Archive for the ‘St. Louis Cardinals’ category

MLB Teams Want Shorter Free Agent Contracts

January 18, 2018

There has been a lot of talk this off-season about the fact that only two of the top dozen free agents has yet signed a contract. mlbtraderumors.com weighed in again on this issue today.

The one thing that seems obvious to me looking at the players who have signed free agent contracts this off-season so far is that teams want shorter contract lengths (i.e., no more than three years) and will pay more per year to get them.

No team has yet signed a player to more than three years.  However, the players who have agreed to three year deals have done pretty well, at least compared to mlbtraderumors’ predictions for its top 50 free agents, which experience has shown deserve a lot of weight.  mlbtraderumors has a formula it uses and tweaks every off-season based on the previous off-season’s signing results, and their predictions have proven to be well better than educated guesses.

Carlos Santana’s three-year $60 million deal is the biggest free agent signing so far.  mlbtraderumors correctly predicted the three-year term, but underestimated the payout by $5 million per year.  Tyler Chatwood (predicted 3 years $20M; actually received 3 years $38M). Jake McGee (3/$18M; 3/$27M), Mike Minor (4/$28M; 3/$28M), Bryan Shaw (3/$21M; 3/$27M), Tommy Hunter (2/$12M; 2/$18M), Pat Neshek (2/$12M; 2/16.25M), Michael Pineda (2/$6M; 2/$10M) and Miles Mikolas (2/$10M; 2/$15.5M) all did significantly better on two and three year deals than predicted.

Meanwhile, only Addison Reed (4/$36M; 2/$16.75M), CC Sabathia (2/$24M; 1/$10M), Yonder Alonzo (2/$22M; 2/$16M), Brandon Kintzler (2/$14M; 1/$5M) and Howie Kendrick (2/$12M; 2/$7M) have done significantly worse than predicted.  Zack Cozart (3/$42M; 3/$38M), Jay Bruce (3/$39M; 3/$39M), Juan Nicasio (2/$21M; 2/$17M), Jhoulys Chacin (2/$14M; 2/$15.5M), Welington Castillo (2/$14M; 2/$15M), Anthony Swarzak (2/$14M; 2/$14M) and Steve Cishek (2/$14M; 2/$13M) got right around what was predicted.

Finally, both Wade Davis (4/$60M; 3/$52M) and Brandon Morrow (3/$24M; 2/$21m) got one fewer year than predicted, but at a much higher annual rate, so much higher, in fact, that one has to think there wasn’t much incentive to hold out for the extra year.  I think these signings make it likely that each of Lance Lynn, Greg Holland and Alex Cobb will be forced to accept three year offers, although probably for only $3M to $6M less than mlbtraderumors predicted over four seasons.

I suspect that advanced analytics have suggested to teams something they already knew: long-term free agents contract can be a long-term albatross around a team’s neck is veteran player gets hurt or old fast.  Better to pay more per season for fewer seasons so the burden of a bad contract doesn’t hurt the team for as many seasons.

I could see Yu Darvish being forced to accept a five-year deal in the $140M to $150M range, although as the No. 1 starter available this off-season, I think someone will eventually give him a sixth season.  The reported rumors sound as if both Kansas City and San Diego have made Eric Hosmer offers close to the six years and $132M that mlbtraderumors predicted.

The market for J.D. Martinez does not seem to be developing as predicted, but the four years at $100M predicted for Jake Arrieta seems likely to be met since he is the second best free agent starter available.  Scott Boras is representing a number of top free agents this year, and his asks have been pie-in-the-sky, as they always are.  I don’t believe the reports that any free agent will wait until after the 2018 regular season starts to sign, because that is an absolute value killer for a free agent if ever there was one.

It’s likely that a majority of the mid-range free agents (Nos. 20-50) who haven’t yet signed won’t do as well as the predictions, however, based on the fact that many teams have now filled their needs by the free agent players signed to date.

 

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Valmy Thomas

January 2, 2018

I want to start this post with a shout-out to Rory Costello, who is the Society for Advanced Baseball Research’s (SABR) co-chairman and chief editor of SABR’s bio project, which has produced hundreds of biographies of retired baseball players which baseballreference.com links to its player pages.  Costello wrote all the biographies for Virgin Islands players, and I relied on heavily in producing my recent post, The Best 10 Players from the U.S. Virgin Islands in MLB History and this post.  I don’t know whether players from the Virgins Islands are great story tellers or whether Costello is simply a great interviewer — probably a little bit of both.

Valmy Thomas was the first player from the Virgin Islands to play in the major leagues, and he had a fascinating career.  He was born in Puerto Rico because his mother thought she’d better care there than in the Virgin Islands, and she and the newborn Valmy returned to St. Croix as soon as it was safe for them to travel.

Thomas grew up in the same St. Croix neighborhood as Alfonso “Piggy” Gerard, the first important professional baseball player from the Virgin Islands and the only Virgin Islander who played in the Negro Leagues.  Gerard was about a decade older than Thomas, but they later played professionally together for eight years for the Santurce Cangrejeros (Crabbers) of the Puerto Rican Winter League.

During Thomas’ youth in the Virgin Islands, the most popular sport was cricket, and that is what Thomas’ father and most of the fathers of the Virgin Islands’ first wave of major league fathers, with the notable exception of Al McBean‘s father O’Neal McBean, was one of the best pitchers in the Islands’ nascent amateur baseball scene.

By the time Thomas was a teenager, there were four amateur teams on St. Croix in which to develop young players.  However, Thomas did not quickly enter professional baseball.  Instead, he enlisted in the Navy at the age of 17 or 18 in 1943 and remained in the service through 1949.  He was stationed in the much larger Puerto Rico during this time, where he was able to continue playing amateur baseball at a level than that available on St. Croix.

One of his most memorable experiences during this period was an amateur competition in which he played for a Puerto Rican team in Cartegena, Columbia.  According to Thomas, while he was playing left field, a couple of what he calls “Indians” wearing loin clothes and with matted down hair, came to down to observe the game.  The “Indians” thew something over the fence, but Thomas could not see what it was.  When he investigated, it turned out to be a snake, and that was the last time Thomas was willing to play in the outfield that game.

Thomas’ Puerto Rican Winter League career began in the winter of 1949-1950, and Thomas played on five Puerto Rican Champion Crabbers’ teams during his 13 years with the club and thus in five Caribbean Series during those years.  In one game in the 1950-1951 season, he was spiked on the hand by Puerto Rican star Vic Power on a play at the plate (Thomas was by now playing catcher) and a couple of his teammates asked if Thomas thought the spiking was intentional or an accident.  If the former, Thomas claims, the teammates pulled out knives and showed Thomas where they intended to stab Power.

In the summer of 1951, signed to play for St. Jean, a town 20 miles outside of Montreal, in the Class C Provincial League.  St. Jean had a working relationship with the Pittsburgh Pirates, it was common in the early integration era for major league organizations to send newly signed young black and Latino players to play in Canada, where their presence on integrated teams was much less controversial than in the U.S.

Although Thomas played well in Canada, batting .296 and playing all over the field based on the team’s need, he quit after the season because of economic reasons.  According to Thomas, he made $400 a month in 1951, and Pirates General Manager Branch Rickey sent him a contract for 1952 offering only $350 a month.  Thomas “voluntarily retired” in order to protect his future eligibility, but what he actually did was spend the next three summers playing professionally in the Dominican Republic, where he was paid $1,100 a month to play fewer games each week.  Of course, Thomas also continued to play professionally during the winters in Puerto Rico.

Valmy Thomas split catching duties with Harry Chiti on the Santurce Crabbers 1954-1955 team, a team which Don Zimmer has called the greatest Winter League team of all-time.  The club featured Roberto Clemente, Willie Mays and Bob Thurman in the outfield and contained numerous other major league and former Negro League players.

In the summer of 1955, Thomas returned to St. Jean after the Dominican League switched to a winter schedule.  The Crabbers owner Pedrin Zorilla had a good working relationship with New York Giants owner Horace Stoneham and after playing back in the Pirates organization, the Giants selected Thomas in the Rule 5 Draft that winter.

In 1956, Thomas was initially assigned to the Minneapolis Millers, the Giants’ top farm team.  However, it was a cold spring in Minneapolis, and Thomas threatened to quit and return to the Caribbean.  Instead, Thomas was able to convince the Giants to assign him to their Albuquerque club in the lower level Western League.  There Thomas batted .366 with power.

Thomas was apparently offered a September call-up to the Giants, but instead elected to return to Puerto Rico to prepare for winter ball, because Thomas said he didn’t want to sit on the bench in New York.  In the spring of 1957, he came into the Giants’ camp expecting assignment to AAA Minneapolis again.  However, a strong spring performance and injuries to catchers ahead on the team’s depth chart enabled Thomas to make the major league squad out of Spring Training.

Ever the sharp businessman, Thomas was irked when Stoneham’s son in law Chub Feeney tried to play a fast one on Thomas’ 1957 contract.  According to Thomas, the team’s major league minimum was $6,000, but a player automatically earned $7,500 if he made the team out of Spring Training.  Feeney represented the additional $1,500 as a “raise” even though Thomas had made the team out of Spring Training and the team was in Thomas’ understanding obligated to pay him the higher figure.  Thomas complained about it Horace Stoneham, and Stoneham offered to raise Thomas’s contract to $8,500.

Thomas was the Giants’ leading catcher during the team’s last season in New York.  He played in 88 games and slashed .249/.296/.390 and played his customary strong defense, throwing out 12 of 28 (43%) attempted base stealers. After the season ended, he returned to the Virgin Islands for a islands-wide Valmy Thomas Day to celebrate him as the first local player to reach and succeed in the major leagues.

However, Thomas was already 31 years old in 1957, and he became the back-up to the younger rookie Bob Schmidt in 1958, the team’s first season in San Francisco.  He played about as well as he had the year before in a more limited role, but he was traded along with Crabbers’ battery mate Ruben Gomez that off-season to the Phillies for Jack Sanford.  Sanford became a star for the Giants, winning 24 games in 1962, but Gomez and Thomas were reaching the end of their major league careers.

Thomas played 66 games for the 1959 Phillies, but only batted .200.  He only sporadically in the majors in 1960 and 1961, and 1962 was his last season in the MLB system.  It was a turbulent season for Thomas indeed.

Future manager Jim Frey was playing in the International League in 1962.  According to him, he was batting in a game in which Eddie Lopat‘s brother Ted was the umpire and was having trouble calling the high strike.  The ump called two pitches above the letters strikes and Frey complained.  Lopat told Frey to get back in the batter’s box and swing at the next pitch, because Lopat was going to call it a strike no matter where it was.  According to Frey, he responded, “If you do, I’ll take this bat and beat you to death with it!”  Valmy Thomas was the catcher while this exchange was going on.

Despite this threat on his life, Lopat did not eject Frey.  Later in the game, Thomas came to bat, and when Lopat called a strike on a questionable pitch, Thomas called Lopat an S.O.B., according to Frey, and was immediately ejected.  Thomas went ballistic, pushed the umpire and then hit him on the chin.

Thomas was sold by his team to a team in Rochester for which he never played, instead winding up on the Atlanta Crackers roster shortly thereafter, following a 30-game suspension imposed on Thomas.  Lopat resigned the next day in protest over what he thought was an insufficient punishment.

In Atlanta, Thomas became involved in a love triangle, and on August 21, 1962, the other man, 42 year old musician and mortician Cleveland Lyons, shot Thomas twice in the chest after Lyons climbed in threw a window of the building in which the shooting occurred.  Lyons then killed himself.

Despite being critically wounded, Thomas recovered quickly and was even able to play ball successfully back in Puerto Rico that winter.  According to Frey, the next time Thomas saw him, Thomas grabbed Frey by the throat and shouted at him, “You dirty S.O.B., you almost got me killed!”

The winter of 1962-1963 was Thomas’ last season of professional baseball however.  After his career, Thomas returned to St. Croix were he got a job with the Virgin Islands’ government Department of Recreation.  He arranged a Yankees-Red Sox exhibition game in St. Croix and brought down Hank Aaron and Lou Brock to clinics to teach young Virgin Islanders baseball skills.  He also worked as a promoter and brought Muhammad Ali to St. Croix for an exhibition in 1965.  He was also a supporter of horse racing on the islands and ran a sporting goods store there for many years.  He died in 2010, less than a week before his 85th birthday.

The Ten Best Panamanian Players in MLB History

December 28, 2017

Continuing on to Panama, a country between Colombia and Nicaragua which also has a long baseball tradition.  At least 58 Panamanian-born players have played in the majors league.

The first was Humberto Robinson, when he pitched a third of an inning for the Milwaukee Braves on April 20, 1955.  Hector Lopez started his successful 12 year major league career on May 12, 1955, and Webbo Clarke, who pitched for many years in the Negro Leagues, made all seven of his major league appearances for the Washington Senators in September 1955, following a 16-12 record in the Class A Sally League that year, the same league in which Robinson had won a record-setting 23 games the year before.

Both pitchers were long and lean, and Robinson went 8-13 with three saves and a career 3.25 ERA over parts of five major league seasons.  It’s likely that both pitched in the Panamanian Professional Baseball League, which played continuously between 1946 and 1972, after their U.S. careers were over.

Robinson died in Brooklyn in 2009 at the age of 79, while Clarke died at the relatively young age of 42 back in Panama.  Robinson also notably reported a bribe offered in the amount of $1,500 to throw a baseball game in 1959.

The relative success of the PPBL is surely one of the reasons so many Panamanians have played in MLB, despite a population of only 3.75 million currently. The current version of the PPBL, Probeis, has been playing continuously since 2011.

1. Rod Carew (1967-1985)(HOF).  Carew was one of the great pure-hitters of all time, a terrific base runner who stole home plate seven times in 1969, tying Pete Reiser‘s 1946 Post-World War II record.  Ty Cobb stole home eight times in 1912 and 50 times for his career.  During their mostly lively-ball era careers, Lou Gehrig stole home 15 times and Babe Ruth did it 10 times.

Carew moved to New York City after two years of high school in Panama.  He did not immediately begin playing high school baseball, because he was spending all of his time studying, working and learning English.  In 1964, he began to play with an organized team, and he reaches the majors three years later.  He worked as a hitting instructor and coach for many years after his playing career.

Carew married Marilyn Levy, a woman of Jewish ancestry, in 1970, as a result of which Carew received death threats.  They had three daughters, but divorced after 26 years, shortly after the death of their 18 year old daughter Michelle to leukemia when doctors were unable to find a matching bone marrow donor due to her unusual ancestry.  Carew subsequently performed extensive charity work to increase the number of bone marrow donors.

Carew chewed tobacco for 28 years before developing mouth cancer in 1992.  In late 2016, Carew had heart transplant surgery, but he’s still alive as of this writing.

2.  Mariano Rivera (1995-2013).  With an all-time best 652 saves, Rivera will make the Hall of Fame shortly.  He played recently enough and burned brightly enough, that no one reading this needs anything further from me to remember Rivera.

3.  Carlos Lee (1999-2012).  He bounced around a bit, but he had five seasons with 30 home runs, six with 100 or more runs batted in, and four seasons with at least 100 runs scored.  A left fielder with an exceptionally effective throwing arm, Lee is now a wealthy rancher in Texas and Panama.

4.  Ben Oglivie (1971-1986).  Oglivie took a long time to develop, but he became a fearsome slugger for Harvey’s Wallbangers during the American League Milwaukee Brewers’ great period of success from 1978 to 1983.  He led the Junior Circuit with 41 home runs in 1980 in a tie with Reggie Jackson, becoming the first player born outside the United States to lead the AL in HRs. He hit 34 regular season long flies and two more in the post-season for the Wallbangers’ team that lost the World Series to the Cardinals in seven games.

After MLB, Oglivie had two successful seasons in Japan’s NPB at the ages of 38 and 39.  He finished his playing career with two games in the Texas League at the age of 40.

Oglivie also moved to the United States (Bronx, NY) when he was in high school.  Bill Lee described Oglivie as the”brightest guy on the club” when they played together on the Red Sox, and he attended college in Boston and Milwaukee while he played.  He’s worked for years as a hitting coach since his playing days ended.

5.  Manny Sanguillen (1967-1980).  One of the batting heroes, along with Roberto Clemente and Bob Robertson, of the 1971 Pirates who came back from two games down to win the World Series against the Orioles.  Sanguillen made the National League All-Star three times and received MVP votes in four seasons.  Sanguillen didn’t have much power, and, a notorious bad ball hitter, he didn’t walk much either, but he had a .296 career batting average and threw out 39% of the 820 men who tried to steal bases against him.

Sanguillen played in the post-season six times for the Pirates, including driving in a run for the Pirates’ last victorious World Series team in 1979, when he was 35 and nearing the end of his career.  Sanguillen married a Pennsylvania woman, Kathy Swanger, had two kids, and still lives in the Pittsburgh area, hosting Manny’s BBQ behind center field at PNC Park.  Sanguillen says his greatest baseball accomplishment was catching Bob Moose‘s no-hitter on September 20, 1969.

6 (Tie).  Roberto Kelly (1987-2000) & Hector Lopez (1955-1966).  Kelley was a center fielder who played well for the Yankees between 1989 to 1992.  Lopez was a jack-of-all-trades guy who played at least 175 games in each of LF, RF, 3B and 2B, playing most often in left field and at third base. Lopez’s best seasons were for the Kansas City A’s and the Yankees between 1955 and 1960 and he played on five consecutive World Series teams for the Yankees from 1960 through 1964.

Lopez also sported the nicknames “The Panama Clipper” and “Hector the Hit Collector.”  Playing for Kansas City, Lopez roomed with former Negro League star, Harry “Suitcase” Simpson, who got the nickname because he wore size 13 shoes, which a sportswriter wrote looked like suitcases.  After his playing career was over, Lopez became the first black, let alone Panamanian, manager of a AAA team, when he managed the International League’s Buffalo Bisons to a 7th place finish.

Roberto Kelly coached and managed for the San Francisco Giants organization for nine years until 2016, after his playing career ended.

8.  Omar Moreno (1975-1986). Today, Omar Moreno is primarily remembered as a light-hitting stolen base threat, and he was known as the Antelope, but he was also a really good player for the 1979 World Champion Pirates, leading the Senior Circuit with 77 stolen bases (in 98 attempts) and in putouts by an outfielder (489, 64 more than Gold Glove winner Garry Maddox of the 4th place Phillies) and also scoring 110 runs.  Moreno finished 15th in the NL MVP vote that year and was almost certainly more valuable than that.

In 1980, Moreno stole 96 bases (in 129 attempts) being edged out of the league lead by Ron LeFlore with 97, and again led NL outfielders in putouts, but he didn’t bat as well and only scored 87 times while making more than 500 outs on offense, even more than he prevented on defense.   Moreno stole 487 bases on his major league career at a 73% success rate.

After his playing career, Moreno and his family returned to Panama, where he started a foundation to help poor kids to play baseball.  In 2009, he became Panama’s Secretary of Sport where he represented Panama internationally and oversaw the country’s athletic programs.  After he left office, he returned to working with under-privileged children.

9. Bruce Chen (1998-2015).  Chen is a Panamanian of Chinese descent who amounts to the best starting pitcher Panama has produced.  Another bright guy, Chen studied civil engineering at Georgia Tech during his playing career.

Chen won 13 games for the Orioles in 2005, and won 12 back to back for the Royals in 2010-2011.  He was a consistently affordable bottom of the rotation starter who ate up a lot of innings by today’s standards and pitched well enough to hold onto that role for an astounding 17 seasons.

He finished his career with an 82-81 record, tying him with Mariano Rivera for most wins by a Panamanian-born pitcher, and a 4.62 ERA.  Chen came out of retirement to pitch for Team China in the 2017 World Baseball Classic.

10.  Juan Berenguer (1978-1992).  Berenguer went 11-10 with a 3.42 ERA as the World Champion Detroit Tigers‘ fourth starter in 1984, but didn’t pitch in the post-season, when Jack Morris, Dan Petry and Milt Wilcox got all the starts.  He then became an effective reliever  (32 career saves) for the Giants, Twins and Braves, ending his major league career at the age of 37.

Known as “Senor Smoke,” “El Gasolino” and the “Panama Express” because of his high-90’s fastball, Berenguer went 8-1 as a reliever and spot starter for the underwhelming Twins team that went on to win the 1987 World Series.  After his playing career, he returned to and still lives in Minnesota.

Berenguer retired with a 67-62 career record and 3.90 ERA.  He was the all-time Panamanian wins leader until Mariano Rivera passed him in 2008.

Honorable MentionsRamiro Mendoza, Rennie Stennett, Carlos Ruiz and Randall Delgado.  Panama has produced enough major league players that some pretty good ones don’t make the top ten.  The 1970’s Pirates, during their best run of the post-WW II period, had three Panamanians in Sanguillen, Stennett and Moreno who were key starters on winning teams.  I remember Stennett as being one of the worst free agent signings in SF Giants’ history, although five years for $3 million sounds like peanuts today.

Carlos Ruiz deserves to be in the top ten for the six seasons he had for the Phillies from 2009 through 2014, and he was the starting catcher for the World Champion 2008 Phillies, the last period when the Phillies were consistent winners.  Randall Delgado is entering his age 28 season in 2018, so he’s certainly got a chance to break into the top 10 one day, although he missed most of the second half of the 2017 season to an elbow injury, for which he received platelet rich injections in his elbow as recently as late September.

A majority of Pananian born baseball players are Afro-Panamanian with many coming from in and around the heavily Afro-Caribbean city of Colon.  However, my personal observation spending 16 days in Panama around January 1, 1999 was that a large percentage of the population in greater Panama City appeared to my surely untrained eyes to be some admixture of European, African and Indigenous Panamanian ancestries.

The Ten Best Colombian Players in MLB History

December 27, 2017

I enjoyed writing my recent post on The Ten Best Nicaraguan Players in MLB History, so I though it might be a good idea to write similar posts on the best players from other countries, particularly those that are not well known for generating major league players.  Without much further ado, below is a list of of the ten best players from Colombia, a country with a richer baseball history than many people realize.

Baseball has long been popular in Colombia, but mostly in the cities along the Caribbean coast.  The first Latin American player in MLB during the 20th was in fact born in Colombia, Luis “Lou” Castro, who played 42 games as a middle infielder for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1902.  He replaced HOFer Napoleon “Nap” LaJoie, when a Pennsylvania Court ruled that LaJoie couldn’t play for Philadelphia after jumping his contract with the National League’s Philadelphia Phillies to play in the new American League in 1901.  LaJoie was released from his contract with the Athletics and promptly signed with the Cleveland Broncos, who later came to be known as the Indians.

Like many Latino baseball players of baseball’s early days, Castro came from a wealthy background. He came to New York City at the age of 8 to get educated and to make the kinds of contacts that could be expected to benefit him later in life.  The story is similar for Estaban “Steve” Bellan, a Cuban who was sent to NYC for an education, who became the first Latino major leaguer playing parts of three seasons in the old National Association, baseball’s first all professional league, before returning to Cuba and becoming instrumental in the eventual establishment as Cuba’s most popular sport.  Unlike Bellan, Castro spent the rest of his life living in the United States.

1 & 2.  Edgar Rentaria (1996-2011) & Orlando Cabrera (1997-2011).  Two shortstops who played at the same time, it’s hard to talk about one without mentioning the other, because of their Colombian heritage and their similar career stats.  Rentaria’s career batting numbers are a little better, and he is likely the better player solely based on the fact that he got on base a lot more than Cabrera (.343 OBP compared to .317).  The raw defensive numbers suggest that Cabrera was a slightly better fielder.

3. & 4.  Jose Quintana (2012-2017) & Julio Teheran (2011-2017).  Two pitchers also linked by heritage, career periods and stats: Quintana has a career record of 57-57 with a 3.53 ERA, while Teheran is 58-53 with 3.59 ERA.  Fangraphs, whoever, says that Quintana’s career has been more than twice as valuable ($181 million to $85 million) than Teheran.

5.  Ernesto Frieri (2009-2017).  The all-time saves leader among Colombian born major leaguers with 73.

6.  Jolbert Cabrera (1998-2008).  Orlando Cabrera’s older brother, Jolbert wasn’t nearly as good.  Jolbert was a useful jack-of-all-trades guy who played semi-regularly for the Indians in 2001, the Dodgers in 2003 and the Mariners in 2004, as part of an eight year major league career.  He also played a couple of seasons in Japan’s NPB and finished his summer baseball career in Mexico at the age of 39.

7. & 8.  Donovan Solano (2012-2016) & Jackie Gutierrez (1983-1988).  A couple of light-hitting middle infielders, Solano played semi-regularly for the Marlins mostly at 2B from 2012 through 2014, while Gutierrez was the starting shortstop for the 1984 Boston Red Sox.  Solano is still playing at AAA, so he still has a chance to move up the list.  Gutierrez’s father represented Colombia in the 1936 Olympics as a sprinter and javelin thrower.

9.  Jorge Alfaro (2016-2017).  Alfaro is a 24 year old catcher/1Bman for the Phillies who hasn’t done a whole lot in MLB so far, except show a lot of promise with his bat.

10 (tied).  Orlando Ramirez (1974-1979) & Giovanny Urshala (2015-2017).  Another light-hitting middle infielder, Ramirez was the first Colombian player of the post-World War II era.  However, he never hit at the major league level and finished his five year major league career with only 53 hits.  Ramirez is also Jackie Gutierrez’ brother in law.

Urshala is a 3Bman who hasn’t hit much in two seasons with the Indians.  He’s young enough, though, that he still has a chance to knock Orlando Ramirez out of the top ten.

At least 20 Colombian-born players have played in MLB.  They have disproportionately been middle infielders.

The Ten Best Nicaraguan Players in MLB History

December 25, 2017

I recently had dinner with the Nicaraguan side of my second family.  Not surprisingly, I have been inspired to identify the best ten Nicaraguan Players in MLB history.

1.  Dennis Martinez (1976-1998). He has been the most famous Nicaraguan baseball player for a couple of generations now, so much so he’s mentioned in the 1983 Nick Nolte/Gene Hackman movie Under Fire.  Small wonder — he went 245-193 in his 23 year major league career.

Martinez led the American League in innings pitchedm (292.1) and complete games (18) in 1979 for the World Series losing Baltimore Orioles; led the AL in wins in a four-way tie with 14 in the 1981 Strike season; and led that National League in ERA (2.39), complete games (nine) and shutouts (5) as a 37 year old Montreal Expo in 1991.  He was the first and still the best Nicaraguan player ever to play in MLB.

Here’s an interesting factoid from wikipedia about Martinez: “On September 28, 1995, a wild pitch by Martinez broke the jaw of Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett. This would be Puckett’s last official game of his career, retiring in 1996 due to glaucoma in his right eye, a problem unrelated to Martinez’s pitch.”  Puckett batted right-handed, so the pitch probably hit him in the left-side of the face.

I don’t think of Dennis Martinez as quite being a Hall of Fame pitcher.  However, his 245 career wins are going to look even better to Veteran’s Committee members (or whatever MLB calls them now) as time passes.

2.  Vicente Padilla (1999-2012).  Padilla was a successful right-handed starter who finished his major league career 108-91.  Padilla signed his first contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks a month before his 21st birthday, which is old for a Latin American prospect, after working with Dennis Martinez in Nicaragua to improve his change-up.

I remember Padilla as having a reputation as a bean-ball artist.  The stats bear out my memory.  Padilla led the AL in HBP with 17 in 2006, and he plunked at least 15 in a season three other times.  Padilla is 67th all-time in hitting batters (109), and Dennis Martinez is tied for 50th all-time (122) in many more games and innings pitched.

Pitchers will always doctor baseballs and throw at batters, if they can get an advantage by doing so.  A pitcher coming out of a hard-scrabble place like Nicaragua (only Haiti and Honduras have lower per capita GNP in the Western Hemisphere), you’re going to do what it takes to win ballgames.  By my calculation, Padilla made at least $54 million playing professional baseball around the world, so his pitching style clearly worked for him.

3.  Marvin Benard (1995-2003).  Benard was born in Bluefields, Nicaragua and moved his family to the Los Angeles City of Bell at the age of 12.  He was generally beloved in San Francisco, although he really only had two great major league seasons, his age 27 and 28 seasons.  Then he got old fast.  The Giants signed him to a three-year $11.1 million for the next three years (2001-2003).  Benard was hurt much of 2002, the Giants surely didn’t get their monies’ worth in the final year of the deal.

Marvin’s son Isaac Benard is a 21 year minor leaguer for the Tampa Rays, who didn’t hit great at the Rays’ A- team in 2017, the Hudson Valley Renegades of the New York-Pennsylvania League.

4.  Albert Williams (DeSousa) (1980-1984).  Albert Williams was a top starter on three bad Minnesota Twins’ teams from 1981-1983 and started the Twins’ season opener in 1984.  His career story is especially interesting.

Williams was originally signed by the Pirates’ organization in 1975 and he played two years in the low minors in their system.  However, in 1977, he couldn’t get a visa from the Nicaraguan government to play in the U.S., so he was forced to remain in Nicaragua, where he joined the Sandinistas and fought against the Somoza dictatorship for 16 months.  He then was “smuggled” out of Nicaragua to pitch for the Panama franchise in the Inter-American League in its sole season of 1979.

The Inter-American League had six teams in four countries plus Puerto Rico, but didn’t make it through a full schedule, with teams playing between 72 and 51 games for the season before the league folded.  An interesting idea, but travel expenses must have been great.

Williams then signed with the Twins’ organization.  He also pitched six winters in the Venezuelan Winter League including the 1983 Caribbean Series for the Tiberones de La Guaira.  However, Williams’ didn’t have great stuff, and it looks as if his pitching arm gave out, based on the fact that he last pitched in the MLB system in 1985 at the age of 31 after a rapid descent.

5.  Wilton Lopez (2009-2014).  Like Williams above, Lopez was a good pitcher whose MLB stardom only shown briefly.  The middle four years of his major league career, he was a strong right-handed reliever, who went 16-15 with 11 saves.  He fell apart the next season, and last pitched in the MLB-system in 2015, his age 31 season.

According to recent reports from La Prensa as of late September 2017, reports are that Lopez’s wing has recovered enough from whatever was afflicting it two years ago for him to have signed to play baseball professionally in Nicaragua and play on the Nicaraguan National Team.

6.  Everth Cabrera (2009-2015).  The National League’s leader in stolen bases in 2012 with 44, the lowest total to lead the Senior Circuit since Craig Biggio’s 39 in 1994, Everth Cabrera was a good major league player only two seasons, that year and the next.  Cabrera is probably most famously remembered outside of San Diego for his 50-game suspension arising out of the Biogenesis PED scandal, which came down late in the 2013 season.  He was never the same after that, and his 2017 performance at AAA Syracuse at the age of 30 makes it unlikely he’ll play in the MLB-system in the future.

According to La Prensa, Cabrera is also playing professionally in Nicaragua this Winter and on the National Team.

7.  Erasmo Ramirez (2012 – present).  Now we get into the players who are active in MLB now.  Erasmo Ramirez is a 27 year old sometime starter, sometime reliever, who has a career W-L record of 30-35 with three saves.  Ramirez was an effective No. 3 starter for the 2015 Tampa Rays, going 11-6 with a 3.75 ERA.

Ramirez also pitched well in 11 starts for the Seattle Mariners after being acquired from the Rays near the 2017 trade deadline and is apparently going through the salary arbitration process with the M’s.  mlbtraderumors.com projects him to make $4.7 million in 2018.

8.  Cheslor Cuthbert (2015 – present).   Cheslor Cuthbert is a 3Bman going into his age 25 season.  If Mike Moustakas does not re-sign with the Kansas City Royals, Cuthbert should be first in line to take that job and with it the opportunity to become a major league star.  His defense is not good, but major league adequate.  He hit well as a 23 year old rookie in 2016, but not at all in his 2017 sophomore season.  He’s hit at AAA Omaha and he’s young enough that you have to think the odds are reasonably good if he enters the 2018 season as the Royals’ regular third-sacker.

9.  J.C. Ramirez (2013 – present).  Since the Anaheim Angels selected Ramirez off waivers from the Cincinnati Reds in late June 2016, his performance has been eye-opening, first in relief in 2016 and then as an unexpected starter in 2017.  He went 11-10 last year with a 4.15 ERA over 147.1 IP.  However, he was shut down in late August after experiencing forearm pain, he struck out only 105 batters, and he’ll be 29 in 2018, so there are no guarantees going forward.

10.  David Green (1981-1987).  Green arguably had a better major league career than J.C. Ramirez or Chestlor Cuthbert has had to date, but I’m fairly confident the latter two will finish their major league careers ahead of Green.  Green could hit a little, but in his two seasons as an MLB regular, he walked less than 5% of his plate appearances.  Although he had the arm and speed to play right field and back up in center field, he mostly played 1B in the majors, a defensive position he didn’t hit well enough for.  He was part of the infamous Jack Clark trade in February 1985, which ultimately netted the Giants only Jose Uribe.   That’s definitely going to hurt his all-time rating with this Giants fan.

Green later played for part of a season (1986) in Japan’s NPB, as Vicente Padilla did in 2013.  Green does not appear to have played professionally since his age 30 (but more likely age 31) season in 1991.

Green’s back story is interesting.  His father Edward “Eduardo” Green had been one of the great players in Nicaraguan baseball history.  Eduardo originally though this first some Eduardo Jr. would follow in his footsteps.  However, Jr. didn’t have the talent, while younger son David did.  Eduardo Sr. shifted his attentions to David when the latter was about 15 years old, and was reportedly an abusive instructor.

Green signed a contract with the Milwaukee Brewers in June 1978 for a $20,000 signing bonus. The Brewers scout Julio Blanco Herrera pulled out ten $100 bills from his pocket and paid Green a “down-payment” at a time when due to the Nicaraguan Revolution it was extremely difficult to get cash because the banks and businesses were all closed and food had to be paid for in cash.  Eduardo Sr. died of a series of heart attacks while David was playing in the MLB minors.

On the eve of breaking through to the majors, Green was regarded as one of the best prospects in baseball.  However, he was isolated from his family in Nicaragua because of the war, and he may have started to develop an alcohol problem.  Green’s mother died during Spring Training 1984, which may have deepened his problem with alcohol, and perhaps cocaine, which was sweeping through major league baseball at that time.

Green briefly went into rehab in 1984, but left to resume playing baseball without having kicked his habits.  His drinking problem resurfaced in an ugly way after his playing career, when he was convicted of driving while intoxicated following an accident in St. Louis in which an elderly woman ultimately died. He likely served less than a year in jail based on the jury’s recommendation of six months of incarceration.

10 of the 14 Nicaraguan born players to play in the major leagues have been pitchers.  Nicaraguan major leaguers have disproportionately been Afro-Nicaraguan players.

As a final note, all of Cabrera, Cuthbert and the two Ramirez’s played on Nicaragua 2013 National Team that failed make the World Baseball Classic after getting blown out in qualifying games against Columbia (8-1) and Panama (6-2).  It tells you how good even the second-tier Latin American National teams are now.

Hyun-soo Kim Returns to South Korea’s KBO

December 19, 2017

Hyun-soo Kim signed a four year deal with the KBO’s LG Twins for 11.5 billion won ($10.6 million), becoming the latest South Korean MLB player to return to the KBO.  He likely won’t the last.

While Seung-hwan Oh will probably get a deal from an MLB club, it’s looking increasingly likely that Jung-ho Kang‘s MLB career is over due to his inability to get a U.S. visa due to his third drunk driving conviction in South Korea.  Kang’s year off in 2017 also appears to have devastated his game.  He played in the Dominican Winter League this winter (he was able to get a visa to the Dominican Republic) until he was released because he was the league’s worst hitter.

It remains to be seen whether the return of several big stars to the KBO will improve the level of play there.  You have to assume that these players learned something playing in MLB which they can take back with them to the KBO.  However, these players are all over 30 now, so it remains to be seen whether they will resume their former status among the KBO’s most elite players.

Obviously, it should generate excitement in South Korea to have former MLBers sprinkled throughout the league’s teams, which hopefully will be felt it the 2018 KBO box office.  The KBO is still a developing league, and anything that generates additional buzz for the league domestically is a good thing.

San Francisco Giants No Otani No Stanton

December 8, 2017

The San Francisco Giants and the rest of us found out today that the Giants won’t be signing either Shohei Otani or Giancarlo Stanton.  Otani elected to sign with the Angels, and Stanton wasn’t willing to waive his no trade clause for either the Giants or the Cardinals.

The Giants never had better than a one in seven chance of signing Otani, at least far I know, but I really thought the Giants had a chance to get Stanton, since he’d be a lot closer to his home in Southern California.  I guess it’s Southern California or nothing for Stanton in terms of his willingness to waive his no-trade clause.

The Marlins can’t be happy about being stuck with Stanton’s ginormous contract, but they were the ones who gave it to him, along with a no-trade clause, so it’s hard to feel sorry for the Fish.

The Giants are reportedly going to make a run at free agent J.D. Martinez now that Stanton has put the kibosh on San Francisco.   Martinez is two years older than Stanton, but suddenly even the $200 million guarantee Scott Boras is seeking for Martinez doesn’t seem outrageous compared to the $295 million most of which the Giants would likely have been assuming to bring in Stanton.  The news that Stanton won’t be going to SF probably made both Martinez’ and Boras’ day.

Bringing in the 30 year old Martinez on a high value contract, however, might be more likely to dig the Giants into a long-term hole than to make them a play-off contender in 2018 or 2019.  As I said in my last post, the awful 2017 Giants need more than one player to turn the team around, and they sure won’t be able to afford another high-end starter if they bring in Martinez for the $175M to $200M he’s now likely to command.