Archive for the ‘Minnesota Twins’ category

Yasmani Grandal’s Shocking One-Year Deal with the Milwaukee Brewers

January 10, 2019

The Brewers have reportedly reached agreement on a one-year contract with Yasmani Grandal for $18.25M, well less than the four year deal at $64M guaranteed that mlbtraderumors.com projected.  It’s obviously a pillow contract for Grandal, who after turning down a four year offer from the Mets with at least a $50M guarantee couldn’t find any other similar offers.

It’s still a tremendous surprise.  Grandal is only 30 years old, and his average annual value for the Dodgers the last four seasons (according to fangraphs.com) is $22.48M, topping out at $28.7M in 2018.  It’s shocking he apparently couldn’t get a three-year offer for the same average annual value he’s getting on his one year deal with the Brewers.

The deal is obviously a coup for Brew-Crew and makes up (in my mind at least) for not taking a risk on bringing back Jonathan Schoop on a one-year deal.  Clearly, Grandal’s thinking must be that because he can’t receive another qualifying offer next off-season, a big year in Milwaukee will result in a much better offer next off-season than he received this off-season.  Now, Grandal and his agent need to pray for good health and a hot, hitter-friendly summer in Milwaukee.

Advertisements

Another Slow MLB Off-Season

January 10, 2019

It’s been another slow MLB off-season, and this baseball blogger is finding it hard to find much to write about except how slow the off-season free agent signing period has been.

Is it collusion? Maybe, maybe not.  Given the past history, I’m am always justifiably suspicious when teams stop spending on free agents.  Player salaries were down in 2018 for the first time since 2010.  However, things aren’t exactly rosy for MLB in spite of a currently booming economy.  Post-season TV ratings are down, and eleven teams failed to draw two million fans or average 25,000 fans per game in 2018, with attendance in Tampa and Miami absolutely dreadful by recent standards.

Add to these trends are the fact that analytics have given teams a reason not to spend quite so much on free agents.  Mainly that seems to be playing out in shorter free agents contracts, rather than lower annual averages.

I have been particularly impressed with the accuracy of mlbtraderumors.com’s contract predictions for its list of the top 50 free agents this off-season, at least in terms of the amounts of the contracts that have signed so far.  The main difference between the predictions and the actual contracts signed so far is that many of the contracts are a year shorter than predicted, but actually feature higher average annual salaries.  As such, it really could be possible that teams have simply gotten smarter about giving long-term deals to the majority of free agents, who are not reasonably likely to any good in those last additional seasons.

[As an aside, I noticed that mlbtraderumor’s predictions piece got many comments criticizing the fact that it hadn’t accurately predicted most of the actual signing teams.  In my opinion these criticisms are kind of stupid and fairly typical of a lot of the negative comments people like to write.  With 30 MLB teams, the vast majority of the top 50 free agents are going to have three to five teams serious about signing them, with numerous other teams who see the player as a Plan B if the free agent they really want signs with someone else and also a few bottom-feeders like the Twins last off-season willing to jump in at the last minute if the free agent can be signed as a relative bargain.  That makes it pretty hard to accurately predict which team signs which free agent.  The contract-length-and-amount predictions, and the relative accuracy thereof, feels a lot more pertinent and significant to me.]

It’s also worth noting that we could expect Bryce Harper and Manny Machado to go into January unsigned, as both are trying to wring record-setting deals out of their respective suitors.  Neither Harper (injuries, inconsistency, maturity level) or Machado (maturity level, post-season performance) is without his faults, which means it’s going to take some work to get them the deals that they and their agents dream about.

Like last season, some of the players who haven’t signed yet are going to get squeezed, particularly if they aren’t Harper and Machado — these two will get paid no matter what — it’s just a matter if they are guaranteed $200M+ or $300M+.  Of course, none of the still free agents is going to go to bed hungry anytime soon.

As a final note, I appreciated the creativity of the most recent big free agent signing, that of Zach Britton.  While it guarantees Britton $39M, which was just a little more than mlbtraderumors.com predicted, it provides tremendous flexibility to both the Yankees and Britton.  Britton can opt out after two years and $26M, and after year three the Yankees have a $14M team option for 2022.  Although I have a problem with Scott Boras’ conflicts of interest and his Trumpesque puffery, he is extremely creative in terms of working out the best possible deals for his most elite clients.  I can’t imagine that Britton doesn’t feel pretty good about this deal.

This Year in the Australian Baseball League

January 4, 2019

With this off-season’s MLB free agent signing period slow going indeed, this baseball blogger has been somewhat hard-pressed to come up with topics to write about.  Thus, you, gentle reader, have been subjected to numerous posts about Asian baseball, where the signings of foreign players have been more forthcoming.  Besides, the fringes of the professional baseball world interest me and seem like a ripe topic that few other baseball blogs cover.

Thus, it feels like a good time for a post on the action in this year’s Australian Baseball League.  The ABL isn’t in the same class as the big four Caribbean Winter Leagues (Mexico, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Venezuela), but is probably better than the Winter Leagues in any of Panama, Nicaragua or Colombia.  It plays a short season, even by Winter League standards, of about 40 games.

The ABL is heavily subsidized by MLB as a way to develop interest in baseball in Australia and to help generate a continuing supply of Aussie prospects for MLB.  I could not help but notice earlier today that, while the ABL’s website provides very detailed box scores, including game temperatures and wind speeds, it does not report attendance numbers, a sure sign that the games are not well attended by the standards of even this level of professional baseball and must be subsidized by someone to keep the league afloat.

The ABL draws an interesting mix of Australian players and Independent-A American players not quite good enough during the summer to secure work in the Big Four Caribbean Winter Leagues.  The Circuit also draws a smattering of pro players from Taiwan, South Korea and Japan.

The top pitcher in the ABL this season is Shota Imanaga.  Imanaga is a potentially a world class NPB pitcher, who is coming off a brutal 2018 summer season and apparently pitching in the ABL this winter to get himself back on track.

After the 2017 season, Imanaga looked like a potential future MLB prospect, as I mentioned that off-season.  In 2018, however, he went 4-11 in NPB with a brutal 6.80 ERA.  His command deteriorated significantly from the prior two seasons, and he seems to have hurt by the rise in NPB home-running hitting this past season.  He still managed to strike out 80 batters in 84.2 innings pitched, and his performance in the ABL this winter suggests there is nothing fundamentally wrong with his pitching arm, always a concern for a pitcher listed under 5’10” and 180 lbs.

Against a much lower level of competition, and limited so far to six starts and 35 IP, Imanaga has posted a 0.51 ERA and 57 strikeouts while allowing only 14 hits, one home run and one walk.  If nothing else, Imanaga’s foray to the ABL should certainly boost his confidence going into the 2019 NPB season.

Frank Gailey, Ryan Bollinger, Mikey Reynolds and Zach Wilson are examples of typical North American players playing in the ABL this winter.  Ryan Bollinger pitched pretty well in the Yankees’ system last summer, mostly at the AA level, and he struck out 97 batters and 111.2 IP.  He has been signed by the Padres this off-season with an invitation to Spring Training, but will most likely start the 2019 season at AAA El Paso.

Needless to say, the ABL is a refuge for Australian players who just can’t give up the enjoyment they get from playing professional baseball.  Former major leaguer Travis Blackly, for example, is still around at age 36 pitching effectively Down Under (and in the very low Indy-A Pacific Association during the Northern Hemisphere summer).  He’s now pitched professionally in at least seven countries (U.S., Canada, Mexico, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Australia).

Steve Kent and Luke Hughes are a couple of old Aussie war horses who have played in the MLB system and the ABL for many years.  Hughes played in the majors for the Twins and the A’s from 2010-2012.

More recent major leaguer Gift Ngoepe, originally of South Africa, is playing well in the ABL this season.  After a brutally bad 2018 season mostly for the Blue Jays’ AAA team in Buffalo, which caused him to get released in mid-August, Ngoepe is obviously hoping a strong winter in Oz will get him contract to play baseball somewhere next summer.

Pete Kozma and Josh Collmenter, two other familiar major league names, are in basically the same boat as Ngoepe — Kozma is trying to resuscitate his career after a rough year in the Tigers’ organization, and Collmenter is trying to come back from injuries that kept him out of action throughout the 2018 regular season.  Kozma, at least, has signed an minor league contract to return to the Tigers’ organization with invitation to spring training in 2019.

 

Oliver Drake’s Ongoing Odyssey and Other Minnesota Twins Notes

December 29, 2018

In the aftermath of the Twins’ signing of Nelson Cruz for $14.3 million for 2019, I was looking at the Twins’ now surplus of right-handed power bats, and I happened to notice that Oliver Drake had a very successful 19 relief appearance run (2.21 ERA) for the Twins last season but is no longer with the team.

Drake played for five different major league teams last year and six since the start of the 2017 season.  The reason for this is obvious: Drake has great stuff and has success in AAA, but he has command issues and was awful at the major league level last year until the Twins selected him off waivers.  Drake started the season for the Brewers, was ineffective and then sold to the Indians, probably for a box of crackerjack.  He pitched poorly in Cleveland, and the Angels selected him off the waiver wire on May 31st.  Drake didn’t pitch well in Anaheim, and was selected off waivers by the Blue Jays in July 26th.  Ditto in Toronto, and the Twins claimed him off waivers on August 3rd.

Despite finally pitching well in the Twin Cities, the Twins tried to pass him through waivers again in late October/early November, and the Rays grabbed him.  The Rays tried to pass him through waivers at the end of the month, and the Blue Jays once again grabbed him.  At least once the regular season ended, Drake’s subsequent travels were virtual, rather than real, and Drake is presumably sitting at home waiting to see whom he ends up with in its time to start Spring Training.

With service in parts of four major league seasons now, but only about 2.5 years of major league service time, Drake isn’t yet arbitration eligible but is certainly out of minor league options.  What that means is that, unless he is first released, the last team to claim him off waivers will likely have to give him a major league contract in the $565,000 to $575,000 range.

Well, that’s small potatoes in today’s game, particularly for a pitcher with his potential.  However, the Twins didn’t think he was worth that modest guarantee, and the Rays didn’t think so either once they obtained somebody they liked better for their 40-man roster, almost certainly because he can’t be sent down to the minors if he’s ineffective without passing him through waivers yet again.  He’s also going into his age 32 season, so many teams may doubt he’ll ever have sufficient command to take advantage of his plus stuff at the major league level.

Drake was originally a 43rd round draft pick out of the U.S. Naval Academy.  He now has a career major league ERA of 4.59 with 151 Ks in 137.1 innings pitched and a WHIP of 1.46.  He’s good enough that a lot of teams want him at the right price, but don’t seem to be willing to give him any guarantees.

With the signing of Nelson Cruz and the earlier claiming off waivers and signing of C.J. Cron for $4.8M, the Twins are now officially overloaded with defensively challenged, right-handed hitting sluggers.  Cruz and Cron will get plenty of playing time because of their 2019 salaries unless either gets hurt, but the Twins also have Miguel Sano, who is too young and has too much potential to give up on yet, and also Tyler Austin, who came over from the Yankees when the Twins traded Lance Lynn at the 2018 trade deadline.  With the corner outfield slots taken up by young lefty hitters Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler, one would have to think the Twins would be willing to listen to trade offers for Austin.

Austin is already 27 and hasn’t established himself as a major league regular yet.  He doesn’t hit for average or draw many walks, but he sure has right-handed power with 24 HRs in only 404 major league plate appearances.  He wouldn’t be a bad fit for the San Francisco Giants, who could use another corner outfielder with right-handed power.

Because Austin is out of options, maybe the Twins would be willing to trade him to Giants for minor league reliever (and personal favorite) Tyler Rogers.  Tyler’s twin brother Taylor has had three successful seasons as a reliever for the Twins, and the Tyler has been mighty good at AAA the last two seasons.  Obviously, there would be some great PR for the Twins to have twin relievers pitching on their major league roster to start the 2019 season.  That said, the Twins will probably hold on to Austin since he cheap and provides insurance if Cruz, Cron or somebody else gets hurt.

I have to say that I like the fact that the Twins are active every off-season, seeking out deals at the right price that might reasonably make the team better.  It didn’t work in 2018, but if you keep trying every off-season, it may well work eventually.

Christian Villanueva and Alan Busenitz Taking Their Talents to Japan

November 23, 2018

Not much is happening right now in MLB’s off-season, but Asian teams are kicking their signings of foreign players into high gear.  The Yomiuri Giants have signed former Padres 3Bman Christian Villanueva, and the Rakuten Golden Eagles have signed former Minnesota Twins reliever Alan Busenitz.

I didn’t predict either player going to Asia in my most recent post on this subject, because I thought that both players would be seen as too valuable to their now former MLB teams to allow them to depart for Asian baseball.  In fact, it’s pretty usual to see a player like Villanueva, who establishes himself as an MLB major league regular one year leave for Japan the next.  Almost all such players choose to stay in MLB, where the upside for successful performance is so much higher.

MLB teams will usually let players like Villanueva and Busenitz who have each just finished their age 27 seasons go off to Japan’s NPB for more money, but usually because the MLB team doesn’t think the player has enough future value to prevent the player from having the opportunity to make a lot more money in Japan.  I’d guess the Yomiuri Giants gave the Padres $1M for Villanueva’s rights, and I’d guess the Rakuten Golden Eagles gave the Twins somewhere between $500,000 and $1M for Busenitz’s rights.  That’s not a lot of money for players who reasonably appeared to have MLB major league futures.

It does seem clear, however, that the Padres saw Villanueva as a place holder until they can develop a longer-term option at third base, like possibly Ty France, who reached AAA last year at age 23.  Villanueva was a little below average as a starting 3Bman with both the bat and the glove as a rookie last year, but he strikes out a lot, doesn’t walk much, and players who establish themselves as major league regulars in their age 27 season don’t typically go on to have long and successful major league careers.

Although NPB teams don’t report contract amounts, Villanueva is believed to be receiving around $2M from Yomiuri in 2019, with some reports suggesting the contract could be for as much as $3M if all performance incentives are met.  That’s a lot more than the guaranteed $600,000 major league contract Villanueva would have received from the Padres.  However, I doubt more than $1M of the Yomiuri contract is guaranteed.

Busenitz pitched poorly for the Twins in 2018 (7.82 ERA) after pitching extremely well for them in 2017.  He also pitched very well in AAA the last two seasons.  The fact that Busenitz will also be 28 in 2018 isn’t quite as important as it is for Villanueva, given that Busenitz is a middle reliever with a live arm.  He has less than a full year of major league service, so like Villanueva, he had many years of low price, team control ahead of him.

Busenitz was likely to get a split contract after his poor 2018 performance, and he appeared to have another year of minor league options left, so he’s definitely going to make more money in Japan in 2019 than he would in the U.S.  He’ll have a shot at being the Golden Eagles’ closer — if he’s successful in that role, he’s likely to get a good pay raise to stay in Japan for 2020.

Is Miguel Sano Imploding?

October 8, 2018

Miguel Sano drove over a Dominican Republic police officer’s foot today in an unlicensed truck.  The incident tops off a season in which Sano, once a tremendous prospect, worked his way back to the minors to work on his swing and to lose some weight, or, in other words, to get his head together, stop coasting on his enormous talent, and put the necessary work in.

The Twins had high hopes for 2018 and made a number of moves last off-season that looked like smart money-ball moves.  None of them worked out as the team hoped, and Sano in particular regressed badly after looking at the end of 2017 like a youngster on the verge of MLB superstardom.

Money-ball moves don’t always pan out, but a phenom’s failure to perform because he got complacent is infinitely more disappointing.

Sano apparently needs a good kick in the pants, but it remains to be seen if he will get one.  With good lawyers and a little good old fashioned corruption, it’s entirely possible he will evade any consequences in the Dominican Republic.  As a lawyer, I can already see ways to spin running over a cop’s foot in an unlicensed vehicle (he just bought it, he was afraid of the evil people threatening him in the club outside of which the incident took place, he’s willing to pay a hefty fine, blah, blah, blah).

It looks like someone needs to kick Sano just hard enough somewhere to get him to straighten up and fly right.  If he has a minor league option left, the Twins could send him down to AAA to start the 2019 season if he doesn’t perform in Spring Training.  If he doesn’t have any options left, I’m not sure how the Twins could send him a needed message without possibly losing him to another team.

Extremely talented butt-heads are a problem for any team fortunate enough to have them.  Very few teams have nothing but focused talent.  Even so, these guys will drive you crazy, particularly if your team is not a high revenue team that can afford to cut its losses and buy some other prime talent.  The Twins just can’t afford for Sano not to live up to his abilities.

 

The 10 Best Major League Players Who Started Their Pro Careers in the Independent-A Leagues

July 31, 2018

I’ve been following the Independent-A Leagues closely the last few years, and I recently wondered who the best major league players were who started their pro careers in an Indy-A League.  I couldn’t find a decent list, so I decided I’d make one.

One of the things I learned in compiling this list is just how incredibly difficult it is to have a major league career amounting to more than a couple of brief cups of coffee for players who don’t start their professional careers in the MLB-system.  MLB hoovers up just about every player with any shot of ever having a major league career that anyone besides the players themselves would typically remember.  Only a tiny number of players gets overlooked.

That said, it is within the realm of possibility that a player can start his pro career in an Indy-A league and still amount to a successful major league player.  That’s what keeps the dream alive.

Without further ado, here’s the list of the 11 best major league players who started their pro careers in an independent-A league.  Be sure to let me know if I’ve missed anyone who should be included.

1.  J.D. Drew.  J.D. Drew is really an Independent-A league ringer.  He was drafted with the second overall pick of the 1997 Draft by the Phillies.  Before the Draft, Drew and his agent Scott Boras let if be known that Drew was demanding a $10 million signing bonus.  The Phillies called Drew’s bluff, drafted him and offered him $2.6M.

Drew wasn’t bluffing.  When the Phillies refused to come up significantly from their initial offer, Drew refused to sign.  Instead, he spent parts of two seasons thumping the ball for the St. Paul Saints of the Northern League (now the American Association).

I haven’t always been a fan of Boras inspired holdouts, but it sure worked for Drew.  The Cardinals drafted Drew with the 5th overall pick in 1998 and signed him for $7 million.  Refusing to sign in 1997 did not significantly delay Drew’s career, as the Cardinals gave him a cup of coffee at the end of the 1998 season, and he was in the majors for good (except for injury rehab assignments) by 1999.

Drew would not be the last early round draft pick to elect to start his career in the Indy-A’s when he couldn’t reach an agreement with his drafting team, as you will see below.  A couple of Cuban defectors, Ariel Prieto and Eddy Oropesa, used the Indy-A Leagues as a means to boost their draft stock — one can argue whether Cuba’s Serie Nacional is an amateur or pro league, but it is effectively amateur in name only, since the players are essentially professionals who are compensated for their performance, although perhaps not in cash.

2.  Kevin Millar.  Millar is in my opinion the best undrafted, unsigned player independent-A league product in major league history.  Every year, many undrafted players are nevertheless signed by major league organizations.  As I understand it, each major league team makes a list shortly before Draft Day of the 500 or 600 players who the team believes are the best amatuer players available.  Each team’s scouts and front offices grade the nation of prospects differently, and every team has at least a few players who aren’t on any other team’s list.  If any of those players go undrafted, then the team that had the player listed will typically sign them up.

Playing for small college Lamar in Texas, Millar went undrafted and unsigned, and thus started his pro career at age 21 with the St. Paul Saints in 1993, the Northern League’s maiden season.  Millar never made an All-Star team or received an MVP vote, but he was a star on the 2004 Boston Red Sox team that won the franchise’s first World Series in 86 years.  Millar was also never allowed to join the MLB Players’ Association, because he crossed the picket line during the 1994-1995 strike.

3-5.  George Sherrill, Joe Thatcher and Kerry Ligtenberg.  A trio of relief pitchers who all pitched in between 386 and 442 major league games.  George Sherrill was the Orioles’ closer in 2008 and the first four months of 2009 before being traded to the Dodgers.  He finished his career with a 3.77 ERA, 56 saves and 320 Ks in 324.1 IP.  He started his pro career with Evansville of the Frontier League in 1999.

Joe Thatcher had a nine year career as a left-handed relief specialist.  He was effective in the role, finishing his major league career with a 3.38 ERA and striking out 270 batters in 260.2 innings pitched.  Thatcher began his pro career with River City in the Frontier League in 2004.

Kerry Ligtenberg was the Braves’ closer in 1998 before hurting his arm.  He came back from it, but never pitched as well as he did in 1998.  He finished his major league career with a 3.82 ERA and 357 Ks in 390.2 IP.  He started his pro career in the short-lived North Central and Prairie Leagues in 1994 and 1995.

6.  David Peralta.∗  David Peralta gets an asterisk because he started his professional career as an 18 year old pitcher in the Cardinals’ organization.  He pitched ineffectively for two seasons in the Rookie Appalachian League and was unceremoniously dumped.  He came back four years later as a 23 year old outfielder for the Rio Grand Valley WhiteWings of the short-lived North American Baseball League, and gradually worked his way up the majors three years later in 2014.  He’s still active and having a solid season at age 30, so he could well move up this list in the future.

7.  Aaron Crow.  Another high first round draft pick who refused to sign a contract with the Nationals, Crow made four appearances (three starts) with the Ft. Worth Cats of the American Association in 2008 and 2009 in order to prove he was still worth a high 1st round draft pick by the Royals in 2009.

Crow had four strong seasons as a set-up man in the Royals bullpen from 2011-2014 before his arm gave out.  He compiled a 3.43 career major league ERA and struct out 208 batters in 233.2 IP while recording six saves.

Crow is attempting a comeback in the Mexican League this summer at age 31.  While he is pitching effectively (2.33 ERA in 19 relief appearances so far), his peripheral numbers don’t suggest he’ll make it back to the majors in the near future.

8.  Daniel Nava.  Nava started his professional career at the advanced age of 24 with the Chico Outlaws of the long since defunct Golden Baseball League.  He hit a grand slam in his first major league game in 2010 (as I recall, the outfielder may have actually tipped the ball over the wall with the end of his glove), and he was a star for the 2013 World Champion Red Sox when he slashed .303/.385/.445 as an every day outfielder who split his time between right field and left field.

Nava has managed to play parts of seven major league seasons, and at age 35 he’s still listed as part of the Pirates’ AAA team, although he has yet to play a game this season because of injury.

9.  Jeff Zimmerman.  Zimmerman finished his three year major league career as the closer for the Rangers before injuries, including two Tommy John surgeries, ruined his career.  He started with the Winnipeg Goldeyes of the Northern League in 1997.

10T.  Matt Miller and Chris Coste.  Miller was a relief pitcher who pitched in an even 100 major league games with a career 2.72 ERA with 95 Ks in 106 IP.  He was a 31 year old rookie for the Rockies in 2003, but enjoyed most of his major league success starting with the Indians in 2004.  His professional career began with Greenville of the short-lived Big South League in 1996.

Chris Coste was the Phillies’ primary back-up catcher for four seasons starting with his age 33 season in 2006.  He began his pro career in the North Central and Prairie Leagues in 1995 and then spent four seasons with his home town Fargo-Moorehead Red Hawks of the Northern League before being signed by the Indians’ organization.  The North Central and Prairie Leagues may not have lasted long, but in Coste and Kerry Ligtenberg, these leagues gave first shots to two young Minnesota ballplayers who eventually made the big time and proved they belonged there.

Other players who had more than brief major league cups of coffee who began their pro careers in the independent A leagues are Chris Colabello, Brian Tollberg, James Hoyt, Chris Jakubauskas, Scott Richmond, Brian Sweeney, Chris Martin, Trevor Richards and Bobby Hill.  Hoyt, Martin and Richards are all still active and have at least a reasonable shot at adding to their career major league numbers.

Bobby Hill was drafted in the second round in consecutive seasons and presumably started his career in the Atlantic League in 2000 because he refused to sign after the White Sox drafted him the year before.  Scott Richmond started his professional career in the Northern League in 2005 at the age of 25, which makes him the oldest rookie professional baseball player I found to eventually make the majors after starting in the Indy-A leagues (MLB organizations never or almost never sign any amateur over the age of 23).