Archive for the ‘Milwaukee Brewers’ category

What Could He Possibly Have Been Thinking?

September 19, 2019

The news today out of Pittsburgh is that Felipe Vazquez has confessed to police his attempt to have sex with a then 13 year old girl and to sending her pornographic photos and videos of himself having sex with someone else.  What could he possibly have been thinking to mess around with a girl that young?

Is it simply that some successful professional athletes feel so entitled that they think can get away with anything?  Is he just incredibly stupid?  Does he have some deep personality flaw or episode from his past that made him think that screwing around with a girl that young was a good idea?

Now, I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck — I know that some men well over the age of 21 screw around with under-age girls.  Hell, I remember that a few girls when I was in middle school and high school (8th, 9th and 10th graders) were dating men well over 20.  The girls I remember were 13 or 14 or 15, but looked like they were going on 19 or 20.  However, the latest reporting suggests that Vazquez knew this girl was well under-age the first time he spoke with her at a Pirates game and initially told her she was too young, but then apparently changed his mind.

The thing that is different between Vazquez and your average 25+ year old jail bate chaser/predator is that Vazquez has a job in the public eye for which he is paid millions of dollars a year, a job where public relations is incredibly important to the gravy train the players and management all enjoy.

However, I also remember that once upon a time, it simply wasn’t that big a deal when ball players fooled around with under-age girls.  For example, Luis Polonia got in trouble back in 1989 for having sex with a 15 year old girl he picked up at a game in Milwaukee, back in his hotel room.  It got media attention at the time, but it didn’t impact his professional future in any significant way.

“Nutsy,” which is what one of my college friends (an A’s fan) called him even before the rape charge, was sentenced to 60 days in jail for statutory rape (or some lesser pleaded-to charge), paid a $1,500 fine and was ordered make a $10,000 contribution to a sexual assault treatment center in Milwaukee.  Luis earned $182,500 that year and was probably able to take the ordered charitable contribution as a tax deduction.

The judge in Polonia’s case allowed him to serve the brief sentence during the off-season, and at the start of the 1990, Polonia resumed his major league career as if nothing had happened, making most of career earnings in subsequent seasons.

Vazquez was 26 when his crimes occurred, only a year older than Polonia was in 1989.  Also, Vazquez apparently did not actually succeed in having sex with his 13 year old, although it sounds like he certainly tried.

However, times have sure changed since 1989.  Today, Vazquez will be seen as a sexual predator in a way that Polonia, during the boys-will-be-boys 1980’s, was not.  I will be very surprised if Vazquez receives only a 60-day sentence or something reasonably close to 60 days today.

My guess is that once Vazquez is formally charged, the Pirates will seek to void the remaining $14.5 million guarantee on his current contract, and that in spite of his exceptional baseball abilities, no other major league team will be eager to sign him, even at a bargain price.  I don’t see that MLB will be able to permanently ban Vazquez and make it stick in the face of a union grievance hearing, based on the limited discipline Polonia and other players received in the past for similar crimes.  Still, that may not prevent teams from effectively black-listing Vazquez if no one is willing to deal with the incredibly bad publicity that such a future signing would generate in today’s America.

I, for one, won’t feel sorry Vazquez if his criminal and professional punishments are significantly greater than those suffered by Polonia 30 years ago.  Times have indeed changed with respect to society’s attitudes about the sexual exploitation of girls and women, and it has long since been time for knuckleheads like Vazquez to get what is rightfully coming to them, particularly if it sends a message to every over age 21 male in America about the possible consequences of sexually exploiting 13 to 15 year olds.

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That’s Baseball

September 11, 2019

I’m sad to hear that Christian Yelich has a busted kneecap and his 2019 season is over.  He’s an exceptional talent in his age 27 season, and it would have been nice to see him play out the season to see what kind of final numbers he could have put up.  That, and the fact that he was probably the leading candidate for the Senior Circuit’s MVP award.  Now Cody Bellinger is looking like an obvious choice.

The Brute Crew were in 3rd place for the two wild card spots, so Yelich’s injury will make it harder to make the post-season.  However, what was once Beer City (how much beer is still made in Milwaukee?) is still only two back in the loss column to the Cubbies, and the Brewers have won five in a row.  Repeat after me — one player doesn’t make that much difference.  The Brewers could now collapse, or keep winning to pick up for their best player or (most likely) keep winning at the same rate they have won so far (10 of their remaining 18 games) and just miss the play-offs.

That’s why they play all of the games – there are no guarantees.

Busy Trade Deadline Day for San Francisco Giants

August 1, 2019

After being up in the air about how they were going to go into the trade deadline, the Giants made a flury of moves that kind of split the difference.  The Giants sent away relievers Sam Dyson, Mark Melancon, Drew Pomeranz and Ray Black, held onto Madison Bumgarner and Will Smith, and added 2Bmen Scooter Gennett and Mauricio Dubon and a bunch of B and C-grade prospects.

Dyson was the only really important piece for the Giants in 2019, and the Giants got three prospects for his last 1.33 seasons of control.  The three prospects are Prelander Berroa, a 19 year old right-hander who has never pitched above the rookie league level; Jaylin Davis, a just turned 25 year old outfielder who is a former 24th round draft pick but is having a big year this year in the high minors; and Kei-Wei Teng, a big (6’4″, 260 lbs) Taiwanese right-hander pitching well at full season A ball this year at age 20.

After a promotion from AA, Jaylin Davis was slashing .331/.405/.708 after 41 games for AAA Rochester, and he runs well. However, his career minor league .812 OPS is probably a better reflection of his true talents.  MLB.com doesn’t rank any of the three prospects the Giants received as being in the Twins’ top 30.

The Giants got a big return from the Brewers for Drew Pomeranz and Ray Black.  Just turned 25 2Bman Mauricio Dubon was slashing .297/.333/.475 after 427 plate appearances at AAA San Antonio.  Dubon was born in Honduras and went to high school in Sacramento.  He is just the second Honduran born player in major league history — the first was Gerald Young.

The trades involving Mark Melancon and Scooter Gennett were mostly about moving salary for the selling teams.  The Braves will reportedly pay all of Melancon’s remaining contract, which is close to $19M through the end of the 2020 season.  The prospects the Giants got in return reflect it.  Righties Tristan Beck and Dan Winkler don’t impress much.

Beck is a former 4th round draft pick out of Stanford, but missed all of the 2017 season to a stress fracture in his back.  Now age 23, he has an ugly 5.65 ERA in the normally pitcher-friendly Class A+ Florida State League after eight starts this season.  After a fine major league campaign last year at age 28, Dan Winkler pitched his way out of the Braves’ bullpen this year and has had trouble throwing strikes for AAA Gwinnett.

The Giants gave the Reds “cash considerations” for Scooter Gennett, which I assume means that the Giants will be paying all of the remaining $3.25 million owed to Gennett, plus maybe another $25,000 or $50,000.  Gennett has been awful this year since coming back from an injury.  It doesn’t seem likely he’ll hit better in pitcher-friendly San Francisco than he did in hitter-friendly Cincinnati, but you never know.  One thing is for certain — the additions of Dubon and Gennett mean that Joe Panik‘s playing time will be limited going forward unless he gets hot immediately.  It also seems almost certain the Giants will non-tender Panik this off-season.

In another very minor move, the Giants swapped lefty Jacob Lopez for LF/1B Joe McCarthy.  I’m doubtful either player ever reaches the majors, but again, you never know.

The Giants promoted Derek Rodriguez, Andrew Suarez and Jandel Gustave today to replace the traded away bullpen pieces.  None of the three deserved the promotion more than Sam Selman.  However, the odds that all three of Rodriguez, Suarez and Gustave can hold their major league roster spots seem slim, so Selman may get his shot soon enough.

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.

2019 NPB Update

June 21, 2019

Up until March of this year, yakyudb.com was my go-to source for Japanese baseball news beyond the box scores available on NPB’s English-language website.  However, Yakyu DB hasn’t posted since the eve of the 2019 season, and until about a week ago, I was hard pressed to find any good information in English.  Then I found Jim Allen’s blog, and I can start to get a little “color” again beyond the box scores and leader boards.

Here is a run-down of some of the things that have been happening in NPB as we approach the 2019 season’s half-way mark.

Former New York Yankee Zelous Wheeler became the Rakuten Golden Eagles’ first foreign player to reach 100 NPB home runs a few days ago.

Former Seattle Mariner Jose Lopez set an NPB record for 1Bmen by playing 1,632 consecutive chances without an error.  The streak began on August 31, 2017 and ended on June 2, 2019, thus enabling Lopez to become in 2018 the first qualifying NPB 1Bman to record a 1.000 fielding percentage for a full season.  You may remember that Lopez played mostly 2B and 3B in the MLB majors.  He’s now an bigger, slower power-hitter, but he’s still got the same soft hands.

Shinnosuke Abe, a catcher who was an MLB major league talent who never left Japan, became the 19th player in NPB to hit 400 home runs on June 1st.

Rakuten Golden Eagles ace and likely future MLBer Takahiro Norimoto made his first minor league rehab appearance a few days ago.  He hit 150 kph (93.2 mph) on consecutive pitches.  Norimoto says he’s now at “60%” but he should be pitching in the NPB majors within about a month.  He had his elbow cleaned out of loose bodies in late March.

Another MLB major league caliber star, Yuki Yanagita won’t be back until late July after tearing a muscle behind his knee early in the season.  Yanagita became only the second player in NPB history (the other being Sadaharu Oh) last season to lead his league in on-base percentage and slugging percentage for the fourth year in a row.  He’s unlikely to get enough plate appearances this year to do it for the fifth consecutive season.

Daisuke (“Dice-K”) Matsuzaka is at age 38 working on another come back.  He’s pitched effectively in two minor league appearances for the Chunichi Dragons.  Former Seattle Mariner Hisashi Iwamura is also attempting to come back at age 38.  He’s training at the Yomiuri Giants’ minor league facility but hasn’t pitched in game-action yet.

Former MLBer Norichika Aoki collected his 1,500th NPB hit and 100th NPB home run early this season for the Yakult Swallows.  Although Aoki has played well, it hasn’t been a good year for the Swallows — they tied an NPB record with 16 consecutive losses in a streak that ended on June 2nd.  The NPB Central League’s best team of the last few seasons, the Hiroshima Carp, turned their 2019 season around recently with an 11 game winning streak.

Another former MLBer reliever Ryota Igarashi celebrated his 40th birthday on May 29th by pitching his 800th NPB game.  Including his 83 MLB major league appearances, he’s pitched in 889 major league games and counting.

A 20 year old minor leaguer named Yuto Furuya became the first Japanese left-hander to throw a 100 mph pitch in game action earlier this season.  Unfortunately, he still has no idea where the strike zone is, so it may be some time before he reaches the NPB majors.

A couple of NPB foreign “rookies” I’ve been watching closely this year are Taiwan’s Wang Po-Jung and the Virgin Islands’ Jabari Blash.

Wang hit .400 in consecutive seasons (2016-2017) in Taiwan’s CPBL, earning him a lucrative three-year deal to play with the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters starting in 2019, his age 25 season.  Wang’s .291 batting average is currently 10th best in NPB’s Pacific League, but his OPS is only .744, because he has yet to hit for any power in Japan.  There has been talk that Wang might one day be an MLB-level talent, but for now I expect him to peak as an NPB star.

After a slow start, Blash has gotten hot and is now one of the Pacific League’s most productive hitters.  I’ve been writing for a couple of years now that he was an ideal candidate to try to become an NPB star.  He waited until he was an old 29 (he turns 30 on July 4th), but it looks like he has now firmly established himself as an NPB star.  I’d guess he has at least four more good NPB seasons in him after this one.

Cuban players have an out-sized role now among NPB foreign players, nowhere more so than for the SoftBank Hawks. Four of the Hawks’ seven foreign players starting the 2019 season are Cubans — Alfredo Despaigne, Yurisbel Graciel, Livan Moinelo and Ariel Miranda.  Miranda is the only defector and former MLB-system player in the bunch: Despaigne, Graciel and Moinelo are all the product of contracting between Cuba’s baseball federation and the Hawks.

There are reasons to believe that none of Despaigne, Graciel or Moinelo were prime MLB prospects, and that this was part of the reasons why they never defected, but they’ve all sure played great in NPB and are making a hell of lot more money in Japan than they’d ever make in Cuba.

The Hiroshima Carp have something of a similar relationship with Dominican players.  Until recently a small market team, the Carp have maintained a baseball academy in the Dominican Republic, looking to turn up players who got overlooked by MLB.  They currently have two players — Xavier Batista and Geronimoa Franzua — who washed out of the low MLB minors, but are now helping the Carp win ballgames a few years after asking for a second chance at the Carps’ Dominican academy.  Sometimes beating the bushes will turn up some legitimate baseball talent.

Mr. Inconsistent

June 10, 2019

I just noticed that 33 year old Eric Sogard has a .799 OPS for the Toronto Blue Jays and has hit a career high five home runs so far in the still young 2019 season. He’s set his personal long-ball best in only 159 plate appearances.

I remember Sogard from when he was a glove-tree middle infielder and semi-regular for the A’s a few years ago.  He played in between 117 and 130 games three years in a row for the A’s, but the Oakland Coliseum is a tough place to hit, and two years with OPS totals below .600 and a knee injury in 2016 drummed him out of the major leagues.

He caught on with the Milwaukee Brewers’ organization in 2017 and a fast start at AAA Colorado Springs got him another shot in the Show.  He got off to an extremely hot start with the Brewers, as the team went from losing 89 the year before to winning 86 in 2017.

Sogard had a .900 OPS as late as July 23rd that season, but cooled off considerably in the second half and finished with a .770 OPS.  Along with Eric Thames, Travis Shaw and Domingo Santana, Sogard was one of the real offensive surprises and/or bright spots in the Brewers’ line-up that year.

Alas, in 2018 Sogard came crashing back down to earth.  In fact, he was absolutely horrible, slashing an awful .134/.241/.165 in 113 plate appearance, before the Brewers released him on July 10th.  The organization re-signed him, but when he didn’t play better in the minors, the Brewers released him again on September 1st.

At the time, I thought that Sogard’s 2018 was an extreme case of the law of averages coming back to take its revenge on Sogard’s fine 2017 season.  Also, Sogard was 32 in 2018, an age at which performance drops sharply for a lot of players, and I expected that we’d probably never see Sogard in the majors again.

Instead, the Blue Jays signed Sogard to a minor league contract, he got off to a reasonably good start at AAA Buffalo and got a call up on April 15th when the Jays decided that Lourdes Gurriel needed more minor league seasoning.

As in Milwaukee in 2017, Sogard got off to a hot start with the Jays and has been cooling off since the start of May.  Even so, he’s been a relative bright spot on a very bad 2019 Blue Jays team, which is mainly in the process of developing some young stars so that the team can be better in the not too distant future.

At some point soon enough one would expect that Lourdes Gurriel will go back to being the Jays’ every day 2Bman, and Sogard will move back into a bench role.  However, the Jays’ outfield has hit so poorly this season that right now Gurriel is playing in left field, and Sogard may remain at second so long as he can continue to provide more offense than the Jays’ outfielders.

My Favorite Minor League Stars 2019

June 8, 2019

Every year I like to write about current or former minor league stars who have particularly captured my attention and/or imagination.  Here is this season’s edition:

Mike Loree and Josh Lowey.  Two pitchers who never reached the major leagues (or even got close), but have carved out professional success because they can pitch.  Both are 34 this year.

Mike Loree is currently in his seventh CPBL season and continues to be the best pitcher in Taiwan, although another former SF Giants farm hand, Henry Sosa, gave Loree a run for his money this season until having his contract purchased for a return to South Korea’s KBO last week.  I wrote about Mike Loree yesterday.

Josh Lowey is in his sixth season in LMB and he is to the Mexican League what Loree is to the CPBL.  Lowey is also 33.  Lowey has started the 2019 LMB season 8-0, and his 3.91, while on its face high, is actually the ninth best in a 16-team circuit known for its offense.  Lowey is now an incredible 63-24 in LMB play, a .724 winning percentage.  Unfortunately, Lowey has missed his last two starts.  He’s on the reserved list, rather than the Injured List, so maybe he’s dealing with a family emergency.

Cyle Hankerd and Blake Gailen.  Two more 34 year oldss who have never reached the MLB majors (or come particularly close) but who can play.  Hankerd, who was once a 3rd Round draft pick out of USC, is in his sixth season in LMB.  He has a 1.011 OPS so far in 2019, although he’s only played in 30 games.

A strong season in the Atlantic League last year got Blake Gailen a job playing for the Dodger’s AAA team in Oklahoma City.  I suspect he’s doing double duty as a coach, whether officially or not, based on the fact that he’s spent a lot of time on the Injured List and is only 3 for 19 when he’s played.  He won’t last much longer on the roster hitting like that, but I expect he’ll go into coaching when they tell him he can’t play any more.

Chris Roberson.  Now in his age 39 season, he’s still the undisputed American King of Mexican baseball.  He’s played nine seasons in LMB and at least 14 seasons in Mexico’s even better winter league (MXPW or LMP).  However, his current .893 OPS isn’t even in the LMB’s top 40 in what has been a great season for hitters south of the border.  If any American is making a good living playing baseball in Mexico, it’s Chris Roberson.

Another Mexican Leaguer who has captured my attention in the last year is Jose Vargas.  Once a 22nd round draft pick out of Ventura College, a JC in Ventura, California, Vargas quickly washed out of the White Sox’ system, after which he spent six (!) playing for the Traverse City Beach Bums of the Indy-A Frontier League.  Traverse City is by most accounts a great place to spend one’s summers; however, it’s hard to imagine being able to have a whole lot of fun on $1,600 a month, which is about where Frontier League salaries max out.

Vargas is big, has power and is able to play 3B, 1B and LF.  After paying his dues in the Frontier League, he was able to catch on with an LMB team in 2017, possibly due to the fact that LMB began treating Mexican American players as “domestic,” rather than “foreign” players for roster purposes around that time.

In his age 31 season, he’s leading LMB with 27 HRs in only 222 plate appearances, and his 1.220 OPS is third best in the league in spite of the fact that he doesn’t walk much.  I’m somewhat doubtful that Vargas is currently making the LMB’s $10,000 salary cap, because his team’s attendance is terrible (just below 2,200 per game), but the odds are good that if he isn’t earning it this year, he’ll get it next year in light of how well he’s now playing.

Karl Galinas .  A 35 year old Can-Am League pitcher, Galinas is the modern day equivalent of Lefty George.  George was a marginal major leaguer who pitched nearly forever in his adopted home town of York, Pennsylvania, where he also ran a bar.

Orlando Roman‘s baseball odyssey may not yet be over.  He’s made nine starts in the Puerto Rico Winter League over the last three winter seasons, so you can’t completely count him from making one or more in 2019-2020.  He pitched professionally for about 20 years in just about every league except the MLB majors.  He’s another pitcher like Mike Loree and Josh Lowey who has leveraged a not quite major league talent into the most successful professional career possible.

A couple of guys in the MLB minors I’m following are Tyler Alexander and John Nogowski.  Tyler Alexander got his start in Brewers’ system but was effectively banished from MLB after testing positive for pot a couple of times while he was having some personal problems.  He spent three years pitching great for Fargo-Moorhead in the American Association and wintering a couple of season in the LMP.

Last year, Alexander pitched effectively in LMB in the summer and in the Dominican League in the winter.  That got him a minor league contract with the A’s, who sent him to AAA Las Vegas.  So far, the results have not been encouraging.  Alexander has a 6.85 ERA after 11 start.  Although he’s struck out 46 batters in 47.1 innings pitched, the long ball has killed him.  I suspect the A’s haven’t yet moved him to the bullpen because they don’t have anyone they reasonably expect to pitch better as a starter in what is probably a terrific hitters’ park.

Last off-season, I thought that Alexander would be a great prospect for Taiwan’s CPBL.  It could still happen, since Alexander will be 28 next season, and isn’t going to last long with a 6.85 ERA at AAA, even in a hitters’ park.

I wrote about John Nogowski two years ago when, after getting bounced out of the A’s system, I noticed he was batting over .400 in the American Association at the still young age of 24.  I “predicted” he’d get signed by another MLB organization soon, and he was within about a week by the Cardinals’ organization.  More importantly, John wrote a comment on my article, becoming the first and so far only active professional player ever to comment on one of my articles.  Needless to say, I’ll be a fan of John’s for life.

Nogowski played well at AA Springfield in in 2018 and is playing fairly well this season at AAA Memphis at age 26.  He’s currently slashing .267/.402/.400.  He’s got major league get-on-base skills, but doesn’t have the power he needs for the position he plays (1B).  His talents might be more suited to Japan’s NPB, where the outfield fences are a little shorter.

At any rate, there’s still a chance that Nogowski could get a major league look this year, if things break right for him.  Unfortunately, he’s not currently on the Cards’ 40-man roster, which means he’ll have to get truly hot at AAA Memphis to bump somebody else off.