Archive for the ‘San Francisco Giants’ category

San Francisco Giants 2020 Draft Picks

June 12, 2020

The Giants selected seven players (Overall Nos. 13, 49, 67, 68, 85, 114 and 144) in this Covid-19 Striken 5-round draft.

13.  C Patrick Bailey (NC State, age 21.)  Bailey looks like a legitimate 1st round pick, at least in terms of his bat.  In roughly 2.25 college seasons, he has a career slash line of .302/.411/.568, certainly fine numbers for a backstop.

There has been some comment regarding Bailey’s selection, given that the Giants used the No. 2 overall pick two years ago on catcher Joey Bart.  Giants President of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi responded that you draft for ability, not need, and you can’t have too many good catchers.  Zaidi is certainly right that a team is foolish not to draft the best available player at their first round draft spot, because the odds of drafting even a 5+ WAR MLB player after the first two selections of the first round is less than 50%.

Bailey is a switch-hitter, whom the scouting reports like best for his power and plate discipline and less for his hit tool.  The scouting reports also seem to think he’s a true catcher and not a bat-first player who might get moved out from behind the plate as a professional.

49.  3B/RHP Casey Schmitt (San Diego State, 21.)  Casey Schmitt was a surprise to be taken this high.  He has a career college slash line of .295/.366/.408, with an .865 OPS as a sophomore and an .837 OPS in only 16 games as a sophomore.  That doesn’t look a future major league hitter to me, but his pitching numbers are better: a 2.48 career college ERA with 17 saves and pitching line of 87 IP, 70 hits, three HRs, 29 BB and 78 Ks. Schmitt’s batting and pitching numbers in the Cape Cod League in summer 2019 reflect his college numbers.

Zaidi apparently like Schmitt as an all-around good baseball player, and I certainly hope he will be developed as both a pitcher and third-sacker as a professional.

67. LHP Nick Swiney (NC State, 21.)  Swiney went 15-1 in college, and, while his 3.51 career college ERA wasn’t overly impressive, his 174 Ks in 115.1 IP sure is.  He was wild as a sophomore, but looked really good in four starts this year before the shut-down.  Some scouts project him as a major league relief pitcher, but the Giants are apparently hoping his fastball will gain velocity if he adds weight to his 6’3″ 187 lbs frame.

68.  SS Jimmy Glowenke (Dallas Baptist, 21.)  The Giants sure like Glowenke more than anybody else did.  MLB’s Draft Tracker ranks him only 171st.  He slashed .340/.433/.506 mostly against second-tier Missouri Valley Conference competition.  He did bat .296 (but with only a .727 OPS) in the Cape Cod League last summer.  MLB.com doesn’t think Glowenke has the range to stay at SS and sees him eventually being moved to 2B, because his arm doesn’t suggest 3B except in a utility role.

85.  LHP Kyle Harrison (De La Salle HS (Concord CA), 18.)  MLB.com liked Harrison more than MLB teams did, but he could be a good pick at 85 overall.  He’s also a local boy.  He’s listed at 6’2″ and 200 lbs.  MLB.com says he’s especially tough on left-handed hitters, although his stuff may limit his ceiling.  He’s a UCLA commit, but I expect the Giants will offer him enough money to get him signed.

114.  RHP R. J. Dabovich (Arizona State, 21.)  Dabovich had a 4.04 ERA and 64K in 64.2 IP in parts of two seasons with the Sun Devils.  MLB.com describes him as a two-pitch pitcher with a 97 mph fastball, so he’s likely to be a reliever at the major league level.

144.  RHP Ryan Murphy (Lemoyne College, 20.)  Pitched effectively at a small four-year school — career college 3.40 ERA with 215 K in 203.2 IP.  He pitched well in the New England Collegiate Summer League in 2019, but he’s small for a right-hander at 6’1″ and 185 lbs.  The Giants may be hoping to save some money on his slot signing bonus to offer to high schooler Harrison.

Notes on the 2020 KBO Season So Far

May 31, 2020

We are now 23 or 24 games into the 2020 KBO season.  Here are my thoughts so far.

I wasn’t surprised to see Taylor Motter last only 10 games and 37 plate appearances.  He was cheap, but he didn’t look like a KBO hitter when the tightwad Kiwoom Heroes signed him.  A slash line of .114/.139/.200 didn’t take long to make up management’s mind, particularly since it’s likely that Motter was only guaranteed $200,000 of this $350,000 contract with the Heroes.

The Heroes caught lightning in a bottle with Jerry Sands in 2019, but Motter was a bridge too far.

The Heroes should consider Andy Burns, who is still only 29 and had two good seasons in the KBO for the Lotte Giants in 2017-2018.  His .833 OPS at AAA Buffalo last summer was good for a 2B who can fill in at third and also SS in a pinch.  You’d have to think that at this moment, Burns would probably be willing to sign for $250,000 to $300,000 at this moment, given the current lack of MLB options.

23 year old lefty and future MLB prospect Koo Chang-Mo is leading the KBO with a 0.51 ERA and in strikeouts at 38 (in 35 IP).  He’s not big, however, listed at 6’0″ and 187 lbs, so we’ll see if his arm can hold up under use as the league’s top starter.

Eric Jokisch and Odrisamer DeSpaigne are the best foreign starters so far and the best after Koo.  Jokisch was a better signing for the Heroes.  He’s only costing the team a $550,000 guarantee and another $150K in performance incentives.  That’s a bargain on a second year contract, after a 13-9, 3.13 KBO rookie campaign.

Odrisamer DeSpaigne is 33 this season, but he’s still got it as a KBO rookie.  His MLB career looks a lot like Dominican right-handers Hector Noesi and Esmil Rogers, except that Noesi and Rogers were both 29 when they joined the KBO successfully.  As a Cuban defector, DeSpaigne reached the majors late.  I think he’s a better pitcher than Noesi or Rogers, but his strikeout numbers don’t suggest he had major league stuff.  Maybe in Korea against lower-level hitters, he can really take advantage of his ability to pitch.  He’s five starts into the 2020 season, but hope springs eternal.

Cubans are big this year in South Korea.  32 year old not quite MLBer Jose Miguel Fernandez is leading the circuit with a .468 batting average, along with a 1.206 OPS (2nd), through 23 games.  Mel Rojas, Jr. is batting .409 (2nd) with an 1.149 OPS (3rd) 23 games in.

25 year old Mexican Roberto Ramos leads the KBO with 10 home runs and a 1.263 OPS.  The LG Twins apparently got it right in signing him this off-season.

Also still 25 year old Chris Flexen has a 2.61 ERA (5th) and 28 K (6T) in 31 IP.

I don’t recall having two 25 year old North American players succeed in the Asian majors in the same year for as long as I have been paying attention.  If Ramos and Flexen can keep it up, it will really open up some opportunities for both players going forward.

Now KBO veteran (just barely) Preston Tucker has a 1.007 OPS (7th), and rookie Aaron Altherr is starting to get hot and demonstrate his power potential.

Future MLBer (?) Kang Baek-Ho , age 20, has a 1.143 OPS so far, but he hasn’t played since May 21st, assumably because of injury.  24 year old SS Kim Ha-Seong got off to a slow start this year, and he’s still batting only .236, but has brought his OPS up to .809.  I read an article  on mykbo.net that sounded like Kim hadn’t lost any confidence but was trusting to the process in play, so there’s no reason to think it’s anything but a short slump when the hits aren’t falling or you’re just missing by that much.  We shall see.

Steve Dalkowski Passes

April 25, 2020

News on mlbtraderumors.com is that Steve Dalkowski, aged 80, died today of the coronavirus.  Dalkowski is one of the most famous players in baseball history who never reached who never reached the majors.

Dalkowski was a smallish lefthander (5’11”, 175 lbs) who threw incredibly hard but had no idea where it was going.  Many players who played against him said he threw harder than anyone they’d ever faced.

In his first season in a 1957 Class D (rookie) league, he struck 121 batters in 62 innings pitched but also walked an incredible 129.  He was certainly the scariest pitcher many players ever faced because he just might kill you.

Three years later, he both struck out and walked 262 in 170 IP in what was then the Class C California League (an full season A league in today’s game).  He walked 196 and struck out 150 in 103 IP a step up the minor league ladder in 1961.

Dalkowski had his best minor league season in 1962 at age 23 for the Eastern League’s Elmira Pioneers, which played at what we’d call AA level today.  He only went 7-10 but had a 3.04 ERA and, while striking out 192 batters in 160 IP, he walked a modest for him 117 batters.

Earl Weaver, before his great Orioles days, was Dalkowski’s manager in 1962.  He told Dalkowski, a starter, to throw just the fastball and slider and to throw every pitch at the middle of the plate.  Even Weaver said Dalkowski threw harder than Nolan Ryan, and he saw plenty of both.

A 2013 article says, “On a $5 bet, Dalkowski threw a baseball through a wooden fence. On a $10 bet, he threw a ball from the center-field fence over the 40-foot high backstop screen behind home plate.”

The 2013 article says that “Nuke” LaLoosh from Bull Durham was based on Dalkowski, and Kevin Cosner’s “Crash” Davis was based on Dalkowski’s roommate and former SF Giants and  manager Joe Altobelli.  “Alto once quipped, ‘I didn’t room with Dalkowski, I roomed with his suitcase!'” which is an old, old baseball line.

However, Dalkowski’s control really hadn’t improved, it’s likely he blew out his elbow tendon in 1963, and he was a hard drinker, so he was out of organized baseball by the end of the 1965 season at age 26.  Aside from being small, Dalkowski had a compact delivery, but it didn’t improve his ability to throw strikes or diminish from his fastball speed, at least until after the injury when his fastball dropped to 90 mph.

In separate games in his career, Dalkowski struck out 21 and walked 21.  He is said to have thrown a pitch that tore of a batter’s ear, but he didn’t actually hit that many batters, a season high of nine in 170 IP in 1960.  Hitters were “loose” when they got into the box against “White Lightning,” meaning they were every bit ready to get out of the way.

Dalkowski had a hard life after baseball.  He still drank hard, which took his mind prematurely.  It says something about modern medicine that he lived long enough to be felled by the coronavirus.  He was 80 and had lived in a care home in New Britain, Connecticut for many years.


 

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 baseballreference.com — 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.

The 2020 Giants Won’t Be Good, But They’ll Be Familiar

February 8, 2020

The SF Giants signed Hunter Pence for a reported $3M plus incentives, and they just brought back Pablo about a week ago.  We’ll see if Hunter has one more year in him, and while I’m not too excited about the Panda, I like the fact that the Gints signed all-around infielder Wilmer Flores for his age 28 and 29 seasons at a total of $6M.

Signing Flores is a good move, but it’s not a great move.  It’s more of a signing I’d expect to see from the Royals or the Marlins.  Makes the Giants just good enough not to lose 100, maybe.

I’m actually hoping the Dodgers complete the Mookie Betts, David Price deal.  Even without them, the 2020 and 2021 Giants aren’t likely to compete with the Dodgers the next two years.  In 2022, David Price will be two years older, and Mookie Betts will be gone or an extremely pricey part of the Dodgers’ salary cap considerations.  It’s a win now, pay later strategy, and the Giants won’t be any good until later.

Committed to Rebuilding

January 26, 2020

Absent a surprise signing of Nicholas Castellanos, the last remaining elite free agent, it seems clear that the San Francisco Giants are fully committed to a two-year rebuilding process, which will presumably and hopefully end when the Giants get out from under the bulk of their long-term veteran contracts at the end of the 2021 season.  Jeff Samardzija‘s contract comes off the books after this coming season, and the big contracts of Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford and Johnny Cueto can be gotten out from under by the end of 2021.

The Giants are still on the hook for nearly $15M to Evan Longoria in 2022, but that’s easy enough for a big revenue team like the Giants to handle.

The run of pennant contenders from 2009 through 2016 left the Giants’ farm system utterly bereft, so much so that nearly no one drafted before the 2017 Draft looks likely to develop into a player that could significantly help the Giants reach a future post-season.  With the team’s run of winning seasons having ended, the team has had good first round picks the last three drafts, whom they’ve actually held onto; and 2017 Third Round pick Seth Corry had a 2019 season at full season Class A ball at age 20 that elevates him to elite prospect status.

Heliot Ramos and Joey Bart should be ready for the majors by 2021 or the start of 2022, and the Giants will likely be drafting from a high position at least through the 2022 Draft.  Signing pitchers like Kevin Gausman and Drew Smyly says only that the team is committed to not losing 100 games in 2020.

After making qualifying offers to Madison Bumgarner and Will Smith, the Giants have 5 of the top 87 draft picks in the 2020 June Draft.  Giants fans have to hope that the team can turn at least two of the four picks after the first round pick into useful major league players.  The Giants have a history of underwhelming with their 2nd round picks, with the notable exception of Bryan Reynolds, who looks like he’s going to be a big star for the Pirates and is one of the many prospects the Giants drafted before 2017 who got traded away for runs at the post-season.

The Giants also essentially bought former Angels No. 15 overall pick in 2019 Will Wilson for Zack Cozart‘s $12M+ 2020 salary and grade-B prospect Garrett Williams, adding one more prime prospect to the mix.  I’m a little sad the Giants have already sought release waivers on Cozart and won’t give him a shot to be a back-up infielder for the Gints, even though I knew at the time they acquired him that the team was solely interested in acquiring Wilson.

It will be worth two more sub-.500 seasons if it means the Giants can actually draft and develop into major league stars a new, affordable core of young players, who can be supplemented with expensive free agents, once the existing big contracts come off the books two years from now.  The plan to rebuild obviously makes sense, and the team is going about it in the right way.  It’s just a matter of whether the team can succeed in drafting the right players and developing them, and also having the good luck of none of the most talented prospects getting seriously hurt.

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.

Good Article

December 25, 2019

I really enjoyed reading Sam Miller’s article on espn.com tonight.  A lot of the stories involve the SF Giants.

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.