Archive for the ‘New York Yankees’ category

Go East, Not So Young Men

October 20, 2017

Every year around this time, I like to do a post regarding MLB-system players who are good bets to be playing in Japan’s NPB or South Korea’s KBO next season.  In the past, these posts typically identify players who had great seasons in AAA, but didn’t get much MLB playing time.

This year, I’ve decided to try to be a little more thorough about the subject, including looking at contract issues more likely to push some players, but not others, to try their luck in Asia.  The biggest factors for a player entering his age 26 or older season in deciding whether to give up the MLB dream and go to Asia are likely whether he has received a major league contract offer from an MLB team and also his personal, subjective belief about his likely future chances of MLB success.

I suspect that a lot players who play in MLB for the first time in September of their age 26 or 27  seasons and play well during that cup of coffee will elect to stay in the MLB system the next season, even if they get a better offer from an NPB or KBO team.  On the other hand, players who received substantial major league playing time in their early or mid-20’s, who then spend the next couple of years mostly at AAA, have a much better idea how tenuous MLB success can be and are a lot more tempted by better offer from abroad.

Here’s my list of some hitters who are good bets to be playing in Asia next year.

Oswaldo Arcia (27 in 2018).  Arcia played in 200 games for the Twins in 2013 and 2014 at the ages of 22 and 23.  Since then, his major league career has gone straight downhill, in large part because he isn’t patient enough, i.e., he doesn’t walk enough and strikes out too much.

At age 26, Arcia led the Pacific Coast League with a 1.049 OPS.  However, he didn’t play in even one major league game because he got hurt on August 30th, right before the September roster expansions.  I wasn’t able to determine the nature of his injury, and injuries have plagued him the last few seasons.  If he’s fully healthy by December 1st, though, he’d be a great bet for an Asian team.

Bryce Brentz (29).  Brentz hit a league-leading 31 home runs (Asian teams want their foreign hitters to hit the long ball) and his .863 OPS was second best in the International League.  Even so, the Red Sox never called him up, even after the rosters expanded in September.  A player can’t get a much stronger message his team doesn’t see him as part of their future than that.

Jabari Blash (28).  Blash has a lot of talent, but through his age 27 season, he hasn’t been able to put it together at the major league level.  If the Padres don’t offer him a major league contract, he should seriously consider any Asian offers he receives.

Leonys Martin (30).  NPB teams love Cubans as much as cigar aficionados do.  Small wonder — Alex Guerrero and Alfredo Despaigne respectively led the Central and Pacific League in home runs this past season.

Martin isn’t likely to hit 35 home runs in a season even in Japan, but he could 25-30 in a season there, and he still runs well. He has more than three full seasons of MLB service time, entitling him to salary arbitration, and will almost certainly be non-tendered by his current MLB club.  I’m guessing his best free agent offer will come from Japan.

Will Middlebrooks (29).  Middlebrooks’ MLB career has gone down the toilet, but he’s the kind of power-hitting 3Bman NPB teams like.

Mark Canha (29).  I could definitely see him getting a $1M offer from the Doosan Bears this off-season, if the Bears decide to replace Nick Evans as their foreign position player.

Cody Asche (28).  Another 3B candidate with power potential in Japan’s smaller ballparks, Asche was the Phillies’ main 3Bman in 2014 and 2015.  Now he’s just another guy coming off a strong minor league season looking for a decent contract going into his age 28 season.  Still, Asian teams love past MLB experience.

Xavier Avery (28).  A center fielder whose .816 OPS was 5th best in the International League, Avery’s only major league experience (32 games with the Braves) came way back in 2012.  You would have to think he’d be receptive to a foreign offer.

Nick Buss and Brandon Snyder (both 31).  A couple of left fielders coming off strong AAA seasons.  Buss led the Pacific Coast League with a .348 batting average, and his .936 OPS was 7th best.  Snyder’s .846 OPS was 3rd best in the International League.  You can guess which of the two AAA leagues is a pitchers’ league and which is a hitters’ league.

Chris Johnson and Eric Young, Jr. (both 33).  Two aging veterans with substantial MLB experience, both played well enough in AAA to suggest they still have something left going into 2018.  Both would provide an Asian team with a certain amount of defensive flexibility.  Johnson is probably more likely to get an offer because he has more power.

In my opinion, age 27 is the ideal age for a foreign MLBer to try his luck at a successful Asian career.  Here is a list of players who will be 27 next season, had great AAA seasons, have at least a little MLB experience, but don’t look likely to receive major league contract offers for 2018: Richie Schaffer, David Washington, Christian Walker, Mike Tauchman, Tyler Naquin, Ji-man Choi, Garrett Cooper, Tyler White, Christian Villanueva, Luke Voit, Max Muncy and Cesar Puello.

Almost all of these guys will elect to stay in the MLB system, but don’t be surprised if you hear that one or two of them have signed with Asian teams later this off-season.  Tyler Collins (28) and Travis Taijeron (29) are a couple of slightly older players who are reasonable possibilities of getting Asian offers.

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Will Chris Carter Be Playing in East Asia Next Year?

October 17, 2017

Chris Carter popped into my mind today, possibly having something to do with the Yankees hitting two three-run homers in today’s play-off game.  He has sure fallen a long way since leading the National League in home runs in 2016.  Now he’s just a soon-to-be 31 year old, lead-footed slugger looking for a major league offer.

After the Yankees released him, the Oakland A’s signed him and sent him to AAA Nashville.  He hit pretty well there in 36 games, slashing .252/.357/.512, but he didn’t get a September call-up even though it only would have cost the A’s a pro-rated portion of the MLB minimum salary.  The A’s instead elected to promote Mark Canha, who is two years younger and can also play the corner outfield positions.

He should be a free agent again this winter, since he’s still between four and five seasons of MLB experience, and the A’s surely won’t offer him salary arbitration.  It’s hard to see him getting a guaranteed MLB contract for 2018.

There was talk last off-season about the possibility of a Japanese team signing Carter when he wasn’t immediately able to find an MLB offer to his liking.  Carter would certainly command a $2 million offer from a South Korean KBO team, with maybe a quarter to half of that amount guaranteed; or a guaranteed contract in a similar amount, maybe $2.5M, from an NPB team.

It’s a fun exercise imagining how many home runs Carter might hit in the smaller ballparks of East Asian against a lower level of pitching.  If he’s healthy, I would expect him to be a threat for 60 HRs in the KBO and 50+ in NPB.

His odds of success are much greater in KBO, because NPB is not an easy place for foreign hitters to hit for average, and Carter is already highly challenged in that department.  Still, Japhet Amador was able to stick around all season for the Rakuten Golden Eagles based on only one skill (power), although Amador only cost the Golden Eagles $290,000, and the Eagles probably have some sunken costs in buying Amador’s rights from his old Mexican League team in 2016.

If an NPB team guarantees Carter $2M+, they’ll certainly give him time to adapt to Japanese baseball, before giving up on him.  Also, a big year in Japan could possibly earn him a ticket back to MLB’s prime-time.

The fact that Carter was reported to be seriously considering playing in Japan until the Yankees came up with their $3.5M offer means it’s whole lot more likely that Carter might actually cross the ocean in 2018.  He certainly won’t be seeing an $3.5M MLB offers this off-season.

 

Shohei Otani Rumors

September 15, 2017

mlbtraderumors.com reported a few days ago that the rumors out of Japan are that phenom Shohei Otani will ask to be posted by his NPB team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, so that he can start his MLB career in 2018.  My own opinion is that it would make a lot more sense for Otani to wait until 2020 to join MLB.

Under the new MLB collective bargaining agreement, a veteran player from another professional league needs to be at least 25 to be exempt from the signing bonus and reserve clause rules when signing his first contract.  Otani only turned 23 this past July.

Right now, Otani’s potential signing bonus is capped between $3 M and $3.5M, and can only be offered by teams that have not had their signing bonuses capped by past over-spending.  Teams may try to find some kind of loophole around these limits, but it’s unclear if MLB would accept any attempt to get around the recently negotiated new rules.

Also, Otani hurt his hamstring early this year, causing him to miss half of the 2017 season.  He is hitting like a fool in 53 games, slashing .341/.411/.563, but has pitched very little.  He’s made three appearances for a total of 10.1 innings pitched and has an ugly 6.97 ERA after getting bombed in the first two outings.

Teams will still line up to sign Otani if he is available, given his raw talent both on the mound and at the plate, but he would be in a much stronger position to negotiate an agreement that would let him both pitch and hit if he returns to form on the mound the next two seasons in Japan.  He can then agree to take less money on a deal that would otherwise make the seven year $155 million contract Masahiro Tanaka signed in January 2014 look like peanuts.

Of course, there is always the possibility that Otani could hurt his arm in the meantime, although that won’t effect his value as a hitter.  However, the fact that Otani barely pitched this year, and has never been overworked in his NPB career, means that the odds of his blowing out his arm in the next two years are not high.  In fact, given his age, the odds are higher that he will improve either or both his hitting and his pitching over two more seasons in NPB.

Even MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has suggested by his comments that Otani should wait two more years before coming to MLB.  These are somewhat strange comments from a guy who represents MLB ownership, but I think they arise from the fact that professional baseball is about making money, and it makes the most sense for Otani to come to the U.S. when his value is at its absolute peak.

Finally, if I were part of Fighters’ management, I’d be extremely reluctant to let Otani go now.  A year after winning the 2016 Japan Series, the Fighters have been brutally bad this season, and a big part of that has been because of Otani’s injury.  There is no way that the current $20 million posting fee is worth two years of Otani’s service to the Fighters, who are one of NPB’s better drawing teams.  Also, in the next two years the posting fee might well be increased to, say, $25 million.

NPB teams are in a difficult position with players as rarely talented as Otani.  They don’t want t0 be seen as standing in the way of the player going on to greater fame and fortune in MLB, but it is also unheard of for a Japanese team to post a player after only four full years of NPB service.  By way of comparison, Yu Darvish pitched more than six full seasons, and Tanaka pitched seven full seasons in NPB’s major leagues, before they joined MLB.

In the past, NPB teams have typically been able to brow-beat Japanese players to stay in Japan as long as reasonably possible.  That has to be getting harder, as players with Otani’s talent can’t help but see for themselves the enormous fame and riches that come with a successful transition to MLB.  Of course, the fact that Otani’s great riches are still at least two years away, even if he comes to MLB in 2018, is a reason for Nippon Ham to insist that he stay put.

Los Angeles Dodgers Trade for Yu Darvish

July 31, 2017

The Dodgers pulled the trigger on the trade deadline’s biggest deal by acquiring Yu Darvish for three prospects right at the deadline.  The price was indeed heavy for a two-month rental, but this deal is obviously more about the Dodgers going deep into the post-season than about helping the Dodgers win their division outright.

Moving from the American League’s best hitters’ park to one of the National League’s best pitchers’ parks should help Darvish step right into the shoes of injured ace Clayton Kershaw.  I would have to think that Darvish will enjoy playing in L.A., a city with a much larger Asian presence than Dallas/Ft. Worth, not to mention the fact that he’ll get a shot a winning a World Series ring.  Also, if things go as planned for Darvish and the Dodgers, the odds are good the team will give Darvish an enormous long-term contract this off-season, unless, of course, the Yankees or the Rangers offer even more.

If Kershaw is healthy again by late September, the Dodgers will be the obvious and overwhelming favorites to go all the way.  Certainly, no one will be able to match their pitching.

The main piece in the deal for the Rangers is 22 year old 2B/LF Willie Calhoun.  Calhoun’s minor league numbers don’t suggest he’s got enough range at 2B to stick there, and the odds are effectively nil that he will displace Rougned Odor unless Odor gets hurt. However, Calhoun has enough power that he won’t be a liability as a corner outfielder, once he learns to play there.  Calhoun needs more time to learn to play positions other than second, so I don’t expect he’ll be promoted to the majors before September, although his bat is very, very close to being ready now.

The other two players the Rangers received, RHP A.J. Alexy and infielder Brendon Davis, are both in their age-19 seasons.  They have talent, but they are a long way from the majors.

It isn’t often that a team gets three prospects of this caliber for 2+ months of veteran performance, but it also isn’t often that a team as good as the 2017 Dodgers can add a pitcher of Yu’s caliber.  The Dodgers want their first World Series title since 1988 bad, and now they can absolutely taste it.

Austin Bibens-Dirkx Shuts Down New York Yankees

June 25, 2017

32 year old rookie pitcher Austin Bibens-Dirkx frustrated the Yankees in Yankee Stadium to improve his record to 3-0.  What a great name and what a tremendous story!

Bibens-Dirkx used the Independent-A Leagues twice to keep his professional career going.  In 2009 after washing out of the Mariners’ system, he pitched in the now defunct Golden Baseball League and earned another shot in the Cubs’ system.  He started last year in the Atlantic League before being picked up by the Rangers.  Bibens-Dirkx  has also pitched in the Latin American winter leagues for years as another way to hone his game and catch the attention of major league organizations.

The only chink in Bibens-Dirkx’s armor yesterday was a long home run to Aaron Judge, which thankfully for the Rangers came with the bases empty.  [For what it’s worth, the player Aaron Judge reminds me most of is Frank Howard, another enormous right-handed slugger who could launch baseballs a country mile.  The main difference between them is that there are lot more players of this size now than there were in Howard’s day.]

The reality is that there is a very good chance that last night’s game will be the pinnacle of Bibens-Dirkx’ professional career.  He only made it to MLB at age 32 for a reason.  While he can obviously pitch, his numbers so far suggest that his stuff is well below major league average, and that once MLB’s hitters become more familiar with him, he’ll be a marginal major leaguer at best.  He’s going to have to keep his walks totals low and have good defense behind him to succeed.

Still, nothing can take away from his accomplishment last night or the fact that eleven years struggling through the minors has finally paid off, both financially and emotionally.  Guys like a Bibens-Dirkx give everyone in baseball and those who follow baseball hope that the luck will finally turn for you if you just keep at it and trust that your efforts will one day be rewarded.

Fathers and Sons

May 22, 2017

I read an article today from the NY Times about Mike Trout, MLB’s quiet super-duper star.  One thing that stuck in my mind was that the article stated that Trout is most comparable at this point in his career to Hank Aaron and Mickey Mantle and also that his father was a former minor league player.

I don’t know if Hank Aaron’s father was a ball player, but part of the legend of the Mick was that his father was a frustrated ball player, who channeled those dreams to his son, who was the perfect chalice for those dreams.  Sort of like Tiger Woods and his dad, who loved golf for whatever reason and had a son who had the natural ability and the love of his father and the game to become a legend.

Mike Trout’s dad, Jeff Trout, was a four year minor leaguer, who was probably the best baseball player to come out of Millville Senior High School in 40 years (the now longer remembered Steve Yerkes was the best player out of that school before the son).  Jeff apparently played four years at the University of Delaware before his professional career began.

Jeff could hit, slashing .321/.406/.451 in his last minor league season, but spent three years in AA ball because he couldn’t catch the ball enough.  He was a 2B/3B prospect who fielded a minor league career .956 at the former position and .915 at the latter.  Jeff had enough talent to have a reason to be frustrated when his professional baseball career ended well short of major league success.

The dynamic I’m talking about is best described in detail in Gaylord Perry‘s autobiography Me and the Spitter, probably the most entertaining baseball autobiography I read as a kid.  Evan Perry got an offer to play Class D baseball when he was 19 years old.  However, his wife was either pregnant with or had already given birth to Jim Perry, a great major league pitcher who is only remembered today as Gaylord’s older brother.

Class D baseball paid in the mid-1930’s what the low minors pay today (little more than nothing), and Evan Perry did the sensible thing of continuing to share-crop tobacco in East Carolina.  It was as bleak as that sounds — Evan was proud of the fact that he didn’t send his boys to work in the fields until they each turned 7, since he had been about 5 when he started working the plow or picking the tobaccy.

Evan was a semi-pro stud in East Carolina, and he raised his strong sons with an intense love of baseball.  It was what you did when you had finished in the fields and church had let out Sunday morning.

Mickey Mantle’s father was a wannabe professional ballplayer from rural Oklahoma few years earlier than Evan Perry.  Those were the days when real men married their pregnant, teenage girl friends and went to work in rural, depression era dead-end jobs because it still paid better than the lowest levels of minor league baseball.  In those days, the dream of major league riches was just as real to dirt-poor rural Americans as it is to dirt-poor, teenage Latin Americans today, and paid accordingly.

Gaylord was technically a cheater, Mickey became an alcoholic, and Tiger had personality deficiencies of which those who have been paying attention are now well aware.  However, all did receive the many awards and benefits that come from the most elite athletic performance.

There is probably a lot of pressure attendant with living out someone elses dreams and becoming the absolute best at one’s chosen profession.  Andre Agassi is member of this group who has publicly spoken about the misery that can come with trying to live out his father’s dream.

Even so, I like to imagine that there can be a situation where it’s more true than not that the child lived out the dream of the parent to the satisfaction of both.  I certainly hope that my child will have a better life than I’ve had, whatever that turns out to be.

Self Confidence

May 16, 2017

One thing I’ve wondered about for some time is the role that self confidence plays in major league performance.

Baseball is definitely not the realm of touchy-feely psychological stuff, but I have come to believe strongly that self-confidence is an as yet unmeasured, or at least under-measured, consideration that needs more consideration.

People with a long-term understanding of MLB baseball generally know a couple of things: (1) good teams are better at developing players than bad teams because players progress better in a winning environment than a losing environment; and (2) it is easier to develop hitters in hitters’ parks and it is easier to develop pitchers in pitchers’ parks, than the opposite. I haven’t done the research (someone should), but I think the research would show the above two claims are objectively true.

Some of this is personal.  I was a pipsqueak as a kid, but I could play ball, at least until the bases were moved out to 90 feet and the pitchers began pitching off a mound and occasionally throwing curveballs before my growth spurt arrived.  I had a great deal of confidence at the smaller sizes, and I was a star, but when the distances got bigger and I didn’t, I lost my confidence.  The drop in my subsequent offensive performance was greater than the objective changes, I believe, because I lost the confidence I once had had.

Does Eric Thames‘ 2017 performance (s0 far) have something to do with the fact that he was an under-performing MLB prospect, who went to South Korea’s KBO, made a few adjustments, and found that he was a tremendous hitter in a less talented, extreme hitters’ league?  I definitely think so.

Thames built up a lot of confidence in his abilities in his three KBO seasons.  He returned to MLB older, wiser and with a sense that he really had what it took to perform in MLB, plus the ability to make adjustments and the maturity to deal with slumps without giving up on his fundamentally sound approach and his sense of self confidence.

Again, I have not done the comprehensive research to prove my claim — however. my limited investigations suggest that major league regular batters playing their home games in extreme hitters’ parks like Coors Field and the Ball Park at Arlington hit better on the road than they have before because of the confidence they get from their artificially elevated home park performances.

As a San Francisco Giants fan, I think the same is true for pitchers who pitch their home games in an extreme pitchers’ parks.  Even professionals perform better when their performance is rewarded by playing in highly favorable conditions half of the time, in part because the level of MLB play is so high that slight advantages in playing conditions can have out-sized effects.  Putting a prospect in the best possible circumstances to succeed seems to be the best way to bring about that result.

The A’s Santiago Casilla is perhaps a case in point.  He has always been a power pitcher.  With the A’s early in his career, he didn’t live up to his arm strength.  He was traded to the Giants, in a league that at the time wasn’t quite as talented and was generally a more fastball, power slider league.  He developed at an advanced age and under the right circumstances into a star.  He has now returned to the Junior Circuit, older and wiser (and against a league that hasn’t seen him pitch regularly for years), and he’s been a better pitcher for the A’s in his age 36 season (at least until his last appearance on May 12th, when he got hammered) than he was in any of his age 26 through 28 seasons.

This is a topic that is worth further investigation.  Unfortunately, I am both too lazy and too busy to do the research myself.  Hey, this is a great research topic for anyone willing to take it on.

If my hypothesis is correct, teams playing in extreme hitters parks should focus on drafting and developing hitters, and vice versa.  These teams should seek to trade for or sign free agents veteran pitchers, whose talents match the hitters’ parks they’ll have to pitch in (generally ground ball pitchers who throw strikes) and have developed a level of confidence that won’t be easily shaken by the hitters’ parks they will now be pitching their home games in.  And vice versa.

There has already been speculation that the Yankees, with their short home right field porch, should be a potential landing spot for Brandon Belt, if (and when) the Giants are sellers at the trade deadline.  It could indeed be a match made in post-season heaven.