Archive for the ‘NPB’ category

Covid-19 Will Finish a Lot of Baseball Careers Too

July 5, 2020

This is a baseball blog, so I’m going to ignore the 130,000+ Americans to date who’ve died of the disease and talk about the impact of the pandemic on the professional lives of professional baseball players.

MLB teams will not only be playing a highly abbreviated 60 game season (pending a negotiated 64 or 66 game season with expanded play-offs, which the owners very much want), but franchise rosters will apparently be limited to 60 players for 2020.  Major league roster limits will be 30-26 during the shortened season, plus a 3-player “taxi squad” in case someone on the major league roster gets hurt or tests positive.

That means only 30 players on the minor league squad.  That isn’t enough to play more than 3-inning practice games.  I haven’t heard whether the minor league squads will be playing against each other.  However, I don’t see how the minor league guys can be ready step into the majors if they aren’t playing games against each other.

The 60-man franchise limit means a lot of minor leaguers won’t be playing baseball in 2020.  Solid, roster-filler AAA players over age 28 will not be included as teams put together their 60-man, as teams will want more promising younger AA players instead, along with all the organization’s top prospects, to whom teams will want to give playing team even if they are initially in over their heads.

I imagine that every single player Class A+ and below who isn’t seen as a top prospect by his team will not being playing any baseball this summer.

For minor league players over the age of 28, a full year off is going to be nearly impossible to come back from, at least for position players.  A full year off at this age is not good for the batting eye or foot speed.

Players in the lower minors under the age of 25 can possibly come back from a full year off, but it’s going to stunt a lot of careers for players who might have been better than their draft pedigree.  And that’s even to say that MLB plays half-way-full minor league seasons in 2021.

The Owners have been fighting to reduce the size of the minor leagues dramatically, and the Coronavirus may mean significant reduction in leagues and levels when things get back to normal compared to immediately before the pandemic struck.

However, it’s been a good year for players from the Americas in Asia in 2020.  KBO and CPBL teams are well into their seasons, and NPB is now almost 14 games in, which probably means that every foreign player in these leagues has received a paycheck, which is more than a lot of pro ball players in the States can say.

And better foreign players are available to Asian teams because the American options have narrowed considerably.  I don’t think there is any way the Kiwoom Heroes sign Addison Russell for $530,000 for the rest of the season in any kind of normal year.

The CPBL should be able to find better foreign pitchers for their money.  Their bread and butter is the kind of 28+ AAA pitcher who isn’t likely to make any team’s 60-man franchise roster.

The Only Game in Town

April 18, 2020

Professional baseball is back — in Taiwan.

We are now six games into the 2020 CPBL season with the games being played in empty stadiums but broadcast on TV.  It is surely better than nothing for a baseball hungry world.

The best game pitched so far was former New York Yankee and half-season KBO ace Esmil Rogers‘ effort earlier today.  He allowed one run, earned, on six hits and a walk in seven innings pitched with 11 strikeouts.

I had questions about how Rogers would pitch in the extremely hitter friendly CPBL.  Despite the past KBO success, he’s now 34 and got hit pretty hard in the Mexican League in 2019, which was also an extreme hitters’ league.  CPBL teams love foreign pitchers with a history of success in the KBO and/or NPB, and so far so good for Rogers.

Former Seattle Mariner and SoftBank Hawk Ariel Miranda and former Toronto Blue Jay and KBO ace Ryan Feierabend both looked good on opening day, but neither reached the seventh inning nor got a decision.  Former San Francisco Giants farmhand, brief Houston Astro and former KBO ace Henry Sosa looked good in his first CPBL start of the young CPBL season, allowing one run in 7 IP on four hits and a walk while striking out five.

[Kudos to — they are publishing CPBL stats for the first time this season — maybe my two emails over the last three or four years had some effect… but probably not, at least not by themselves.]

CPBL teams decided to spend more money on the four foreign pitchers each of the league’s four franchises can sign (three on the major league squad and one in the minors, with the ability to promote and demote foreign players without having to release someone for the first time this season) this past off-season.  CPBL teams decided to do this in part to get more attention from the baseball world, but more because the Lamigo (now Rakuten) Monkeys have completely dominated the league the last few seasons because they have a disproportionate share of the best Taiwanese hitters.  The other three teams realized the only way they can compete is by spending more money to get better foreign pitchers.

Even though the CPBL is going to lose money this season because fans probably won’t be attending any games this year, as the only pro game in the world as I write this post, teams’ decisions to spend more money to put on a better product may well pay dividends when a coronavirus vaccine becomes widely available.

The best game pitched by a Taiwanese starter so far is the three earned run, six inning outing with seven Ks thrown by the Brothers’ Huang Enci (黃恩賜) — the translations provided by Google Translate for Chinese names are not necessarily the conventional ones.  He’s 24 this year and appears to be a work in progress.

33 year old former Cleveland Indian C.C. Lee has six Ks in 3.1 innings pitched in two relief appearances, but he’s also blown a save, which happens a lot in the CPBL.  21 year old rookie (he pitched 18.2 innings CPBL major league innings across 16 relief appearances last season) Wu Jun-wei (吳俊偉) has struck out seven in three scoreless relief innings

Former Detroit Tiger Ryan Carpenter and former Padre/Mariner/Cub Donn Roach got hit pretty hard in their first ever CPBL starts.  I had my doubts about the Roach signing after a rough 2019 AAA International League season, but one start doesn’t prove much.

The big story at the plate so far is last season’s home run champ Chu Yu-Hsien (朱育賢), who hit five home runs in his first two games this season and is currently batting .692 (9 for 13) with a 2.538 OPS.  Aside from his league leading 30 dingers last season, he batted .347 with a .605 slugging percentage, which were only good enough for fifth and fourth best respectively, in the hit-happy 4-team circuit.  Here’s video of two of his 2020 home runs.

It’s worth noting that the Monkeys have scored 9, 15 and 11 runs in their three 2020 games so far.  Not surprisingly, they are 3-0 in spite of having allowed 8 and 10 runs in two of the games.  You know what they say — the best defense is a good offense.

Mike Bolsinger Sues Astros for Sign-Stealing

February 11, 2020

Mike Bolsinger is suing the Astros for lost earnings as a result of getting hammered and knocked out of the majors by a bad outing against the ‘Stros, with the garbage can banging away in the dugout.  His lawyers certainly found the right plaintiff, a pitcher who got knocked out and immediately sent down with recorded audio proof of the cheating.  MLB Trade Rumors’ Jeff Todd has a good piece which mentions some of the hurdles Bolsinger will face in order to get to discovery, at which point the Astros will probably settle for some several million dollars paid to Bolsinger and his lawyers in order to prevent all of the Astros’ dirty secrets from getting a fuller public airing.

I think it’s likely that the Astros will try to get the case kicked into arbitration, although Bolsinger may have an argument that cheating of this type isn’t covered by the Collective Bargaining Agreement and thus not arbitrable.  However, disputes as to arbitrability are usually left to the arbitrators themselves to decide — courts love kicking cases off to arbitration in these circumstances, because labor arbitrators have more experience in resolving collectively bargained contracts and issues than state court judges.  Kicking cases into binding arbitration, where both sides are well represented by competent legal counsel also conserves state court judicial resources.

An argument I would expect the Astros’ lawyers to raise is whether a California State Court in Los Angeles has personal jurisdiction to hear this dispute.  As I understand it, most of the sign-stealing cheating took place in Houston, although wikipedia’s description of the methods used suggest they could also have been used on the road so long as the Astros could get a live video-feed of the game.  In any event, the day that Bolsinger got hammered happened in Houston.

Thus, it may be necessary for Bolsinger’s lawyers either to find a California-based pitcher to add as a plaintiff and/or to prove that the Astros were stealing signs in Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco or Oakland.  The lawyers picked L.A. because it has a more liberal judiciary.  Orange County is more conservative, but Alameda County, where the A’s play, would probably have been a better choice, because it would probably be easier to prove the Astros cheated at the Oakland Coliseum than at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

A 2017 U.S. Supreme Court case, Bristol-Myers Squibb, holds that to establish specific personal jurisdiction, the conduct complained of in the lawsuit must arise out of or relate to the defendant’s activities in the forum state such that the forum state’s court may only adjudicate issues deriving from or connected with the present controversy that establishes jurisdiction.  This is why I think Bolsingers’ lawyers need to present evidence that the Astros cheated in California and thus that a pitcher in California was negatively affected by the cheating to establish personal jurisdiction.

As I said, if the lawsuit gets past the pleading stage to discovery, I expect the case to settle.  If it did go to trial, Bolsinger would have a hard time proving damages.  While the outing at issue got him knocked out of the majors, he had a 5.49 ERA going into that game.  He’s also likely to find it nearly impossible to prove he would have made more after he was sent down by the Blue Jays, because he made more money in Japan the last two seasons than he would likely have made in the U.S. even if he’d been able to last a little longer in MLB.

I’m doubtful that any major league team will sign Bolsinger in the future.  They might if he was younger and better, but given where he is in his career, I expect him to be effectively black listed by MLB teams for committing the cardinal sin of suing them.

LG Twins to Sign Roberto Ramos

January 23, 2020

It looks like the last roster spot for a foreign player in the KBO has been filled.  The LG Twins are reportedly on the verge of signing former Colorado Rockies’ prospect Roberto Ramos.

On paper, it looks like a great signing.  At age 24 in 2019, he blasted 30 home runs and posted a .980 OPS at Albuquerque in the Pacific Coast League.  It’s his second season in a row hitting at least 30 HRs in the minors.  It makes me wonder why Ramos wants to go to South Korea and why the Rockies sold away his rights.

The answer seems to be that nobody, including most importantly the Rockies, think Ramos is a legitimate major league prospect. ranks Ramos as only the 27th best prospect in the Rockies’ system, and fangraphs ranks him 31st.  That’s mighty low for a 25 year old player coming a full season at AAA like Ramos’ 2019.

Ramos played poorly in a brief 10 game stint in the Arizona Fall League and failed to impress in 48 games in Mexico’s Pacific League this Winter.  However, it’s quite possible he was simply tired, as he ended up playing in an exceptional 185 championship games this year across which he accumulated 731 plate appearances.  So long as he’s still healthy physically, all that play has to be good on the developmental end.

Initial reports are that Ramos will only be making about $500,000 playing in Korea in 2020, which is less than the major league minimum.  It’s likely SK had to buy his rights from the Rockies for about $500,000.

In theory, signing a player this young coming off a AAA season like Ramos’ 2019 looks like a great move by the Twins.  However, I can’t remember the last 25 year old foreign rookie to NPB or the KBO to become a great player there.  There are plenty of 26 and 27 year old foreign rookies who have become huge stars in Asia, but precious few 25 year olds, at least in the recent past.

Most players with enough talent to become big Asian stars going into their age 25 seasons are still seen a legitimate major league prospects.  It’s only when the player has reached the end of his age 25 or 26  season and still hasn’t established himself as a regular major league roster holder that the Asian majors become a better option.

I also think that 4-A players need that extra year or two of both mental and professional maturity in order to be able to adjust quickly to Asia’s very different way of playing baseball.  Foreign players have to hit the ground running in Asian pro baseball, because Asian teams are almost never interested in trying to develop the foreign players they bring in at major league salaries, and mediocre foreign players are easy to replace.

Ramos needs to hit like a star in the KBO in 2020, or he’ll be back in AAA a year older and even less of a prospect in 2021.

Salaries Up for Foreign Pitchers in Taiwan’s CPBL

January 15, 2020

The elect few who read my blog with any regularity know that I like to write about the salary scales throughout the world of professional baseball.  Free agent contracts are up in MLB and NPB this off-season.  KBO contracts for foreign “mercenaries” are definitely down.

Salaries in Asia’s smallest major league are way up for at least a few foreign pitchers.

Until this off-season, new foreign pitchers to the CPBL typically received three or four month guarantees ranging from about $50,000 to $100,000.  So, roughly a little over $15,000 to about $25,000 per month, and not for an entire season.  Rob over at CPBL Stats has been opining for the last year or so that CPBL teams could afford to pay one of their three foreign major leaguers roughly $50,000 a month to start.  It looks like he’s been proven right this off-season.

It took the right sequence of events to move CPBL teams out of their comfort zone, and that sequence happened this off-season.  Last off-season, former KBO star Henry Sosa got dumped by the LG Twins, as a result of the fact that Sosa was getting older and was expensive, and KBO teams pay enough for 4-A pitchers that it’s extremely easy for them to find replacement foreigners who are at least average KBO starters.  Sosa signed on with the Fubon Guardians and completely dominated the CPBL with his big fastball and veteran experience until the Guardians sold him back to the KBO at mid-season, probably due to a clause in Sosa’s contract with the Guardians that required the transfer if a KBO team came calling.

Sosa pitched well in the KBO’s 2019 second-half, but again got squeezed this off-season.  Having proven his value to CPBL teams, the Guardians offered him something like $50K per month for a full CPBL season, which has led to reports that reports that Sosa will earn $500K to $600K in 2020.  In any event, Sosa will probably earn no less than $400K pitching in the CPBL in 2020, when taking into account post-game performance bonuses and other emoluments.  Unfortunately, CPBL teams, like NPB teams, are not at all transparent about player salaries.

The signing of Sosa for big money (by CPBL standards) has unlocked CPBL wallets, or at least the wallet of what is probably the 4-team circuit’s wealthiest team, the China Trust Brothers.  The Brothers signed former SoftBank Hawk and Seattle Mariner starter Ariel Miranda for similar money to Sosa, which was what was reasonably necessary for a CPBL team to beat out small revenue NPB and KBO teams like, for example, the Chiba Lotte Marines.

Then, the Brothers went out and guaranteed roughly $125,000 for three or four months to Esmil Rogers, who pitched very effectively for parts of three seasons in the KBO, has significant MLB major league experience, and is coming off a strong winter league season in his home Dominican Republic.  It’s a lot of money for a pitcher entering his age 34 season with no other likely 2020 option than MLB AAA or the Mexican League, but Rogers has the back-story CPBL teams love.

The Brothers are trying to keep pace with Guardians, who also re-signed CPBL Ace Mike Loree, and the hot-hitting Rakuten Monkeys, who are presumably going to have more money to spend on foreign pitchers since the sale by Lamigo to Rakuten.  Also, the expansion Wei Chuan Dragons, who start major league play in 2021, are already showing signs they will spend big on foreign pitchers next off-season in order to get competitive in a hurry.  Add to that the fact that the Brothers’ 2019 foreign starters, paid in line with last year’s CPBL salary scale, were as a group well less than adequate.

I also think that new roster rules for foreign players is having an effect on salaries.  Before 2020, teams could have three foreign players (in practice, all starting pitchers) on their major league rosters, and typically at least three of the four CPBL teams would keep a fourth foreign pitcher on hand at the minor league level.  However, in order to call up the fourth pitcher in the minors, one of the team’s three major league foreigners had to be released.  Starting in 2020, teams will be able to transfer foreign major leaguers to the minors and call up the foreign minor leaguer with the only restriction that the first pitcher can’t be recalled for 15 days.

The Brothers have, in addition to Sosa and Rogers, re-signed Mitch Lively and brought in fourth foreign pitcher, Dominican Jose De Paula.  This probably means that De Paula, a pitcher of the type CPBL teams in the past signed to pitch at the major league level, will start in the CPBL minor league and wait for one of the other three starters to get hurt or pitch ineffectively.  De Paula’s signing is going to put pressure on the other three CPBL teams to sign a better class of 4th foreign pitchers.

As with all things in professional baseball, little is set in stone when it comes to spending money, and we’re going to have to see if bringing in a better and better paid class of foreign pitchers has an effect on CPBL attendance, which, frankly, isn’t what it should be given baseball’s popularity in Taiwan and the size of Taiwan’s major urban areas.

Also, most of the foreign pitchers signed for the 2020 season are over age 30, which means that a fair number of them will be injured during the season.  If the higher paid foreigners bomb or flame out, there won’t be as much incentive to repeat the experiment in 2021.  I do think, though, that expansion in 2021 will add some excitement for the league and unlock some wallets.

If CPBL teams are willing to compete with small market KBO and NPB teams for at least one foreign starting pitcher per team, the CPBL will get better, and we’ll see more movement of foreign pitchers between the CPBL and the other Asian majors.  I’m excited about that prospect.

Delmon Young Sighting

December 31, 2019

And the beat goes on for Delmon Young.  He’s playing in Australia’s Winter (their Summer) League this season.  Needless to say, he’s leading the league with seven home runs, although his .995 OPS is only seventh best just shy of 25 games into the season.

Young played in Mexico the summer of 2018 and he played in Venezuela that winter.  However, he didn’t return to Mexico for the summer 2019 season.  That was probably a mistake, as 2019 was an exceptionally good year for power hitters, and Young could have perhaps impressed somebody in Asia with a hot first half.  Given his major league pedigree a full year in Mexico could pay him as much as $80,000 or $90,000 with no income taxes, which if nothing else gets him a year closer to his MLB pension, which is likely to be substantial given his major league service team, even if he starts collecting it as young as 45.

Young is now 34 years old, and his chances of getting picked up by a KBO or NPB team are slim.  He may be playing in Australia solely as a way to see the world while getting paid a little to do it.  Salaries can’t be big to play baseball in Oz, however.

I surely don’t blame him for not returning to Venezuela, though — that can’t be worth $5,000 or $6,000 a month unless you really need the money.  However,  there are a lot of beautiful women there with low financial expectations for a sugar daddy.  Daily meals at nice restaurants, plus a few 25 kg sacks of corn meal and one or two whole chickens for the family are probably all it takes to get your pick of girlfriends in today’s Venezuela.

Current Blue Jays’ AAA player and former KBOer Andy Burns is also hitting well in Australia this winter/summer.  He’s still only 29 years old, and he played well at Buffalo in 2019 (.833 OPS) at mostly 2B/3B.  He’s likely hoping a KBO team will keep him in mind if he’s playing well in AAA in July and a foreign player isn’t hitting.  He certainly looks like a better KBO option than Taylor Motter, who’s a year older than Burns, but got signed by the Kiwoom Heroes because he was willing to accept a modest but not paltry $350,000.

Burns would have been a better option at $450K or $500K, although it’s possible he would have demanded more since he could be only one injury away from another major league opportunity.

Cincinnati Reds Reach Agreement with CF Shogo Akiyama

December 31, 2019

The Redlegs have reportedly agreed to terms on a three-year deal with Japanese CF Shogo Akiyama for around a $20M guarantee.  It’s a generous deal for Akiyama, who I very much think of as a crap shoot entering the major leagues as a 32 year old rookie.

Acting in Akiyama’s favor are that he’s a true centerfielder (although at age 32, his best years in the field are almost certainly behind him) and that he’s very good at getting on base, which is the most important ability for any Japanese hitter trying to establish himself as a major league player.

Aside from his age, something that concerns me is Jim Allen’s recent report that Shogo doesn’t hit the fastball well.  According to Allen’s numbers, Akiyama has been well below average in hitting the fastball in NPB over the last three years.  In my mind, that’s a big concern, because the biggest difference between major league pitcher and NPB pitchers on average is that the MLBers throw harder.

Akiyama has a big foot-in-the-bucket swing  (you can see the video here), which a lot of Japanese players have and which is going to hard to unlearn at age 32.  One of the things that amazed baseball insiders about Shohei Ohtani was how quickly (basically one Spring Training) he was able to drop his foot-in-the-bucket step for a more compact timing movement which was believed to allow him to better handle/catch up with major league fastballs.  Given Ohtani’s talent level, I wouldn’t be surprised if he one day goes back to a more foot-in-the-bucket swing, but the feeling around MLB was that his quick adjustment was a huge factor in his immediate major league success.

Akiyama better get up to speed in a hurry, because the first thing he’s going to see from major league pitchers is major league fastballs.  In that sense, the professional game is actually incredibly simple.

First, major league pitchers test whether a newly arrived hitter can hit the fastball.  If he can’t, he’s toast.  If he can, then they try off-speed pitches.  If the hitter proves he can hit those too, then the pitchers rely heavily on the scouts and the video footage to try to figure out how to set the hitter up to swing at the pitcher’s out-pitches.

Except that in today’s game, the Reds’ 2020 opponents will be looking at video footage of his recent seasons in NPB to get an idea of how to pitch to him before they ever see him in regular season action.  I don’t have any doubt, though, that pitchers won’t be testing his ability to catch up their fastballs given his high leg lift.

It would be a good idea for Akiyama to get on the phone with Ohtani to find out how Ohtani made the adjustment to MLB so quickly.  Of course, what Ohtani can’t teach Akiyama to do is become 23 again.

More KBO Retrenchment: Samsung Lions Move on from Darin Ruf

December 25, 2019

The KBO’s Samsung Lions just signed former major leaguer Tyler Saladino to a contract for 2020 that will pay Saladino $800,000 plus another $100K in performance incentives. It’s a good sign for the Lions, given Saladino’s past major league performance, but it likely means the team won’t be bringing back big bopper Darin Ruf, who did nothing but hit across three KBO seasons.

In 2019, Ruf played in 133 of the Lions’ 144 games, and his .917 OPS was 5th best in the 10-team circuit.  However, Ruf earned about $1.7M last year and presumably expected at least a small raise in 2020 based on his 2019 performance.  Saladino will cost the Lions about half of what Ruf would have cost the team.

It’s possible that Lions could still sign Ruf and go into the 2020 season with two foreign position players out of their three roster spots for foreigners.  In the second half last year, the Lions carried Ruf and outfielder Mac Williamson.  However, since the league expanded the roster to a third foreign player, at least one of whom could not be a pitcher, about five years ago every single KBO team has opened the season with two foreign starting pitchers and a lone foreign position player.

Ruf is 33 in 2020 (he turns 34 next July 28), so he could decide to retire.  Another KBO team could sign him for the $1M cap amount, or he could sign with an NPB team, probably for around the same $1.1M the Hanshin Tigers just gave former KBO slugger Jerry Sands.  Unfortunately for Ruf, there can’t be too many foreign player roster spots left in either NPB or the KBO.

If, in fact, Ruf does not return to the KBO in 2020, it means the league has lost its two best foreign hitters, and two of the top five overall, from 2019.  That’s no way to improve league play.

Meanwhile, SoftBank Hawks’ superstar Yuki Yanagita just signed a seven-year contract extension, meaning it’s all but certain Yanagita will never play in MLB.  Yanagita missed most of 2019 to a knee injury, and under NPB’s service time rules, he only earned 60 days of service time credit for the roughly 100 games he missed.  That was just enough to push back his free agency dates by a year.

It’s hard to feel too sorry for Yanagita, though.  The contract he signed with the Hawks will pay him roughly $5.2M per season with escalator clauses that could bring future salaries up to $6M or $7M per season.  As I like to say, Yanagita won’t be going to bed hungry anytime soon.

Also meanwhile, Tetsuto Yamada has elected to sign a one year deal with the Yakult Swallows which will pay him in the neighborhood of $4.5M, a club salary record.  This means that Yamada could ask to be posted for MLB teams next off-season.  However, he’ll be a domestic free agent next off-season, and Jim Allen thinks it’s just as likely that Yamada will sign a long-term deal with the Yomiuri Giants, Hanshin Tigers or SoftBank Hawks as request to be posted to MLB.

The fact that Yamada apparently did not request to be posted this off-season, when his value to MLB teams would have been greater than it will be a year from now (he’s going into his age 27 season in 2020), does suggest he could be content to remain a superstar in Japan.  Although salaries in NPB are considerably lower than MLB for players of Yamada’s caliber, the endorsement income for Yomiuri or Hanshin stars is enormous.  I suspect, though, that Japanese players who become MLB stars still make considerably more in Japanese endorsements than MLB players make in American endorsements.

Blue Jays Shell Out for Hyun-Jin Ryu

December 24, 2019

The Blue Jays have elected to give Hyun-Jin Ryu $80 million over four years, which is probably $15M to $20M too much given Ryu’s age (33 in March), weight (255 lbs) and past injury history.

One of the ironies of today’s MLB is that in spite of all the revenue sharing and extra draft picks for small market teams (Toronto isn’t a small market, but the Canadian dollar means the Jays’ revenues don’t match Toronto’s population size), small market teams, particularly those perennially trying to compete with the powerhouse teams, have to spend more to sign an A-list free agent.  It pretty much goes without saying that the Jay Birds had to give Ryu an $80M guarantee to get him.

Ryu’s contract also tends to suggest that Madison Bumgarner really did choose the Diamondbacks instead of maximizing his free agent contract, since it sure looks he could have got a nine-figure deal in this market if he’d held out for it.  Players always say they signed with the team they wanted to play for most, even when it’s obvious they elected to sign with however offered the biggest guarantee.  Here’s some evidence that MadBum had some other priorities.

In a much smaller signing, the Padres signed former NPBer Pierce Johnson for two years at a $5M guarantee, with a team option for an affordable third season.  Johnson is only the latest in a steadily increasing number of former MLBers who have gone to Japan for a year or three and then returned to big money from MLB.  It’s clearly a trend that is increasing.

For Johnson, the deal was a no-brainer.  His wife just had a baby, so he wanted to return the U.S.  Also, his former team, the Hanshin Tigers, likely made him a two-year offer for around $3M, so the Padres’ offer was probably the most money.

The trend of signing players like Johnson is largely a product of the fact that numerous teams have had success bringing in NPB returnees, and the other teams are now copying them.  Also, I think that in a gradual way, NPB is improving relative to MLB.

Although NPB teams are still limited to four foreign players in the major league rosters, every NPB team is now carrying 7 or 8 foreign players per season in order to develop young foreigners and to ensure they are getting the maximum performance from each foreign roster spot.

Also, NPB teams have attendance numbers that suggest that they have the money to sign a better class of not-quite MLB major league performers.  NPB is a mature league, with more than 80 years now in the books, and attendance figures don’t go up or down much from year to year.  However, in recent years, there has been small, steady increases every season.

Here are NPB’s 2019 attendance figures.  Even NPB’s weakest team, the Chiba Lotte Marines, drew 1.67 million fans in 71 home dates.  That’s more than eight MLB teams in more 2019 games.  The Marines’ average attendance of 23,463 per game was better than 12 MLB teams.

The upshot is that NPB have the money to sign foreign players who only need to improve their games a little bit in Japan to make successful returns to the MLB majors.  The big difference now on the MLB side of things is that late bloomers who establish themselves as big stars in NPB don’t necessarily have to stay there anymore.

On the other hand, I’m not convinced that we are about to see a big increase in the number of KBO stars who go on to MLB success.  NPB is clearly much closer to the MLB level of play than is the KBO, and I don’t think it’s likely that the KBO level of play will increase significantly any time soon.

The KBO has decided to let its teams sign two more foreign players each to play at the KBO minor league level, so that will improve performance from the three major league roster spots each team has for foreign players.  However, attendance was down sharply in the KBO in 2019, and it’s revenues can’t possibly be near to NPB’s.  The lack of funds is showing in a big way this off-season, with foreign player salaries down, making it more difficult for KBO teams to compete with NPB for the best foreign players.

The KBO is still a great opportunity for foreign 4-A players, but the league is going to have a hard time signing players like Dustin Nippert, Eric Thames and Josh Lindblom going forward unless it can get its attendance up and keep it there, avoiding a crash every time the Korean National Team does poorly in the World Baseball Classic.


SoftBank Hawks to Sign Matt Moore?

December 22, 2019

Rumors have it that NPB’s SoftBank Hawks are nearing a deal with MLB LHP Matt Moore.  If they do indeed sign Moore, it’s more evidence that none of the Hawks’ elite Cuban cadre from 2019 will be returning to Japan in 2020.

Moore is a more high-profile signing than NPB teams typically make, but it would make sense for several reasons.  I’d guess the Hawks will be giving him a roughly $2.5M t0$3M guarantee, which is what the Detroit Tigers paid Moore last season, only to have Moore blow out his knee in his second start of the 2019 season and miss the rest of it.  Moore didn’t pitch well in 2017 or 2018, so he wasn’t looking at any more $2.5M offers from MLB teams this off-season.

Moore did pitch well in last year’s two starts, however, and he doesn’t turn 31 until June 18th of next year, so I would think he could have secured a $1M guarantee with another $3M in incentives to stay stateside, so in my mind SoftBank has to beat that amount by enough to secure Moore’s services.  However, Moore, whose father was career Air Force, lived for four years between age 7 and 11 in Okinawa, so Matt is familiar with Japan and playing there might be more appealing to him than most MLBers with Moore’s record of MLB success.

Moore is still young enough that a big 2020 campaign in Japan could return him to MLB in 2021.  He’ll be playing for NPB’s best team if he signs with the Hawks, so he’s putting himself in a position for success.

The Hanshin Tigers reportedly will be paying former KBO slugger Jerry Sands $1.1M in 2020.  That sounds like exactly the right amount to me.  Sands almost certainly left the Kiwoom Heroes because they wouldn’t give him a $1M deal, and no other KBO team could sign Sands for more than $1M for Sands’ first season with a new KBO team.

The Tigers’ offer, if accurate, is exactly what it needs to be to beat out any KBO offer, but doesn’t waste money either.  This is a good deal for the Tigers at this price-point, but there are also no guarantees that Sands will successfully make the jump to the higher NPB level of play.  Wilin Rosario and Yamaico Navarro are two recent top foreign KBO sluggers who completely underwhelmed when they jumped to NPB.

It’s worth noting that KBO teams appear to hold a grudge when their top foreign players jump to NPB.  Neither Rosario nor Navarro got another shot in the KBO after quickly striking out in NPB, even though both had proven they were top-level KBO performers.