Archive for the ‘Seattle Mariners’ category

40-Man Roster Madness

November 21, 2017

I’m getting a big kick out of all the last-minute bottom-of-the-roster moves and deals as MLB teams try to firm up their 40-man rosters before tomorrow’s deadline for the Rule 5 Draft.  It’s like a crazy game of musical chairs.

I wonder if it’s stressful for marginal players to bounce from one team to the other through the post-season.  The Giants lost light-hitting, glove-tree middle infielder Engelb Vielma on a waiver claim by the Phillies today after designating him for assignment off the 40-man roster.  The Giants had claimed Vielma on September 14th when the Twins placed him on waivers shortly after the minor league season ended.

I’m sure the players know that it’s part of the game and that since there is nothing they can do about it, they shouldn’t worry about it.  Just wait until February to see which team tells you where and when to report for Spring Training.  Still, it would be nice for players with minor league contracts (major league contracts pay enough to ameliorate such inconveniences) to get a small bonus, say $5,000, each time they are traded to a new team or a new team claims them off waivers.  For minor league players making minor league salaries even $5,000 bonuses would smooth away any anxiety over changing organizations.

I’ve also been interested in the trades involving international bonus money.  Teams can trade away up to 75% of their international bonus money allotments in $250,000 increments each off-season.  It’s really an exercise in capitalism in action.

What I mean by that is that because the bonus pools are capped, they achieve a value greater than their actual dollar amounts, at least for the teams seeking extra bonus pool money, much the way that free agent contracts are excessive because relatively few major league players become free agents in any one off-season.  Supply and demand, baby!

The Mariners traded 24 year Thyago Vieira to the White Sox for $500,000 in international bonus money.  Vieira had a pretty good minor league season, mostly in the AA Texas League, and he pitched an effective major league inning in August.  I can’t imagine that a team would sell Vieira for $500,000 cash, even though the move has the added benefit for the M’s of opening a spot on their 40-man roster.

The Yankees made an even more lop-sided deal with the Marlins for $250,000 of the Fish’s bonus pool money.  The Marlins received soon to be 27 year old 1Bman Garrett Cooper and 26 year old  LHP Caleb Smith in exchange for RHP Michael King, who will be 23 next May.

Both Cooper and Smith look like reasonable bets to help the Marlins’ major league club in 2018, while King doesn’t look like a realistic shot to have a major league career because his strikeout rates in the low minors are poor.  Again, the Yankees have cleared two spaces on their 40-man roster, but the deal is completely lop-sided in favor of the Marlins in terms of the talent exchanged.

Of course, what the Yankees and Mariners are trying to do is get as much money as possible together to try to win the Shohei Otani sweepstakes.  If Otani does not end up getting posted, because, for example, the MLBPA won’t agree to allow the Nippon Ham Fighters to get $20 million for Otani’s rights while Otani only gets a $3.5 million signing bonus at most, the Yankees and the Ms will find some high profile 16 or 17 year old Latin players to throw the extra money at, but these trades will look even more one-sided than they do now.

Meanwhile, the Phillies have designated for assignment former No. 1 overall draft pick Mark Appel, in part to make room for Glove-Tree Vielma.  Appel had a mediocre age 25 season in the AAA International League in 2017, and it’s starting to look like he could become a draft bust of historic proportions.  Still, Matt Bush righted his professional career at the age of 30, so anything is possible going forward.

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What Happened to Byung-Ho Park?

August 14, 2017

Byung-ho Park still grinding away for the Rochester Red Wings of the AAA International League, but it’s really looking like he’s never going to be an MLB starter.

I was a big fan of Park’s performance in South Korea’s KBO, and after the success of Jung-ho Kang in MLB, I also thought that Park had what it took to be an MLB regular.  Even last year, when he underwhelmed at the major league level, he still hit with enough power in the Show and at AAA to suggest that with a few minor adjustments, and he might break through in 2017.

Park is currently slashing .260/.317/.424, leaving him with only the 36th highest OPS in the IL, with less than a month left in the regular season.  The batting average is an improvement from last year, but his power output has dropped sharply, as last year’s home runs have been doubles this season.

Park is a mediocre AAA player right now, who wouldn’t deserve even a September call-up, except for the fact that he’s got a guaranteed contract that runs two more seasons.  However, he’s long since been dropped from the Twins’ 40-man roster, so a September call-up seems unlikely, since it would require the Twins to pass someone else through waivers to create a roster space for Park.

Park is owed $3 million on his contract with the Twins for each of 2018 and 2019, and that latest word is that Park still wants to prove he can be a major league player.  It will also be hard for Park to command the same kind of money in the KBO, although with a reasonable buy-out from the Twins, he would probably be just as well off financially returning to South Korea.

While I still think it’s possible that Park can play better at AAA in 2018 and get another shot at the Show, Park is now 31, so his window is closing fast.

Kang’s success in MLB, and Hyun-soo Kim‘s, Dae-ho Lee‘s and Seung-hwan Oh‘s successes  in 2016 have probably caused me to over-estimate the current level of play in the KBO and the ability of the KBO’s best players to successfully jump to MLB.  Aside from Park’s failure so far, now that most of a season is in the books, Eric Thames, after a hot start, has come back down to earth, and looks a lot like the same player with normal age progression that he was before he went to the KBO for three seasons.

Eric Thames’s 2017 batting average is now almost exactly in line with his career batting average after his first two MLB seasons (2011-2012).  The only difference is that Thames walks more now and hits for more power, two skills that you would expect Thames to add as he matures as a hitter.

The main advantage of playing three seasons in the KBO appears to be that Thames got to play consistently in a league at least as good as the American AAA leagues, and he built up a lot of confidence by putting up consistently big numbers.  Thames also claims he made adjustments in South Korea that made him a more patient and disciplined hitter.  At the end of the day, though, he appears to be the same player he was in 2011-2012, only with more maturity and now well-developed old-hitter skills.

The fact that multiple KBO players have had MLB success in the last two seasons means that signing Park was a good risk for the Twins to take, even if Park never does pan out.  Some players will be able to make the necessary adjustments, but others won’t.  MLB teams will have to rely on scouting to determine who the best bets are, but even then in many cases you just don’t know if a player will succeed in MLB until he actually gets an opportunity to play in MLB.

Park’s high-profile failure means that MLB teams are going to be more careful about handing out similar contracts to KBO sluggers in the future, but it would be a mistake for MLB teams to give up on signing the best youngish KBO players in the future.  It is clear that the KBO can produce a least a few players with MLB talent every five or six seasons going forward.

Austin Bibens-Dirkx Shuts Down New York Yankees

June 25, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Cubans Impacting Japanese Game

June 24, 2017

I was remiss in my last post for failing to mention that two Cubans, Alex Guerrero and Alfredo Despaigne, are presently leading their respective NPB leagues in home runs.  Guerrero is leading the Central League with 19, and Despaigne is tied for the Pacific League lead with Yuki Yanagita at 18.

Despaigne is in the running for the world’s best position player who will likely never play in MLB.  His family has connections with the Communist government in Cuba, so he hasn’t been willing to defect.  The Cuban government worked out a deal with NPB a couple of years ago to allow some of its best players to play in Japan to prevent their defections.

I don’t know what cut the Cuban government gets of the money Despaigne earns, but they are probably both benefiting greatly by the arrangement since Despaigne’s 2017 salary is a reported 400 million yen ($3.59 million).  Even a small fraction of that would go a long way in Cuba, where because of heavily state subsidized prices, $1000 a month in hard currency income would allow a family to live like royalty.

I would compare Despaigne to South Korea’s Dae-ho Lee, who proved last year that he is an MLB-level hitter.  Despaigne and Lee are both thickly built right-handed hitting sluggers, with Lee being physically bigger and Despaigne being a few years younger.

Guerrero signed a big deal with the Dodgers a few years ago and quickly washed out due mainly to his inability or unwillingness to take a walk. (Several media reports also suggested he wasn’t too bright.)  In Japan, his power and raw talent make up for the fact that his on-base percentages are poor, at least so far.

I can’t imagine Cuban players not becoming every bit as important to Japanese baseball as they’ve become to MLB in recent years.  There are a lot of defecting Cuban players who are just a little too old and/or a not quite talented enough to become MLB stars, but who would be great bets to become stars in Japan.

If Guerrero and Despaigne finish one-two in home runs at the end of the NPB season, the desire to sign the next Cuban slugger will be high indeed throughout NPB.

Eric Thames’ Hot Start

April 27, 2017

I’m not entirely surprised by Eric Thames‘ hot 2017 start.  He really was good three years in a row in South Korea’s KBO, finishing 3rd, 1st and 2nd in OPS those years.

Thames obviously isn’t going to keep hitting in MLB better than he hit in the KBO.  The National League’s pitchers don’t have a book on Thames yet, and they’re finding out that even after three years in KBO, Thames can still hit MLB heat.  They will eventually figure out what they have to throw him and set him up for, and then it will be Thames’ turn to make adjustments.

In the video I’ve seen of Thames’ home runs so far this year his swing is very short, fast to the ball yet not rushed.  He’s strong enough he doesn’t need to wind up to generate bat speed.  It’s a very comfortable, confident swing.

Thames is being duly tested for PEDs, but he shows nothing but confidence about the results.  Obviously, PEDs could be a reason of Thames’ dramatic improvement.

However, Thames was younger and more talented than most of the players who head to East Asia for major league money.  He also went to an extreme hitters’ league that’s only a little better than AAA, which would be a great place for a hitter to develop confidence in his abilities.  It’s a lot easier to develop major league hitters in Denver than it is in either Seattle or San Diego.

Thames’ story is that while KBO pitchers don’t throw as hard, typically topping out at 91 or 92 mph, they throw a lot more breaking balls than MLB pitchers.  He says he had to become better at plate discipline than he’d been in America in order to lay off breaking balls out of the strike zone.

It certainly is apparent that after walking only 52 times in his 769 plate appearances in his major league seasons in 2012-2013 and 58 times in 514 plate appearances in his first KBO season, Thames has drawn 191 walks in 1,209 plate appearances since the start of the 2015 season.

Obviously, getting better at laying off bad pitches is a recipe for being able to put more good swings on the ball.  It also isn’t particularly unusual for a player with power to begin with to still be improving his power hitting through his age 30 season.

Thames has also said that he might not have made that improvement if he hadn’t made the jump to South Korea, stating words to the effect that if he’d stayed in the States, he might have not made the changes because it would have been easier to just keep doing what he had been doing.

I’d like to see more players in the future jump to Japan’s NPB or South Korea’s KBO and then back to MLB if they foreign performance merits it.  It is, in fact, becoming more common, although it’s also limited by the fact that the vast majority of the 4-A players who go to NPB or KBO simply aren’t going to blossom like an Eric Thames or Colby Lewis.

Baltimore Orioles Shuffle Pitchers on their 40-man Roster

April 15, 2017

The Baltimore Orioles made a flurry of moves today, mostly involving minor league pitchers and international draft slots.  It seems clear that the Orioles are making a calculated gamble that the best 16 and 17 year old Latin American players aren’t worth the risk.

The O’s obtained Damien Magnifico from the Brewers and Paul Fry from the Mariners for respectively, the 15th overall international draft slot (worth $885,000) and the 105th international draft slot worth $198,000.  Meanwhile, Baltimore designated Jason Garcia and Parker Bridwell for assignment and traded Oliver Drake to the Brewers for cash or the infamous player to be named later.  Phew, that’s a busy day!

I suspect that, while the Magnifico and Drake deals were announced separatedly one day apart, they are closely connected.

Ben Badler criticized the Orioles yesterday for not spending more money on international players the last few years.  The O’s have spent only $260,000 on five prospects in the 2016-2017 signing period, one of whom received $150,000.  According to Badler, the most expensive Orioles international signing of the last three years is the mere $350,000 given to 3Bman Jomar Reyes, who at least looks like a good return on that money so far.

I have to agree with Badler: it might have made sense not to take a high risk, high reward strategy in recent years when signing bonuses were high for the best players, as at least five or six teams flouted the rules each signing period and elected to sign as many good players for as much money as it took in exchange for losing big money signings for the next year or two.  But now that there is effectively a draft with capped bonus pools, it seems crazy to me not to participate fully.

The Orioles have obviously decided they are still going to go with players closer to the majors than tender-aged international prospects, as they have now traded away what would be their 1st and 4th round international picks in the first international draft.

Looking at what the Orioles netted today, it seems highly likely that they’d have been better off with the two international slots.  Magnifico and Fry are obvious improvements over the two pitchers designated for assignment to make space on the 40-man roster.  Both look to have major league stuff as bullpen pitchers, are still looking for their command, and are young enough they may yet find it.

However, Oliver Drakes, although already 30, has even better stuff than Magnifico or Fry, and has the same command issues.  Drake may yet be as effective a major league reliever as either Magnifico or Fry going forward, despite a a poor start (in only three AAA relief appearances) this year.

This doesn’t look like a worthy trade for 1st and 4th round international slots, unless the aforementioned player to be named later turns out to be great.

Pedro Alvarez Finally Signs Minor League Deal with the Baltimore Orioles

March 12, 2017

Pedro Alvarez finally signed for the 2017 season, but all he’s getting is a minor league deal that promises him $2 million for major league service time and an additional $3.5 million in performance bonuses.

It amazes me that not one of the 14 other American League teams thought Alvarez was worth even a $1M or $1.5M guarantee and $4M or 4.5M in performances bonuses.  He was paid $5.75 million in each of 2015 and 2016, and fangraphs says that his 2016 season was his most valuable since 2013.  In fact, fangraphs valued his 2016 performance at a lusty $9 million.

Sure, Alvarez’s only major league skill is his ability to hit right-handed pitchers hard, but that in itself can have a lot of value.  There must have been at least one AL team that could have used another left-handed hitting platoon player with pop.

While I don’t think Alvarez will be worth $9 million in 2017, especially on an Orioles team which has signed other players with similar skills and apparently only re-signed Alvarez because he came so cheap, but he has to have been worth the $2M guarantee he never saw.  On a minor league deal, he’s basically insurance if Seth Smith gets old, Hyun Soo Kim hits a sophomore slump, or either gets hurt in 2017.

It’s also looking like the end of the road for Justin Morneau and Ryan Howard.  It’s hard to imagine any team at this late date giving either faded slugger a $1 million guarantee, and why sign a minor league deal at this point their careers unless you really, really, really want to continue playing baseball.