Archive for the ‘NPB’ category

Best Foreign Pitching Prospects for Taiwan’s CPBL 2019

January 6, 2019

The last few years I have been taking a greater interest in the foreign players, nearly all pitchers, who pitch in the Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) each season.  Like every independent league, the CPBL is looking for the best, most immediately effective foreign pitchers it can find within the league’s salary structure for the three roster spots available to foreign players on each CPBL major league roster.

Foreigners signing a first CPBL contract typically receive a $45,000 to $55,000 guarantee for the season’s first three months.  If the foreign pitcher pitches well enough to be retained for a full season, said foreign pitcher can earn $120,000 to $150,000 for what amounts to an eight month season, given the many, many rainouts in Taiwan and including Spring Training.

A player with at least one day of MLB major league service cannot be paid less than $90,400 for minor league service time or less than $555,000 for major league service time in 2019.  Thus, most players with any amount of past MLB major league service time who are able to secure a contract to pitch in AAA in 2019 will elect to do so, rather than travel to Taiwan.  Further, these players can also usually secure an opportunity to pitch in one of the top four Caribbean Winter Leagues, where they can make as much as $50,000 or $60,000 if their Winter League team makes the playoffs, which run long relative to short Winter League regular seasons of 40 to 60 games.

The next best summer league after the CPBL is the Mexican League, and CPBL teams often sign American-born pitchers to contracts the off-season after the pitcher has a successful season in the Mexican League.  Mexican League salaries cap at about $8,000 a month for what is usually no more than a five month season, but there is rumored to be extensive cheating on salary caps for the best foreign players, real compensation may be closer to $60,000 for the season.

While Mexican League players definitely make less than CPBL players, Latin American players, particularly those from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Mexico or Venezuela, typically prefer to pitch their summers in Mexico and then pitch in their home countries in the Winter, where they are big, big stars and likely have some endorsement opportunities if they play at home.  Because the CPBL 120-game season tends to run so long, pitching in the CPBL can interfere with the player’s ability to play the first month of the Winter Leagues, which is a definite drawback for these players.

The CPBL signs a relatively high number of first contracts with foreign pitchers age 32 or older.  A lot of pitchers who can still pitch have by their age 29 to 32 seasons aged out of the MLB system and either aren’t quite good enough or young enough to be signed by KBO or NPB teams.  KBO and NPB teams rarely sign any foreign player to a first contract over the age 31 unless the foreigner has a very substantial MLB major league record.

With those considerations in mind, here’s my list of the best pitchers who might reasonably sign with a CPBL team this off-season.  There are many available pitchers with the necessary talent to pitch in the CPBL, particularly among 2018 AAA starters who aren’t able to obtain an MLB minor league contract for 2019, so I don’t claim my list is definitive.  It’s simply too difficult predict whether any individual pitcher no older 28 with the necessary talent and track record will elect to pitch in the CPBL during the off-season.

Kyle Lobstein (age 29 in 2019).  Kyle Lobstein pitched 128 major league innings with a 5.06 ERA between 2014 and 2016 for the Tigers and the Pirates.  However, at the start of 2018, he found himself without an MLB minor league contract and thus began the season in the Mexican League.  He pitched well enough there in the first half (2.95 ERA in 11 starts with good ratios) to secure a contract in the Dodgers organization.  He pitched well at AA Tulsa (2.56 ERA in seven starts) but not as well at AAA Oklahoma City (5.14 ERA in seven starts).  He’s still unsigned for 2019 as I write this.  Lobstein tops my list because he’s still reasonably young and has a major league pedigree.  He’s also a left-hander, which doesn’t hurt.

Barry Enright (33).  Another former major leaguer with a career major league record similar to Lobstein’s, Enright also had a similar 2018 to Lobstein’s.  After pitching well in 13 Mexican League starts, he signed with the DiamondBacks organization.  He pitched O.K. at AA Jackson, but got bombed in four appearances totaling eight innings at AAA Reno.  Reno is a tough place to pitch, playing in possibly the best hitters’ park in the already hit-happy Pacific Coast League.

Lobstein is obviously a better CPBL prospect, but Enright is certainly more likely not to receive an MLB contract between now and when CPBL teams begin signing new foreign pitchers later this month or in February.

Josh Lowey (34).  Josh Lowey is to the Mexican League what Mike Loree is to the CPBL.  Mike Loree is currently the CPBL’s best starter and one of the most productive foreign pitchers in CPBL’s 29 season history.  Josh Lowey has never pitched in the MLB system, having worked his way up from the Independent-A Leagues.  In five Mexican League seasons, he now has a 55-24 record, which is fine indeed.

Lowey got a chance to pitch in the KBO in 2016, and he got hit pretty hard (6.30 ERA in 60 IP) and his command was poor.  However, he was playing for the KBO’s worst team that season, and he struck out 68 KBO hitters.  He certainly has the talent to succeed in the CPBL.

Lowey is getting up there in age, but he was still terrific in 2018.  He went 14-5 in Mexico during the summer with a 3.12 ERA, a 1.178 WHIP and 133 Ks in 144.1 IP.  This Winter he pitched in the Dominican Winter League (DWL), where he went 6-2 with a 2.26 ERA and 1.293 WHIP in 12 starts.  In the DWL’s post-season, he has a 2.45 ERA after three starts.

Lowey didn’t pitch in the Winter Leagues last year, which may have been the reason no CPBL team signed him then.  CPBL teams tend to like at least some Winter League performance the off-season before they bring a new foreign pitcher in.  Lowey has that in spades this year, as he was one of the best starters in what is probably this off-season’s best Winter League.

Tyler Alexander (27).  Another lefty, Tyler Alexander spent three full seasons pitching in Fargo in the Indy-A American Association.  He had been in the Brewers’ organization, but during a period when his grandmother died and his long-time girlfriend broke up with him, he tested positive twice for marijuana, which led to an 50-game suspension from MLB.  Because the Brewers released him, it meant that any signing team had to wait while Alexander served out the 50-game suspension.  So no MLB organization signed him, and he pitched in baseball’s boondocks for three years.

Alexander pitched well in the Mexican Pacific League (LMP), Mexico’s winter league, the previous two off-seasons, but he didn’t get a shot from a summer Mexican League team.  Instead, he joined the Indy-A CanAm League this past spring, which isn’t any better than the American Association, but gets more attention from scouts because the teams play on the East Coast.  He pitched reasonably well and was signed by the Quintano Roo Tigres to pitch in the Mexican League’s second half.  He went 4-3 with 3.81 ERA and a 1.223 WHIP and 48 Ks in 54.1 IP south of the border.

Alexander has been even better in the DWL this winter, posting a 2.68 ERA with a tiny 0.87 WHIP and striking out another 48 batters in 50.1 IP.  He also has a 1.42 ERA after three DWL post-season starts.  The DWL is an extreme pitchers’ league this off-season, but Alexander, like Lowey, has unquestionably been one of the league’s best starters.

After all these years, MLB has waived Alexander’s old 50-game suspension last spring, so an MLB organization could sign him without penalty.  MLB teams are fully aware of what’s going on in the DWL, as are NPB teams, to it’s quite likely either an MLB organization or an NPB team could soon sign him.  If not, he’d make a great prospect for the CPBL.

Tyler Cloyd (32).  Another pitcher with more than 100 MLB major league innings under his belt, Cloyd pitched badly in 17.2 major league innings with the Marlins in 2018, but pitched fairly well for the AAA New Orleans Baby Cakes in 2018, posting a 5.17 ERA in 15 starts with a 1.336 WHIP and 68 Ks in 85.1 IP while walking only 18.  Cloyd is still presumably looking for a minor league contract for 2019, but at his age probably won’t receive one.  He’s another pitcher I could definitely see pitching in Taiwan in 2019.

Bryan Evans (32).  Evans had an interesting 2018 season.  After spending 2017 in the Atlantic League, he started the 2018 season in the Mexican League where he went 3-3 with an unimpressive 4.82 ERA and a WHIP over 1.5 in 11 starts.  But that was good enough for the Mariners to sign him to pitch at AAA Tacoma, where he pitched better.  He went 6-3 for the Rainiers in 14 starts with a 4.40 ERA with a 1.262 WHIP and 71 Ks in 77.2 IP.

Evans also pitched this winter in the DWL where he went 0-3 with a 4.34 ERA, but struck out 29 batters in 29 innings pitched with a 1.372 WHIP.  Evans looks a lot like the kind of pitcher who pitches in the CPBL, and he hasn’t done so yet.  Maybe 2019 will be his year.

Patrick Johnson (30).  He had a good 2018 in the Mexican League, going 12-5 with a 4.02 ERA, 1.307 WHIP and 86 Ks in 116.1 IP.  He didn’t pitch for a winter league team this year, which I think will hurt him with CPBL teams, particularly since his 2018 season looks a lot like a small right-hander (5’10 and 170 lbs) about to have arm problems.

Will Oliver (31), Nate Reed (31) and James Russell (33).  Three 2018 Atlantic League stars who have pitched well in the LMP this winter.  Oliver and Reed are still pitching effectively in the LMP’s post-season, and James Russell has 394 career MLB major league appearances, mostly in relief.

Colin Rea (28), Burch Smith (29) and Sean Nolin (29).  Three pitchers with MLB major league experience coming back from Tommy John surgery, who are all still young enough that I expect they’ll be pitching in the MLB minors in 2019.  However, one could slip through to Taiwan.

Andre Rienzo (30), Paolo Espino (32) and Guillermo Moscoso (35).  Three Latino pitchers with MLB major league experience who I could see pitching in the CPBL in 2019.  Rienza is a Brazilian who has had arm problems, but he had an 0.76 ERA in nine second half starts in the Mexican League season and was brought in at the end of the LMP season to allow only two runs in 18.1 IP across three starts including one in the post-season so far.

Espino is a Panamanian who pitched effectively but certainly not spectacularly in 10 AAA starts for the Colorado Springs Sky Sox this past summer.  He’s been fantastic in the DWL so far this winter.

Guillermo Moscoso has already pitched in NPB, so he’s willing to play in Asia,  but he’s also a Venezuelan who has played eight seasons in the Venezuelan Winter League (VWL).  I could see him deciding that the situation is so dire in Venezuela now, what with two VWL players, including major leaguer and top VWL hitter Luis Valbuena, being murdered while driving back to their home city after a road trip this season, it’s time to go to Taiwan.  He’s enough of a star in Venezuela, they’ll let him start next year’s VWL season late.

Finally, the KBO jettisoned a lot of older but still effective foreign KBO veterans this off-season.  Dustin Nippert (38) rumoredly advised CPBL teams that he’d sign for $50,000 a month, although that’s a non-starter if typical CPBL salaries for first-year foreigners range from $15K to $18K a month.  $50,000 for three months?  Sign ‘im!

So which former KBOer would sign a $75,000 for three month contract?  Maybe Eric Hacker (36) who has previously been rumored as a CPBL prospect.  I see Dominican Henry Sosa (33) doing the Mexican League/DWL combo in 2019, hoping to catch on with an NPB team.

Because of his age, Taiwan’s Wang Wei-Chung (27) is more likely to pitch in AAA or NPB in 2019 than the CPBL.  David Hale (31) and Pat Dean (30) seem like better possibilities for the CPBL.

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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.

 

What Did Kenta Maeda Earn in 2018?

January 1, 2019

By my calculation, Kenta Maeda earned $6.275 million in 2018 on his incentive-heavy contract with the Dodgers.  This includes a pro-rated portion of his $1 million signing bonus, but does not include the post-season money Maeda earned.

The $6.275M amount is $1.75M less than Maeda earned in 2017 and $5.75M less than he earned in 2016.  Meanwhile, fangraphs says his performance had a value of $20.7M in 2018, compared to only $16.0M in 2017 but $26.4M in his 2016 MLB rookie campaign.

With the Dodgers’ decision to trade Alex Wood, it is likely that Maeda will begin the 2019 season in the Dodgers’ starting rotation.  However, because the contract did not take into account the reasonably foreseeable likelihood that Maeda might well end up pitching largely out of the bullpen in MLB, there are no provisions for performance bonuses based on appearances or games finished.  This may become an issue, if Maeda continues to be used a spot starter and becomes increasingly resentful that his compensation does not reflect his actual contributions on the mound.

The fact that Maeda earned World Series money each of the last two seasons and play-off money each of the last three seasons has probably taken much of the sting out of a contract that has proven to be much too favorable to the Dodgers.  Also, Maeda has made significantly more money the last three seasons in MLB than he would have made in NPB, at least excluding endorsement deals, which are much more lucrative for Japanese baseball stars than for MLB stars in America.  I don’t know how pitching in MLB affects Maeda’s endorsement income in Japan  — it may well have no effect at all, because everyone in Japan knows that he was a big enough star to make a successful transition to MLB.

Seattle Mariners Sign Yusei Kikuchi to a Wonderfully Complicated Contract

January 1, 2019

The Mariners signed Yusei Kikuchi to a long-term contract that could be as short as three seasons or as long as seven.  The contract will pay Kikuchi $43 million for the first three seasons.  After that, the Mariners can exercise an option to renew Kikuchi for another four seasons at $66 million.  If the M’s decline to exercise their four year option, Kikuchi has a player option for a fourth season only at $13M.

The nature of the contract explains why the Mariners made this deal during an off-season when they are otherwise gutting their roster as part of a get-as-bad-as-you-can rebuild.  The odds that the M’s will compete in the first three seasons of Kikuchi’s deal are slim, but if he succeeds in the major leagues, the Mariners can renew him for the four seasons when the team might reasonably be competitive again.

The Mariners have had a long history of success in signing Japanese players, and Japanese players like signing to play in Seattle.  This fact probably explains why Kikuchi elected to sign with a rebuilding team, although it’s also likely that the $56M guarantee he received was the best offer he received by a healthy margin.

Kikuchi has the stuff and the talent to be a successful MLB starter, although there are some questions about his ability to stay healthy.  This will particularly be an issue, as it is for all NPB starters who join MLB, as he tries to adjust to pitching every fifth day instead of once a week.

Recent contracts for NPB pitchers really seem to be a laboratory for just how creatively their signing MLB teams can get in crafting a contract that is both acceptable to the player and also creates the most potential value at the least amount of risk for the team.  Takahiro Norimoto is the next NPB ace likely to join MLB, possibly as soon as next off-season.  He’s a small right-hander who may well receive a heavily incentive laden contract like the one the Dodgers signed Kenta Maeda to a few off-seasons ago.  At any rate, it will be interesting to see how Norimoto’s contract is structured when and if it happens.

Chinatrust Brothers Sign Eric Wood and Other Asian Notes

January 1, 2019

The CPBL’s Chinatrust Brothers signed Pirates’ minor leaguer Eric Wood for 2018.  It is the first time since 2016 that a CPBL team has used one of its three major league roster spots on a foreign position player.

Wood will be 26 in 2019 and plays 3B, 1B and the corner outfield positions.  He slashed .269/.328/.481 in 308 plate appearances at AAA Indianapolis in 2018, his second season the International League.  Wood is not a bad hitter, but he doesn’t hit well enough to be a major league 1B/LF, and his defense at 3B isn’t major league average.

Wood was a minor league free agent this off-season and given his age and 2018 performance, it is surprising he did not sign with a major league organization.  CPBL teams do not report the contract amounts they spend on foreign players, but my reasonable guestimate would be that the Brothers guaranteed him $75,000 for the first three months of the 2019 CPBL season, which is probably about the same he would earn for a full season as a minor league free agent signee playing a full year at AAA.  Of course, playing at AAA, Wood would have had a chance to get called up to the majors and make major league money for however long he could stick on a major league roster.

The last position player signed by a CPBL team was former major league Felix Pie in 2016.  Pie was coming off a successful season in South Korea’s KBO in which he batted .326 with an .897 OPS in 2015, but was not invited back by the Hanwha Eagles, so he signed with the CPBL’s 7/11 Uni-Lions instead.  Unfortunately, Pie fouled a ball off his ankle, fracturing it, in his fifth CPBL game, and that was the end of his CPBL career, as the Uni-Lions weren’t willing to wait for him to heal before filing his roster spot with another foreigner.

In recent years, the CPBL has decided it wants starting pitchers to fill the three roster spot limit for foreigners on each team, pretty much like KBO teams had decided before the KBO expanded from eight to ten teams between 2013 and 2015 and decided to allow each team a third foreign player so long as at least one of the three foreigners was not a pitcher.  The Brothers signed Wood in part because of his versatility, although I kind of expect he’ll play mostly 3B in Taiwan.  However, it remains to be seen whether Wood lasts more than half a season, because the Brothers may not have enough adequate domestic starters to make experimenting with a position player work.

Four foreign position players played in the CPBL in 2014 and 2015, but only 2B JIm Negrych managed to last long enough to play in more than 37 CPBL games.  He managed to appear in 107 for the Brothers spread over those two seasons.

In other recent Asian signings, NPB’s Yomiuri Giants signed reliever Ryan Cook to a $1.3M contract, and the Hanshin Tigers signed 1B/3B/LF Jefry Marte for an “estimated” $1M.  Both Cook and Marte have considerable major league experience.

Ryan Cook was really good a few years ago as a young reliever for the A’s, but arm problems, including Tommy John surgery, derailed his career.  He had a 5.29 ERA in 19 relief appearances for the Mariners last year, but he pitched well at AAA, and his arm appears to be healthy again.

Marte has an ugly .222/.288/.407 slash line in 728 career major league plate appearances, but he’s also hit 30 doubles and 30 home runs and he’s only 28 in 2019. He looks like an excellent bet to become a successful NPB slugger.

KT Wiz Re-Sign Mel Rojas Jr. for $1.5 Million

December 28, 2018

The KBO’s KT Wiz re-signed slugging outfielder Mel Rojas Jr. to a deal that will pay Rojas a $500,000 signing bonus, $1 million in salary (likely not guaranteed) and an additional $100,000 in performance bonuses.  Rojas fills the last of 30 KBO major league roster spaces reserved for foreign players, and his contract is potentially the third largest for a foreigner this off-season, after the possible $1.92M that pitcher Josh Lindblom could earn and the possible $1.7M slugger Darin Ruf could earn — all three contracts include performance bonuses which will presumably require the players to remain productive and healthy for the full 2019 KBO season.

I wouldn’t normally write a post just on a single, non-record setting contract to play for a KBO team, but I found this signing interesting because there was a lot of talk this off-season that after a huge 2018 KBO season in which Rojas set a Wiz franchise record with 43 home runs and slashed .305/.389/.590, both scoring and driving in 114 runs, Rojas was hoping for a return to MLB.  Most of the time such expressions of desire to return to MLB turn out to be a negotiating ploy with the player’s KBO or NPB team, as no MLB organization is willing to match what the KBO or NPB team is willing to pay the player for the next season.

Nevertheless, it is a tried and true negotiating position, and with more foreign KBO and NPB players making triumphant returns to MLB in recent seasons, it is a negotiating strategy that’s likely to be better today than it ever was.  In fairness to Rojas and other foreign players who have made noises about returning to MLB, they probably do wish they could return to MLB for roughly same money they made the previous year in Asia.  I don’t think it is easy for foreign players to adjust to living and playing in Japan or South Korea.

The reality, of course, is that the players (with the exceptions of the very best foreigners like Eric Thames and Miles Mikolas) typically can’t get an acceptable MLB deal for precisely the same reasons that sent them to Asia to play in the first place.  They went to Asia to make major league money when no MLB team thought they were worth a major league contract.

If Rojas is truly serious about returning to MLB, he needs to have a 2019 season in the KBO even better than his 2018 season.  That might be what it takes to convince at least one MLB organization that Rojas has really gotten better since he joined the KBO in 2017.

Most of the 4-A players who find success and earn major league money to play in Asia ought to stick to playing in Asia.  As I like to say, it’s better to be a big fish in a small pond than a minnow in the ocean.  That said, a foreigner’s expressions of desire to keep playing for his current KBO or NPB team don’t generally carry a whole lot of weight with these teams.  The Asian teams want on-field production from their foreigners first, second and last and typically dump their foreign players as soon as they believe that their future on-field production won’t justify their substantial salaries.  Just ask Dustin Nippert, who was forced into what increasingly looks like an earlier KBO retirement than Nippert wanted or deserved.

In light of the lack of loyalty Asian teams show their foreign “mercenaries,” foreign players are certainly justified in using whatever leverage they have to obtain the best contracts they can.  In short, for as long as foreign players have successful seasons in the KBO or NPB, they will be threatening, or at least leaking the possibility, that they will return to MLB unless their Asian team makes it worth their while to stay.

A Couple of Interesting Asian Signings

December 13, 2018

The KBO’s Lotte Giants today announced the signing of former Philadelphia Phillie Jake Thompson.  What is interesting about this signing is that Thompson is not yet 25, which makes him extremely young to be signed by an Asian team, particularly in light of the fact that Thompson is not yet 25 years old and has had some significant major league success (4.87 ERA across 116.1 IP).  Players of Thompson’s age and past major league success usually aren’t ready to give up on their major league dreams.

Obviously, it’s largely about the money.  Thompson will earn $900,000 if he sticks with the Lotte Giants through the 2019 season.  After being designated for assignment by the Brewers last season, Thompson was a free agent who was reasonably looking at minor league contract that would not have paid him more than $650,000 for major league service time.  Thompson didn’t pitch particularly well in 2018 either in the Show or at AAA, although he probably impressed Lotte with six very strong starts in the Dominican Winter League through November 18th.

Also, Thompson’s signing likely reflects the new reality that MLB-system players going to the Asian majors can easily return to MLB later after they have succeeded in Asia.  Two big seasons in the KBO, and Thompson could potentially return to MLB for his age 27 season on the kind of guaranteed money deal that Merrill Kelly just received from the Arizona Diamondbacks (two years plus options for a $5.5M guarantee).  Even if he isn’t a big success in South Korea, Thompson can still return to AAA in 2020 at age 26 with $900,000 (less South Korea’s new higher taxes for foreign players) in his pocket.

Former San Francisco Giant Albert Suarez is another former major leaguer who appears to have turned a strong winter league performance into an Asian majors contract.  The 29 year old Venezuelan has been signed by NPB’s Yakult Swallows after leading the Venezuelan Winter League in strikeouts through today’s date.  He had a mediocre 4.97 ERA at AAA Reno (a very tough place to pitch) in 31 appearances including four starts with no major league appearances in 2018, so his winter league effectiveness no doubt helped him get an Asian contract for 2019.