performance, but if he returns to his 2013-2016 form in 2018, a reasonable possibility, he could easily be worth $10 million.  He’s going to have to be pretty good to pitch 200 innings, when the last of the incentives kicks in, in a season in today’s game.

Once one team and player do something obvious but contrary to prior practice, then all the other teams quickly jump in.  You could say the same, for example, for the Dodgers signing Jackie Robinson in 1946.  However, until that first team and player do it, everyone is worried about the possibility that a dramatic change will upset the apple cart.

Teams have always wanted to pay players based on their immediate past performance and anticipated immediate future performance.  It’s just taken awhile for the contract negotiators to catch up.