Archive for the ‘Mexican League’ category

Knuckleheads

April 28, 2018

One thing every baseball blogger needs is something to get exercised about.  Knucklehead ballplayers are a great source for vituperative writing.

For that reason, I kind of miss the end of the professional careers of Milton Bradley and Sidney Ponson.  They provided countless opportunities for my digital venting.

Now, if a player is kind of a jerk, but really, really good, everyone in the baseball world kind of puts up with him, at least so long as he remains at the top his game.  Think Barry Bonds.  But the moment the player begins to slip, then everyone is quick to jump in and get their digs.

With that in mind, I’ve kept my eyes open for a knucklehead worthy of Bradley and Ponson.  Some players are just so bad, they’re disgusting and quickly out of the game like Aaron Hernandez.  Other promising contenders like Matt Bush end up (apparently) learning something and turning their lives around .

What you need is a guy who is just bad enough that he hangs around so you can be righteously indignant every time a team that should know better signs him anyway.

A guy I’ve got my eye on is former marginal MLB pitcher Josh Lueke (pronounced like loogie with a k).  You may or may not remember Lueke for an incident that happened back in 2010 when he was a throw-in prospect who went to the Mariners in the deal that sent Cliff Lee to the Rangers.

The Mariners at the time were taking a leading role in MLB in speaking out against violence against women.  However, the Mariners traded for Lueke, who had spent most of the previous summer in the Bakersfield, California jail after being accused of sexually assaulting a young woman he brought home from a bar, which even a cursory internet search would have revealed (which I well know: I was one of the first to report Lueke’s legal problem which I had discovered through a cursory internet search when the trade was announced).  The allegations were pretty disgusting, but there was a lot of alcohol involved, and ultimately Lueke got off relatively easy in all respects except for his reputation.

The M’s understandably caught a lot of flack for the move, and they eventually traded him off to Tampa Bay, although not until after he had gotten lit up for a 6.06 ERA in 25 major league relief appearances for them in 2011.  Lueke has a major league arm, but after unsuccessful major league stints with the Rays in each of 2012 through 2014, he ended up in the Mexican League in 2015, presumably because at age 30, he was no longer worth the baggage that came with him.

Lueke not surprisingly had a big year in the Mexican League — he’s got a major league arm — and was signed by the Yakult Swallows in 2016 for an estimated $330,000.  He had a good year, posting a 3.06 ERA and 60 Ks in 64.2 relief innings pitched, and the Swallows brought him back in 2017 for an estimated $687,000, a hefty raise and MLB money anyway you slice it.

Lueke was even better in 2017, recording a 2.97 ERA, 22 holds and seven saves, while striking out 70 in only 60.2 innings pitched.  Lueke had made a success of himself in a league that would pay him major league money and where few likely knew much if anything about his past.

Alas, the knucklehead in him struck again.  The Swallows are a small-market NPB team, and apparently their offer for the 2018 season wasn’t to Lueke’s liking, because he skipped a team practice on October 2, 2017, the day before the Swallows’ last game in a season in which they finished dead last 29.5 games out of the play-offs (team practices in these circumstances are not usual in NPB — it’s a Japanese thing — fighting spirit and all that).  The Swallows suspended him for the last game, didn’t bring him back in 2018 and no other NPB team did either.

As an American (and a knucklehead), you can’t necessarily expect Lueke to understand how important it is in Japanese baseball for players to show respect and for the team to save face.  Still, that’s usually one the first things players from the Americas are told by the foreigners already there, and Lueke had been in the league two seasons.

Anyway, in 2018, Lueke is back in the Mexican League as the league’s best closer.  Now aged 33, MLB teams apparently decided he was too old for his baggage to offer him a minor league no matter how well he had pitched in NPB the year before.

So, Lueke has apparently worn out his welcome in both MLB and NPB, and he’s presumably making somewhere between $8,000 (the official league cap) and $15,000 (more likely if the rumors are to be believed) a month to pitch in Mexico, but in any event far, far less than the $800K or $900K the Swallows almost certainly would have been willing to pay him if he hadn’t stepped on his dick.

If, in fact, no NPB team can or will bring Lueke back to Japan, then his opportunities for better future pay-days are extremely limited.  KBO and CPBL teams only sign starting pitchers, and Lueke hasn’t started a game in his professional career.  A relief pitcher of Lueke’s abilities who wears out his welcome in both MLB and NPB is certainly a worthy candidate for Knucklehead of the moment.

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Lee Dae-ho Elects to Rest on His Laurels

April 13, 2018

AKA Dae-Ho Lee is looking like a guy who has finally decided to just stop fighting it.

After signing a record 4-year $12.9 million KBO deal and giving the Lotte Giants one fine season in 2017, it sure looks like Lee has decided there’s no point for the Big Boy to fight the Pig Tiger anymore, with an emphasis on the former animal.  The photo reminds me of Japhet Amador  in the Mexican League, only older and more beer gut, and I’m certainly old enough to know.

After an O.K. start this season in the first half dozen games, Lee’s current .623 OPS after 16 games and conditioning suggest that in his age 36 season, he’s going to enjoy his time until the weight catches up with him and he gets hurt.

When it was a question of him establishing himself as a World Class player entitled to World Class salaries, Lee was willing to work on the conditioning.  Five years can be a long time in a baseball career, and now Lee is through pushing himself away from the dinner table.  Hell, he’s got nearly three full years left on his guaranteed contract.

For a massive 1B/DH type, he’s put in plenty through age 35.  I’m kind of surprised he lasted this long.

The Ten Best Colombian Players in MLB History

December 27, 2017

I enjoyed writing my recent post on The Ten Best Nicaraguan Players in MLB History, so I though it might be a good idea to write similar posts on the best players from other countries, particularly those that are not well known for generating major league players.  Without much further ado, below is a list of of the ten best players from Colombia, a country with a richer baseball history than many people realize.

Baseball has long been popular in Colombia, but mostly in the cities along the Caribbean coast.  The first Latin American player in MLB during the 20th was in fact born in Colombia, Luis “Lou” Castro, who played 42 games as a middle infielder for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1902.  He replaced HOFer Napoleon “Nap” LaJoie, when a Pennsylvania Court ruled that LaJoie couldn’t play for Philadelphia after jumping his contract with the National League’s Philadelphia Phillies to play in the new American League in 1901.  LaJoie was released from his contract with the Athletics and promptly signed with the Cleveland Broncos, who later came to be known as the Indians.

Like many Latino baseball players of baseball’s early days, Castro came from a wealthy background. He came to New York City at the age of 8 to get educated and to make the kinds of contacts that could be expected to benefit him later in life.  The story is similar for Estaban “Steve” Bellan, a Cuban who was sent to NYC for an education, who became the first Latino major leaguer playing parts of three seasons in the old National Association, baseball’s first all professional league, before returning to Cuba and becoming instrumental in the eventual establishment as Cuba’s most popular sport.  Unlike Bellan, Castro spent the rest of his life living in the United States.

1 & 2.  Edgar Rentaria (1996-2011) & Orlando Cabrera (1997-2011).  Two shortstops who played at the same time, it’s hard to talk about one without mentioning the other, because of their Colombian heritage and their similar career stats.  Rentaria’s career batting numbers are a little better, and he is likely the better player solely based on the fact that he got on base a lot more than Cabrera (.343 OBP compared to .317).  The raw defensive numbers suggest that Cabrera was a slightly better fielder.

3. & 4.  Jose Quintana (2012-2017) & Julio Teheran (2011-2017).  Two pitchers also linked by heritage, career periods and stats: Quintana has a career record of 57-57 with a 3.53 ERA, while Teheran is 58-53 with 3.59 ERA.  Fangraphs, whoever, says that Quintana’s career has been more than twice as valuable ($181 million to $85 million) than Teheran.

5.  Ernesto Frieri (2009-2017).  The all-time saves leader among Colombian born major leaguers with 73.

6.  Jolbert Cabrera (1998-2008).  Orlando Cabrera’s older brother, Jolbert wasn’t nearly as good.  Jolbert was a useful jack-of-all-trades guy who played semi-regularly for the Indians in 2001, the Dodgers in 2003 and the Mariners in 2004, as part of an eight year major league career.  He also played a couple of seasons in Japan’s NPB and finished his summer baseball career in Mexico at the age of 39.

7. & 8.  Donovan Solano (2012-2016) & Jackie Gutierrez (1983-1988).  A couple of light-hitting middle infielders, Solano played semi-regularly for the Marlins mostly at 2B from 2012 through 2014, while Gutierrez was the starting shortstop for the 1984 Boston Red Sox.  Solano is still playing at AAA, so he still has a chance to move up the list.  Gutierrez’s father represented Colombia in the 1936 Olympics as a sprinter and javelin thrower.

9.  Jorge Alfaro (2016-2017).  Alfaro is a 24 year old catcher/1Bman for the Phillies who hasn’t done a whole lot in MLB so far, except show a lot of promise with his bat.

10 (tied).  Orlando Ramirez (1974-1979) & Giovanny Urshala (2015-2017).  Another light-hitting middle infielder, Ramirez was the first Colombian player of the post-World War II era.  However, he never hit at the major league level and finished his five year major league career with only 53 hits.  Ramirez is also Jackie Gutierrez’ brother in law.

Urshala is a 3Bman who hasn’t hit much in two seasons with the Indians.  He’s young enough, though, that he still has a chance to knock Orlando Ramirez out of the top ten.

At least 20 Colombian-born players have played in MLB.  They have disproportionately been middle infielders.

What Do Players in the Mexican League Make?

July 30, 2017

I’ve been trying to figure out exactly what the respective salary scales are throughout the world’s professional baseball leagues.  The Mexican (summer) League numbers were hard to find on line in English.  Thanks to Google Translate, I think I’ve been able to figure out what the current salary caps in this league now are.

The best information I’ve been able to find is that domestic veteran players (Mexican Nationals) max out at 150,000 pesos per month, or $8,450 per month at current exchange rates.  Foreign players cannot be paid more than either $6,000 or $6,500 per month for their first season of Mexican League baseball, but can eventually earn as much as $8,000 per month.  However, some of the Spanish language posts I read in translation asserted a belief that the best foreign and domestic players on the wealthiest Mexican League teams are making significantly more through rule-breaking, performance bonuses, free housing and other stipends.  Also, there are reportedly no state or federal taxes on salaries in Mexico.

The fact that Mexican League salaries are at least 50% higher than I had previously thought they were explains a few things I had been wondering about.  Many foreign players, particularly Latin American players, play in the Mexican League for years after their careers in the MLB system end, something you don’t typically see in the Independent-A Atlantic League where salaries cap at $3,000 per month.  The talent flow is almost exclusively from the Atlantic League to the Mexican League, which makes sense if the salaries are significantly higher.

It also explains something that I had noticed this year.  Taiwanese CPBL teams seem to have a strong preference for signing Atlantic League players over Mexican League players, even though the best foreign pitchers in the latter league are succeeding against a higher level of competition.  This is particularly the case once the CPBL season has started.

Atlantic League players can presumably be signed for much lower initial contracts than better paid Mexican League foreign stars, particularly in light of the fact that success in the CPBL would eventually lead to annual or monthly contracts considerably larger than either the Atlantic League or the Mexican League, plus a chance to move up to even bigger salaries in South Korea’s KBO or Japan’s NPB.

Also, Mexican League teams typically charge much larger transfer fees for their players’ rights than do Atlantic League teams.  Part of the reason Atlantic League and other Independent-A teams are able to pay such modest salaries is that they allow their successful players to move up to better baseball pay-days for only nominal transfer fees the moment a better opportunity comes along.

I would guestimate that the current transfer fee for an Atlantic League player is around $5,000, and a small percentage of that (20-25%) may go the player.  Mexican League teams are far more reluctant to sell their players cheaply in season if they believe those players will help them make the post-season or can be sold for a substantial transfer fee.

With respect to the Mexican Pacific League (LMP), Mexico’s winter league, I haven’t been able to find any information on salaries, but I suspect that the most a player can earn is around $10,000 to $12,000 per month for a 2.5 month season.  However, veteran foreign players like Chris Roberson, who is playing in his 13th LMP season and is good enough to play on Mexico’s team in the Caribbean Series, may be making even more.

The Caribbean Series is a big deal in the five countries that participate (Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Venezuela), and it’s doubleheader games typically sell out and are thus likely significantly more expensive to buy tickets to see than Winter League regular season games.  However, the whole series is only played out across about one week, which obviously limits how much participating players make for playing in these games.