Archive for the ‘NPB’ category

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.


Pitcher Loek Van Mil Hurt in Australia’s Outback

December 12, 2018

Here’s a weird story from the world of baseball.  You probably don’t remember Dutch right-hander Loek Van Mil.  He never made the majors and is mostly remembered in the U.S. for being, at 7’1″, the tallest professional pitcher in baseball history.  He did manage to pitch parts of four seasons at the AAA level and peaked with seven games pitched for NPB’s Rakuten Golden Eagles in 2014.

Anyway, now age 34, Van Mil has continued his professional baseball career the last few years pitching in the Netherlands’ professional league (it plays a 42 games season) in the summer and in Australia’s professional league in the Northern Hemisphere winter.  A day or two ago he was out hiking in the what the Aussies call the Bush somewhere outside of Canberra during some off-time while his team, the Brisbane Bandits, was on a road trip, when he suffered a major fall which broke multiple bones and caused bleeding on the brain.

He was reportedly unconscious for roughly 24 hours until another hiker found him, after he had failed to show up at the ball park for the Bandits’ next game.  While he is still in critical but stable condition, the bleeding on his brain has been stopped, he’s coherent and talking, and he is expected to recover.  It almost certainly means the end of his pro baseball career, but his health is obviously far more important.  I certainly hope that Van Mil fully recovers, but I have to say that it is a weird, weird way to end one’s professional baseball career.

Nippon Ham Fighters Sign Wang Po-Jung

December 7, 2018

CPBL Stats reports that the Nippon Ham Fighters of NPB have signed young Taiwanese star Wang Po-Jung for three years at $4 million on top of a reported $1 million posting fee paid to his former team, the Lamigo Monkeys.  The deal may also include additional performance incentives.

The reported amount is a lot more than I expected Wang to get for a first NPB contract.  North American foreigners typically get a relatively modest first NPB contract, with the understanding that if the player succeeds in NPB, his second contract will be much more generous.

Wang’s situation is different in that there was a posting fee involved and Wang is younger than former MLB-system foreigners when they go to Japan.  Even so, I expected that Wang would get a three-year deal but for closer to the reported $1M posting fee, like maybe $1.5 million, an amount more than Wang would make for three years in the CPBL, and would position Wang as a free agent after his age 27 season, where he would then get the really big deal once he had proved he was an NPB star.

Nippon Ham must be convinced that Wang will be an NPB star, particularly since he’ll be taking up a valuable foreign player roster spot (NPB teams get only four foreigners on the active roster at any given time).  I also think that Wang’s contract hints at the fact that Nippon Ham can afford to take a $5M risk on Wang because NPB player salaries are artificially low relative to actual revenue streams even for mid-market teams like the Fighters.  The Fighters are now drawing roughly two million fans a season across a 71 or 72 game schedule, plus TV revenues, so the team can certainly afford $5M for three seasons of whatever performance Wang actually gives them.

I’m certainly wishing Wang luck, but now it’s up to him to rise to the contract he just signed.

In other NPB news, the Rakuten Golden Eagles have reportedly reached a deal with 4-A player Jabari Blash.  I have been suggesting for years that Blash should take his talents to NPB, because he’s the kind of talent that often has great success in Japan.  Blash has been terrorizing AAA pitching since 2015, but he’s fallen flat in three major league trials and he’s now entering his age 29 season.  In fact, Blash really should have signed with an NPB or KBO team last off-season, as he turns 30 next July 4th, meaning his window to establish himself as a star in one of the Asian majors is short.

Chunichi Dragons Sign Enny Romero

December 4, 2018

You’re probably thinking who?  What?  Enny Romero is a marginal major leaguer who is having a terrific winter in the Dominican — 0.83 ERA with a 0.85 WHIP while striking out 44 batters in 43.1 IP in eight starts and nine appearances.

The Chunichi Dragons caught lightning in a bottle last off-season with Cuban Onelki Garcia, who followed up a big winter in the Liga de Beisbol Dominica with a 13-9 record and a 2.99 ERA for the Dragons in 2018 for a modest by NPB standards $453,500 salary.  The Dragons’ decision to sign Romero is almost certainly an effort to determine whether they’ve discovered something the rest of the market has missed.

The Chunichi Dragons are an interesting team.  They play in Nagoya, which is Japan’s third largest metropolitan area, and they are the oldest NPB team, behind Tokyo’s Yomiuri Giants and Osaka/Kobe/Kyoto’s Hanshin Tigers.  The Dragons, playing in the same league (the Central) as Yomiuri and Hanshin, seem to have decided long ago that they can’t compete on even terms with the two juggernauts and are instead content to draw their roughly 2 million fans a year and leave it at that.

For a long time, Chunichi was NPB’s only middle income team.  They’ve since been passed by Fukuoka’s SoftBank Hawks and joined by Hiroshima, Sapporo and Yomohama as NPB’s middle income teams.

Chunichi strikes me as very old-school in the sense that they seem to have what I would call a traditional Japanese sense of loyalty and duty to their past star players/employees.  I’ve noticed that Chunichi seems to keep their former stars around longer than any other NPB team would, and I think it’s one of the reasons the Dragons aren’t more successful.  If you want to win, you have to jettison the oldsters for cheaper youngsters the moment the oldsters stop performing like major league players.  In NPB, old, less productive players take salary cuts that MLB major league veterans only take with team changes, but even so, Chunichi keeps bringing their aged veterans back longer than seems optimal in terms of winning ballgames.

To get back to Enny Romero, I enjoy seeing players who put in a big year in the Winter Leagues get the opportunity to make some real money.  The top four Winter Leagues are pretty good, and it excites me to see players get rewarded for playing well when this opportunity has afforded itself.

On that topic, former major leaguer and overall No. 1 draft pick Delmon Young has hit a major Winter League leading 13 home runs so far in Venezuela.  If I were Young, I would be on the phone with my agent telling him to let every NPB team know that I’d sign a contract that pays me 10 million yen ($88,000) for NPB minor league service time and 60 million yen (530,000) for NPB major league service time.

At age 33, the odds aren’t great that an MLB team would even be willing to offer Young a minor league contract.  However, NPB teams love power hitters (even with Young’s other offensive faults — he rarely walks), and Young still has a professional pedigree that at least one NPB team might find too intriguing to pass up at the right price.

I don’t doubt for a minute that Young’s recent comeback is in part motivated by the fact that he’s likely spent through all the money he made when he was an MLB star.  NPB is probably his last, best chance for a future major league payday.

Atlanta Braves Sign Josh Donaldson And Other Notes

November 27, 2018

The Braves have reportedly signed Josh Donaldson for one season at a robust $23 million, the same salary he earned in 2018.  It’s a exciting move for Braves’ fans, because Donaldson has the goods when he’s healthy, and he’s due for a healthy age 33 season in 2019.  If he isn’t healthy, it’s only a one-year commitment.

Donaldson’s signing indicates the Braves are serious about making and going deeper into the post-season next year.  The Braves also added veteran catcher Brian McCann on a one-year $2M deal, where he will presumably platoon with Tyler Flowers, following Kurt Suzuki‘s departure for greener pastures in the National’s capital.

With both McCann and Flowers over age 33 next season, the Braves will need a third catcher waiting in the wings.  It remains to be seen who that might be since the Braves may well decide that Carlos Perez isn’t worth an arbitration raise.

Nice to see Donaldson betting on himself to be healthy and productive in 2019.  Of course, $23M is still an enormous amount of money even if were to be Donaldson’s last significant major league payday.

Donaldson’s signing is the biggest so far in an as yet slow to develop signing period, so I’ll go back to a favorite topic of mine: Asian signings.

Former Giants prospect Tommy Joseph signed a million dollar deal to go play for the LG Twins of South Korea’s KBO.  Joseph was the first guy I listed in my post on the subject six weeks ago, because he’s the right age (he turns 28 next July 16th) and the right talent level.  Good luck to him — the secret to Asian baseball success for former MLB players is a hot first six weeks.

In another example of why Japan’s NPB and marginal major league relievers are a match made in heaven is the Yokohama Bay Stars’ re-signing of Spencer Patton for two years and a reported $3M guarantee plus another $1M in performance bonuses.  The MLB major leagues are loaded with relievers who aren’t quite good enough to be MLB stars, but are good enough to be NPB stars.  On top of that, the NPB salary scale, where the very best players are effectively capped at around 600 million yen per season ($5.3M), means that star relief pitchers are relatively overpaid compared to MLB.

Foreign one-year KBO veterans, RHP Tyler Wilson and OF Jared Hoying, re-signed for $1.5M and $1.4M, respectively, but so far this year looks like a retrenching year for the KBO with many still effective foreign veterans getting the ax for presumably less expensive foreign newbies.

More Asian Baseball Comings and Goings

November 16, 2018

The KBO’s SK Wyverns announced the signing of 24 year old Canadian right-hander Brock Dykxhoorn to replace foreign ace Merrill Kelly, who Yonhap reports intends to return to MLB in 2019.  The news interests me for a couple of reasons.

First, I’m a little surprised that Kelly wants to return to MLB after the success and money he’s made pitching in the KBO.  He has been very good in the KBO, but I’m not convinced he’s a full season MLB major league pitcher.

Kelly would easily have commanded a two-year $3M contract to remain with the Wyverns.  He isn’t likely to get a similar deal from an MLB organization, although he could potentially get a similar deal from an NPB team.

At 24 (and not turning 25 until next July) Dykxhoorn is very young by the standards of foreign pitchers signed to play in an Asian major league for major league money.  Dykxhoorn has only half a season of AAA experience and has never pitched in the Show.

My own feeling is that age 26 or 27 is the ideal age for a 4-A player to attempt to start an NPB or KBO career.  At that age the player is close to his peak skills level and he’s mature enough mentally to have a reasonable chance to make the adjustment to playing baseball in a foreign major league.

The last similar player under the age of 26 in the KBO was Adam Wilk, who pitched for the NC Dinos in his age 25 season in 2013.  Wilk didn’t pitch terribly (4-8 record, 4.12 ERA but 4.71 run average), but his stint in the KBO did not go well.  In fact, there was a lot of acrimony between Wilk and the Dinos, which I suspect had something to do with Wilk’s expectations and maturity level.  I suspect that Wilk expected that pitching in South Korea would be more “major league,” while the Dinos wanted Wilk to just shut up and perform at a high level for the major league money they were paying him.

If Dykxhoorn is successful in the KBO in 2019, it could lead to a long Asian career or a chance to return to MLB as a better pitcher in a few years.  However, Asian teams who sign foreign players to major league contracts have no interest in developing young foreigners.  Those players need to perform at a high level from day one if they are being paid major league money.

The Yomiuri Giants have announced that Casey McGehee will not be returning to the team in 2019.  McGehee had another strong season for the Giants in 2018, slashing .285/.336/.467.  However, McGehee is now 36 years old, and his performance in 2018 did represent a drop-off from 2017 when he was one of the Central League’s best hitters.

More than just about anyone I can think of, McGehee effectively used NPB as a means to maximize his professional baseball success, both on the field and in the pocketbook.  When his MLB major career looked shot, he used a strong year in NPB in 2013 to justify a return to the MLB majors, and when his second MLB major run ended after three seasons, he successfully returned to NPB.  I hope it’s been fun for Casey, and he has a lot of good memories about where his professional career has taken him.

Two other big foreign stars who won’t be returning to NPB in 2019 are Brad Eldred and Jay Jackson.  Eldred is already 38 years old, and he missed most of 2018 to injuries.  Eldred his 133 NPB home runs across seven seasons.

Jackson however was an effective top set-up man for the third year in a row in 2018, and he only just turned 31, so I’m surprised the Hiroshima Carp decided not to bring him back.  His ERA rose from 2.03 in 2017 to a still respectable 2.76, but he missed several weeks of the regular season to hamstring injury in September and only pitched twice in the post-season.  Carp management may have decided he wouldn’t be worth the $1M+ contract he’s have received for 2019.  I wouldn’t be surprised if one of NPB’s poorer teams sign Jackson this off-season now that he’s available.

David Harris and Other Winter League Batting Leaders

November 12, 2018

A player who has caught my eye this year is David Harris.  He turned 27 last August and was the best hitter in the Indy-A Can-Am League this past summer, slashing .331/.435/.590 in more than 400 plate appearances.  Although he’s still reasonably young, no major league organization was willing to sign him, even to fill in for late season injureds.

After 25 games in the Mexican Pacific League (LMP) this Fall, Harris is leading LMP with a 1.066 OPS.  Sure, it’s only a 25 game sample, but if Harris manages to stay hot and finish in the LMP’s top five in OPS, it will be a distinctly more impressive feat than leading the Can-Am League, particularly for a non-Mexican player.

Harris washed out of the Blue Jays’ system after two 100+ plate appearance trials at Class A+ Dunedin a few years back, and he may already be too old to seriously tempt MLB organizations.  Where does a player like Harris go from here?

The most likely answer is that Harris will be playing in the Atlantic League or Mexico’s summer league (LMB) next summer.  A really hot first half in LMB in 2019 could get him a contract to play in Japan’s NPB, but the odds of him being LMB’s OPS leader (or at least in the top three) in the first half of 2019 are probably slim.  It takes a lot of luck to be a consistent league leader even at the LMB/LMP level if MLB has already made a judgment that you don’t have the talent to merit another contract even though you haven’t yet reached age 28.

Ramon Urias, Saul Soto and Japhet Amador are other top hitters in the LMP this winter.  Ramon Urias had some big seasons in LMB until the Cardinals finally purchased his rights, and he’s still young enough to have some kind of an MLB major league career in the future.

Saul Soto is one of the best LMB players of his generation.  Soto slashed .262/.366/.401 as a 22 year old C/1B in nearly 300 Class A Sally League plate appearances, but was returned to LMB the next summer season.  Playing summers in LMB and winters in LMP mostly as a catcher, which equates to about the same number of games as a full MLB major league season, Soto has slugged well more than 350 career home runs south of the border.  At age 40 now, he’s been exclusively a 1Bman since the start of the 2016 winter season.

Japhet Amador had a nice little NPB career going until a positive steroids test this summer likely sent him back to LMB/LMP for good.  He’ll hit a lot more home runs in Mexico until his 300+ lbs body breaks down for good.

Soon to be 26 year old middle infielder Hanser Alberto is currently leading the Dominican Winter League with a .911 OPS.  Alberto has already received MLB major league playing time in three different seasons, but has batted dreadfully because he has no strike zone judgment.  Alberto appears to have the raw batting abilities of a major leaguer, particularly when you take into account his defense, but he may have to go to Asia to become a major league star.

Delmon Young is currently tied for the Venezuelan Winter League lead with five home runs.  Young played pretty well in LMB this past summer, and I’m not particularly surprised.  He only turned 33 in mid-September, and he had the raw athletic and batting abilities to be a No. 1 overall MLB draft pick once upon a time.

However, I don’t see Young returning to MLB.  He’s the same player now he was as an MLBer, meaning he won’t walk enough to be successful at the MLB major league level.  If he can lead the VWL in home runs, though, he might be able to catch on with an NPB team in search of right-handed power.