Archive for the ‘Tampa Bay Rays’ category

NC Dinos Add a Couple of New Foreign Players

July 3, 2019

I was interested to see yesterday that the NC Dinos of South Korea’s KBO have swapped out two of their three foreign players for new ones.  Christian Bethancourt and Eddie Butler got the ax, and Jake Smolinski and Christian Friedrich got the opportunity.

Bethancourt hadn’t hit the way the Dinos had hoped, and I’m not sure how much use the Dinos got out of him at his principal position (catcher) because of the language barrier.  Butler wasn’t terrible, but he wasn’t good in KBO either (at least relative to his salary), and he was experiencing shoulder problems.

One thing is certain: Smolinski and Friedrich will be making a helluva lot less for the Dinos’ final 62 games than Bethancourt and Butler made for the Dino’s first approximately 82 games.  As an expansion team, the Dinos probably play in a secondary South Korean market, and the big contracts go to the players brought in at the beginning of the season.  Both Betancourt and Butler received $200,000 signing bonuses to come to South Korea at the start of 2019 and earned more than half of the total $1.3 million in salaries they had been promised before getting cut.  I very much doubt that either Smolinski or Friedrich will be earning more than $150,000 for the remainder of the 2019 KBO season, and each could be earning as little as about $90,000.

The small replacement salaries are in line with the players selected.  Smolinski was hitting fairly well in the AAA International League, but with newly introduced baseballs adding more power-hitting to what had been a pitchers’ league, his .864 OPS wasn’t quite in the top 20 among players with at least 200 IL plate appearances this year.

Christian Friedrich was pitching in the Independent-A Atlantic League for what I would guess was $2,500 a month, after missing most of 2017 and all of 2018 with elbow problems.  He was pitching well in the Atlantic League, but I can’t remember the last Atlantic League player signed by a KBO team.  Friedrich does have 296.2 career major league innings pitched, so that and his likely very cheap cost were presumably the main attractions for the Dinos.

In recent years, numerous foreign players have had success in the KBO in spite of being brought in as cheap, late-season replacements.  Jamie Romak, Michael Choice and Jerry Sands have all taken advantage of the opportunity as mid-season replacements to stick around and make some real money for at least one more season after the ones in which they were brought over.  The quality of KBO play is close enough to AAA that any successful AAA player has a shot at making in the KBO if he can get off to a hot start.

It’s worth noting that in the KBO’s salary scale, if your first contract amount is small, it tends to stay smaller even after a few months of successful performance have been established.  Even so, coming back the next season for a $500,000 salary sure beats AAA pay, and a full season’s strong performance in Year 2 can mean a $1 million salary for a third KBO season.  None too shabby for playing baseball.

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Trey Hair and Garrett Harris

June 23, 2019

Trey Hair and Garrett Harris are a couple of still young players playing extremely well in the Indy-A Can-Am League.  Major League organizations should sign them.

Trey Hair is a 2B/3B who is still only 24 years old.  He was drafted in the 34th round by the Rays out of the University of Evansville in 2017.  He slashed an impressive .290/.362/.438 in 2018 in 243 plate appearances at full season Class A ball, but got cut nevertheless.

Hair is currently slashing .362/.431/.569 after 139 plate appearances for the Sussex County Miners.  He currently leads the Can-Am League in both batting average and OPS.

Garrett Harris, now age 25, was an undrafted pitcher out of Texas A&M Corpus Christi who signed with the Royals and spent 2016 and 2017 making a total of 27 appearances for two Royals’ rookie league teams.  His strikeout rates were better than one per inning, but his command wasn’t good, and he was hit hard.  He pitched in the Indy-A Frontier League last year, and while his strikeout rates were again good, his ERA and run average didn’t impress.

This year, Harris has become a starter for the Trois-Rivieres Aigles, and he’s been great.  He’s currently tied for the league lead with five wins, and his 58 K’s leads the circuit free and clear.  His 2.54 ERA is currently the league’s fourth best.  His command appears to have improved markedly, and he’s been hard to hit.

Hair and Harris are young enough that it’s a little surprising that major league organizations haven’t already bought their rights.  If they keep performing in the Can-Am, I would expect they’ll return to the MLB system before the end of July.  Here’s wishing them luck.

Hot Pitchers

May 4, 2019

23 year old Zac Gallen is ready for his major league promotion.  He’s leading the AAA Pacific Coast League with an 0.81 ERA, his 38Ks is tied for 1st, and the Marlins suck.  Gallen could pitch in relief to start with or one of the Marlins’ currently not very effective young starters could be moved to the bullpen to make way for Gallen.

It’s worth noting, though, that New Orleans with its below sea level air appears to be one of the PCL’s best pitchers’ parks — three of the circuit’s top five ERA leaders play for the Baby Cakes.

Rico Garcia (1.82 ERA, 35 Ks in 24.2 IP) deserves a promotion to AAA.  Devin Smeltzer has already received a promotion to AAA Rochester after recording an 0.60 ERA and 33 Ks in 30 IP at AA Pensacola.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that top two-way prospect Brendan McKay is going to be mainly a pitcher at the major league level.  In 14 AA games, he has a .481 OPS as a hitter, but on the mound he currently has a 2.41 ERA with 33 Ks in 18.2 IP.  If he ever catches up with the bat, he’ll already be a major league starter that no one’s going to want to f@#$ around with.

Great namers MacKenzie Gore and Ljay Newsom are dominating the Class A+ California League.  Their respective 1.32 and 1.47 ERAs are the only ones under 2.00.  Gore has stuck out 38 batters in 26.1 IP, and Newsom has struck out 54 batters in 36.2 IP.  Each has allowed exactly four walks so far.  Gore is the better prospect, because at age 20, he’s two years younger.

22 year old Dominican Cristian Javier is impressing in the Class A+ Carolina League with an 0.73 ERA and 32 Ks in 24.2 IP.

Former No. 1 overall draft pick and recent no-hit throwing Case Mize is not the best pitcher in the pitcher-friendly Class A+ Florida State League.  While Mize has recorded an 0.35 ERA with 25 Ks in 26 IP, Bailey Ober has a perfect 0 ERA (and run average) with 26 Ks in 24 IP.  Meanwhile Damon Jones has an 0.77 ERA with 36 Ks in 23.1 IP.

Catcher Defense

April 16, 2019

One of the biggest breakthroughs of the recent analytics revolution of the last generation is the degree to which catcher defense can now be analyzed and quantified.  Specifically, pitch framing has turned out to be far more valuable than teams realized only two decades ago.  Teams, of course, knew that pitch framing was important, but until complete filming, saving and replay of every pitch thrown in MLB was accomplished it wasn’t really possible to quantify which catchers were good at and which ones weren’t and just how many runs are saved or lost as a result.

I was looking at fangraphs.com’s defensive leaders for 2018 today and the importance of catcher defense completely jumped out at me.  18 of the top 30 players in terms of runs saved over replacement were catchers.  Six of these 18 catchers caught fewer than 540 innings in 2018, meaning they played less than 60 full games at the position but were still among the most valuable defensive players in MLB.  The only other defenders of roughly or nearly equal value were the seven best everyday shortstops.

Three 2Bman, 3Bman Matt Chapman and CF Kevin Kiermaier round out the top 30.  Aside from being the only center fielder, Kiermaier played only 747.1 innings there in 2018, which gives you a pretty good idea of just how good his center field defense is.

MLB teams have known just about forever how importance catching defense is.  How else to explain the fact that Bill Bergen played 11 major league seasons more than 100 years ago in which he compiled an astounding .395 career OPS (even worse than today’s best hitting pitchers and a lot worse than the best hitting pitchers of his own era)?  Bergen played in the deadball era when catchers had to be good defensively, at least insofar as controlling the running game and fielding bunts.

What we have now is a better idea of which good-field, no-hit catchers are worth keeping around solely for their gloves and which ones aren’t.  By the same token, there are still intangibles like pitch-calling (particularly because on many teams the manager or coaches call the pitches and clubhouse/on-field presence which are hard to quantify.  Obviously, we can now quantify whether catchers of the same team have higher or lower ERAs when they are behind the dish, but it’s hard to quantify the value of pitch-calling or the ability to keep a pitcher calm and focused.

I definitely think that some catchers — at least based on fangraphs’ evaluations — are still seen as major league catchers simply because they have been major league catchers.  For example, Drew Butera just got the call to come up with Rockies in spite of the fact that he is now 35 years old and has been worth $21.4M less to his major league teams than a replacement level catcher would have been across his nine year major league career.

Another Slow MLB Off-Season

January 10, 2019

It’s been another slow MLB off-season, and this baseball blogger is finding it hard to find much to write about except how slow the off-season free agent signing period has been.

Is it collusion? Maybe, maybe not.  Given the past history, I’m am always justifiably suspicious when teams stop spending on free agents.  Player salaries were down in 2018 for the first time since 2010.  However, things aren’t exactly rosy for MLB in spite of a currently booming economy.  Post-season TV ratings are down, and eleven teams failed to draw two million fans or average 25,000 fans per game in 2018, with attendance in Tampa and Miami absolutely dreadful by recent standards.

Add to these trends are the fact that analytics have given teams a reason not to spend quite so much on free agents.  Mainly that seems to be playing out in shorter free agents contracts, rather than lower annual averages.

I have been particularly impressed with the accuracy of mlbtraderumors.com’s contract predictions for its list of the top 50 free agents this off-season, at least in terms of the amounts of the contracts that have signed so far.  The main difference between the predictions and the actual contracts signed so far is that many of the contracts are a year shorter than predicted, but actually feature higher average annual salaries.  As such, it really could be possible that teams have simply gotten smarter about giving long-term deals to the majority of free agents, who are not reasonably likely to any good in those last additional seasons.

[As an aside, I noticed that mlbtraderumor’s predictions piece got many comments criticizing the fact that it hadn’t accurately predicted most of the actual signing teams.  In my opinion these criticisms are kind of stupid and fairly typical of a lot of the negative comments people like to write.  With 30 MLB teams, the vast majority of the top 50 free agents are going to have three to five teams serious about signing them, with numerous other teams who see the player as a Plan B if the free agent they really want signs with someone else and also a few bottom-feeders like the Twins last off-season willing to jump in at the last minute if the free agent can be signed as a relative bargain.  That makes it pretty hard to accurately predict which team signs which free agent.  The contract-length-and-amount predictions, and the relative accuracy thereof, feels a lot more pertinent and significant to me.]

It’s also worth noting that we could expect Bryce Harper and Manny Machado to go into January unsigned, as both are trying to wring record-setting deals out of their respective suitors.  Neither Harper (injuries, inconsistency, maturity level) or Machado (maturity level, post-season performance) is without his faults, which means it’s going to take some work to get them the deals that they and their agents dream about.

Like last season, some of the players who haven’t signed yet are going to get squeezed, particularly if they aren’t Harper and Machado — these two will get paid no matter what — it’s just a matter if they are guaranteed $200M+ or $300M+.  Of course, none of the still free agents is going to go to bed hungry anytime soon.

As a final note, I appreciated the creativity of the most recent big free agent signing, that of Zach Britton.  While it guarantees Britton $39M, which was just a little more than mlbtraderumors.com predicted, it provides tremendous flexibility to both the Yankees and Britton.  Britton can opt out after two years and $26M, and after year three the Yankees have a $14M team option for 2022.  Although I have a problem with Scott Boras’ conflicts of interest and his Trumpesque puffery, he is extremely creative in terms of working out the best possible deals for his most elite clients.  I can’t imagine that Britton doesn’t feel pretty good about this deal.

Oliver Drake’s Ongoing Odyssey and Other Minnesota Twins Notes

December 29, 2018

In the aftermath of the Twins’ signing of Nelson Cruz for $14.3 million for 2019, I was looking at the Twins’ now surplus of right-handed power bats, and I happened to notice that Oliver Drake had a very successful 19 relief appearance run (2.21 ERA) for the Twins last season but is no longer with the team.

Drake played for five different major league teams last year and six since the start of the 2017 season.  The reason for this is obvious: Drake has great stuff and has success in AAA, but he has command issues and was awful at the major league level last year until the Twins selected him off waivers.  Drake started the season for the Brewers, was ineffective and then sold to the Indians, probably for a box of crackerjack.  He pitched poorly in Cleveland, and the Angels selected him off the waiver wire on May 31st.  Drake didn’t pitch well in Anaheim, and was selected off waivers by the Blue Jays in July 26th.  Ditto in Toronto, and the Twins claimed him off waivers on August 3rd.

Despite finally pitching well in the Twin Cities, the Twins tried to pass him through waivers again in late October/early November, and the Rays grabbed him.  The Rays tried to pass him through waivers at the end of the month, and the Blue Jays once again grabbed him.  At least once the regular season ended, Drake’s subsequent travels were virtual, rather than real, and Drake is presumably sitting at home waiting to see whom he ends up with in its time to start Spring Training.

With service in parts of four major league seasons now, but only about 2.5 years of major league service time, Drake isn’t yet arbitration eligible but is certainly out of minor league options.  What that means is that, unless he is first released, the last team to claim him off waivers will likely have to give him a major league contract in the $565,000 to $575,000 range.

Well, that’s small potatoes in today’s game, particularly for a pitcher with his potential.  However, the Twins didn’t think he was worth that modest guarantee, and the Rays didn’t think so either once they obtained somebody they liked better for their 40-man roster, almost certainly because he can’t be sent down to the minors if he’s ineffective without passing him through waivers yet again.  He’s also going into his age 32 season, so many teams may doubt he’ll ever have sufficient command to take advantage of his plus stuff at the major league level.

Drake was originally a 43rd round draft pick out of the U.S. Naval Academy.  He now has a career major league ERA of 4.59 with 151 Ks in 137.1 innings pitched and a WHIP of 1.46.  He’s good enough that a lot of teams want him at the right price, but don’t seem to be willing to give him any guarantees.

With the signing of Nelson Cruz and the earlier claiming off waivers and signing of C.J. Cron for $4.8M, the Twins are now officially overloaded with defensively challenged, right-handed hitting sluggers.  Cruz and Cron will get plenty of playing time because of their 2019 salaries unless either gets hurt, but the Twins also have Miguel Sano, who is too young and has too much potential to give up on yet, and also Tyler Austin, who came over from the Yankees when the Twins traded Lance Lynn at the 2018 trade deadline.  With the corner outfield slots taken up by young lefty hitters Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler, one would have to think the Twins would be willing to listen to trade offers for Austin.

Austin is already 27 and hasn’t established himself as a major league regular yet.  He doesn’t hit for average or draw many walks, but he sure has right-handed power with 24 HRs in only 404 major league plate appearances.  He wouldn’t be a bad fit for the San Francisco Giants, who could use another corner outfielder with right-handed power.

Because Austin is out of options, maybe the Twins would be willing to trade him to Giants for minor league reliever (and personal favorite) Tyler Rogers.  Tyler’s twin brother Taylor has had three successful seasons as a reliever for the Twins, and the Tyler has been mighty good at AAA the last two seasons.  Obviously, there would be some great PR for the Twins to have twin relievers pitching on their major league roster to start the 2019 season.  That said, the Twins will probably hold on to Austin since he cheap and provides insurance if Cruz, Cron or somebody else gets hurt.

I have to say that I like the fact that the Twins are active every off-season, seeking out deals at the right price that might reasonably make the team better.  It didn’t work in 2018, but if you keep trying every off-season, it may well work eventually.

Oakland A’s Trade for Jurickson Profar

December 21, 2018

The Oakland A’s were part of a three-team trade with the Texas Rangers and the Tampa Rays, the most significant piece of which is the A’s acquisition of middle infielder Jurickson Profar.  The deal makes clear that the A’s are trying to compete again in 2019.

Profar will presumably play 2B for the A’s replacing Jed Lowrie, who had two extremely productive seasons for the A’s in 2017 and 2018, but is soon to be 35 years old and is looking at a substantial annual pay increase as a free agent.  My guess is that Lowrie will get a contract similar to the two-year $24M deal that Daniel Murphy just signed with the Rockies, which would nearly double what the A’s paid Lowrie the last two seasons.

Profar will be much cheaper.  mlbtraderumors.com projects him to get $3.4M in 2019.  Profar broke through in a big way in 2018, and the A’s will be receiving his age 26 and 27 seasons before he becomes a free agent.

To get Profar, the A’s gave up righted-handed reliever Emilio Pagan, minor league middle infielder Eli White and, most significantly, the 38th pick in the 2019 Draft.  Pagan is a decent middle reliever with five more seasons of control, but it’s the draft pick that has the most value.  The odds are pretty good of drafting a star or at least six seasons of a useful major league player with a selection that high.

The trade for Profar interferes with the incipient major league career of Franklin Barreto.  The soon to be 23 year old Barreto had an .872 OPS in the Pacific Coast League and is currently slashing .356/.425/.550 in the Venezuelan Winter League.  In short, Barreto looks ready to get a chance to be an every-day major league player.

However, Barreto is young enough that sending him back to AAA for as long as it takes for him to prove he’s too good to stay there, won’t impact his major league career.  In the meantime, one of the A’s infielders could get hurt, or Barreto could simply be called up to be the first infielder off the bench.  The A’s have two more years of control over both Profar and also SS Marcus Semien.  However, if Barreto proves he’s ready and the A’s fall out of contention, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the A’s trade either Profar or Semien at the 2019 trade deadline or after the 2019 season.

The Rangers received three pitching prospects, the best of whom is 22 year lefty starter Brock Burke, middle infield prospect White, and some international bonus slot money.   The Rays received reliever Pagan, the 38th overall draft pick, and a pitching prospect.  The trade of Burke for the draft pick looks like kind of a wash, so arguably for the Rays this was about getting a proven major league reliever for a pitching prospect.