Archive for the ‘Texas Rangers’ category

MLB and KBO Agree on New Posting System

July 13, 2018

MLB has reached an agreement on a new posting system regime with South Korea’s KBO.  The new system provides that KBO players who are posted get to sign with any MLB team they choose, which in practical effect will mean for the highest bidder 90% of the time, with the former KBO team getting a percentage of the contract amount as follows.

For the first $25M guarantee of the contract, the former KBO team gets 20%.  For the next $25M guarantee, the KBO team gets 17.5%.  For any guaranteed amount above the first $50M, the KBO team gets 15%.

The upshot is that on a contract that guarantees the South Korean player $100M, his former KBO team would receive $16.875M.  When Hyun-jin Ryu signed with the Dodgers, his former KBO team, the Hanwha Eagles, received 71.5% of the contracted amount (a $25M+ posting fee compared to Ryu’s $36M guarantee over six seasons.)  The new regime obviously means the player will get a far larger percentage of his true value to the top MLB bidder.

The next Ryu Hyun-jin will cost well more than a $61M+ layout, but it’s anyone’s guess when the next Ryu will come along.  KBO teams aren’t going to make a great deal of money posting their biggest stars on any kind of a regular basis under the new system, but $16.875M is still a lot of money to a KBO team when that $100M player finally comes along.

Two years ago, I proposed an adjustment to the Japanese NPB posting regime, which while different from the one just adopted above, was designed to accomplish the same thing: getting Asian teams to post their best players sooner in order to receive a bigger payout.

If a KBO team has a MLB-caliber player which it posts in the off-season before the player’s age 27 season, that player will command a far higher MLB guaranteed contract than the same player posted when he’s a year short of the nine full seasons it takes to become a KBO (or NPB) true free agent.  That means, under the new posting regime, the KBO team makes a lot more money posting the player a year or three sooner than they absolutely have to.

The same kind of regime would work for NPB postings, except that the percentages the NPB team would receive would have to be higher (maybe 33%, 25% and 20%), because the best NPB players are worth more money to their NPB teams than the best KBO players are worth to their KBO teams, given the difference in league revenue streams.  If MLB teams try to squeeze NPB teams too much, there is simply much less reason for an NPB team to post its best players until it absolutely has too (the off-season before the off-season in which the player is a true free agent).

In fact, I think my proposal is better if the goal is to get NPB teams to post superstars a year or three early, since it directly ties NPB team compensation to earlier posting.  The benefit to the new MLB-KBO regime is that it could mean big money for the next NPB team to develop the next Yu Darvish, Masahiro Tanaka or Shohei Ohtani who commands a contract well in excess of a $100M guarantee.

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San Francisco Giants Trade Away Austin Jackson and Cory Gearrin

July 8, 2018

In a move that seems designed to free up salary cap space in order to make another move closer to the trade deadline, the Giants traded away Austin Jackson and Cory Gearrin along with prospect Jason Bahr to the Texas Rangers for cash considerations or a player to be named later.  In other words, a straight dump of what remains of Jackson’s and Gearrin’s combined $4.68M in contracts for 2018 (plus Jackson’s $3M 2019 guarantee) with a B-grade prospect thrown in to sweeten the pot.

Jackson seemed like a low-cost place holder when the Giants signed him last off-season, and that’s pretty much what he turned out to be.  The Giants have promoted Steven Duggar to replace Jackson in center field.  I don’t think that Duggar is quite ready to be a major league hitter, but there’s a good chance he’ll hit as well as Jackson did so far in 2018 (.604 OPS), and at age 24 Duggar has much more a major league future in front of him than the 31 year old Jackson.

I kind of liked Cory Gearrin, but he’s the kind of fungible right-handed relief pitcher the Giants have always been able to find on the scrap heap and get a couple or three solid years out of.  Gearrin’s roster spot is being replaced by Ray Black, who may or may not now have major league command but in any event has absolutely electric stuff.  Black will be fun to watch, if nothing else.

I’m a little sad that Tyler Rogers didn’t get the call to replace Gearrin.  Rogers now has a 1.64 ERA at AAA Sacramento a year after posting a full-season 2.37 ERA there.  That said, Ray Black has a major league arm and then some, and the Giants are an old school team that likes right-handers who can really bring it.  If Black can’t throw enough strikes at the major league level yet, which is a very real possibility, then maybe Rogers finally gets his shot.

Jason Bahr was the Giants’ 5th round draft pick in 2017 out of Central Florida, and he’s having a fine season after recently receiving a promotion to A+ San Jose from A Augusta.  He has a 2.55 ERA with 103 Ks in 84.2 IP, which is great.  However, he is already 23 years old and hasn’t yet reached the AA level.  mlbtraderumors.com says mlb.com rates Bahr as the Giants’ 27th best prospect, which frankly isn’t saying much except that he isn’t a total dog.

The Giants are trying to stay under the $197M competitive balance cap.  The penalties for going over the cap are complicated — suffice it say that the wealthy teams have strong incentives to get under this cap at least once every two or three seasons in order to avoid the steepest penalties.

Now we wait and see what the  do with this newly acquired cap space as we get closer to the trade deadline.

The Luke Heimlich Mess

July 4, 2018

I’ve been reading a lot about Oregon State pitcher and convicted child molester Luke Heimlich, and, boy, is it a complicated situation.

At the age of 16, Heimlich pleaded guilty to one episode of molesting his then six year old niece on one occasion when he was 15.  According to his sister-in-law, the molestation happened on multiple occasions when Heimlich was between the ages of 13 and 15.

Except for the formal guilty plea, Heimlich reportedly consistently denied ever doing what he was accused of doing.  He denied it completely last May to the New York Times well after news of the prior conviction broke in 2017.  Heimlich states that his guilty plea was a decision made by his family in order to avoid destroying the family by forcing the now 11 year old girl to take the witness stand.

As a well-read lawyer, I know that sometimes perps falsely confess to crimes because of various pressures, most notably the fact that the sentence will be much worse if they go to trial and lose.  As a juvenile offender with no prior record, the plea deal meant that Heimlich served no jail time and had his record expunged at age 21 when he did not violate his parol terms.

Heimlich comes from a deeply Christian family (his father is an ordained pastor), and such families tend to be pretty patriarchal.  If his parents decided he should plead guilty to maintain family peace, then there would certainly be a great deal of pressure on the 16 year old to plead guilty.  That fact that he wasn’t yet 18 when he entered the plea deal deserves consideration.

On the other, my daughter recently turned five years old.  If she told me tomorrow that someone was molesting her, I would believe her, particularly if there were corroborating factors like abrasions/swelling to her genitals or a change in her mood or behavior.  Heimlich’s niece was six when she told her mother that she was being molested, and in my mind the difference between age six and age four (when the abuse allegedly started) is a big one in accessing the credibility of the little girl and the likelihood that she could have been coached in making the allegations.

In short, without knowing all of the facts behind the allegations, it is nearly impossible to know who is telling the truth or what actually happened.  That said, I can’t see any professional baseball team signing Luke Heimlich in the near future.

Were somebody to sign Heimlich and were he to avoid major injury to his left arm, there is a very high likelihood that he would reach the major leagues.  That’s why the news of his prior conviction is national news.

He wasn’t drafted in either his junior (2017) year or his senior (2018) year, in spite of the fact that he was at least a second round talent both years.  The Royals were reportedly sniffing around a possible signing about a week ago, but it quickly got reported, and I’m virtually certain team management received a lot of very negative feedback as a result.

The only reason for an MLB organization to sign Heimlich is that he is a major league talent.  However, baseball is an entertainment industry, and a lot of people are understandably extremely upset about the prospect of a former child molester earning the kind of riches that come with being a major league player of any duration.

Again, on the other hand, by all accounts, Heimlich was only 15 when the last episode of abuse occurred.  Given his age at the time of the crime, has he paid his debt to society?  The law certainly thinks so, as his conviction was expunged at age 21 when he completed his five year probation period without incident.  These are all very complicated questions with no easy answers.

I just can’t see a major league organization signing Heimlich.  The truth is that MLB doesn’t need any one player no matter how talented that player is.  The Royals likely learned pretty quick what a headache it would be to sign Heimlich.  Even if a team could sign Heimlich quietly and stick him away in the low minors, the moment that Heimlich was ready to pitch in the majors even years from now (the only time that Heimlich would have any actual value to an MLB organization), the issue of his child molestation conviction would become national news again and a huge headache for his team.

I don’t see independent-A league teams signing Heimlich either.  Indy-A teams are even more dependent on fan largess than MLB teams, because the Indy-A teams aren’t putting a major league quality product on the field.  Attending indy-A league games is entirely about the experience and rooting for all the underdogs playing for peanuts for a very slim chance at one day playing in the majors or at the very least making enough money somewhere that they haven’t completely wasted their time pursuing a baseball career.

Any Indy-A team that signs Heimlich immediately kisses away that sympathy from half of its fan base.

The fact that Donald Trump is President does not help Heimlich’s career prospects.  Trump lies so often about things that are easily disproven (the size of his inaugural crowd, illegal immigrants voting for Hillary, the crime rate among undocumented immigrants, the tariff rates the European Union imposes on American exports, the success of the North Korea summit, the education levels of people who immigrate legally from Latin American and African countries, etc.) that he’s given license for others to lie no matter how conclusively in opposition the actual facts.

One result of this is that the roughly 52% of the public that doesn’t approve of Trump is a whole lot less likely to believe Heimlich’s flat-out denials in the face of his guilty plea.  That’s too much of any professional team’s fan base, particularly when it comes to a hot-button issue like child molestation.  Matt Bush was able to make it back to the majors in spite of some incredibly poor decisions he made, but that was only because he never quite succeeded in killing anyone.

Dustin Nippert Records 100th KBO Win and 1,000th Strike Out

June 29, 2018

Former Texas Ranger Dustin Nippert yesterday became the first foreign pitcher to win 100 games and strike out 1,000 batters in South Korea’s KBO.  Nippert can now claim to be the undisputed king of foreign pitchers in the KBO’s 37 year history to date.

In 2016 at the age of 35, Nippert went a remarkable 22-3, one of the greatest single season won-loss records in the league’s history.  The Doosan Bears rewarded him with a record-setting contract for a foreign player in 2017, a reported $2.2 million.

Nippert was good in 2017, going 14-8 with a 4.06 ERA in an extreme hitters’ league, but the Bears apparently wanted another season closer to 2016 for the money they were paying him.  Instead of re-signing Nippert for 2018, the Bears brought in younger foreign KBO ace Josh Lindblom for approximately $750,000 less than they paid Nippert in 2017.

The move looks like a wise one for the Bears.  About half way through the 2018 season, Lindblom is 9-2, tied for second in the circuit in wins, his 2.94 ERA is 3rd best among qualifiers and his 108 Ks are third most.   Meanwhile, as their second foreign pitcher the Bears brought in KBO rookie Seth Frankoff, who is currently 12-0 with a 2.71 ERA and 83 Ks in 89.2 IP.

Nippert had a hard time finding another KBO team willing to sign him because of his salary expectations, but eventually caught on late in the off-season with the bottom-feeding KT Wiz, who gave Nippert a reported $1 million contract, a big drop from his 2017 salary and only a little more than what the Bears are paying Frankoff to be their second foreign starter.

Nippert got off to a slow start for the Wiz this season, but he’s now pitched six consecutive quality starts, and his record stands at 6-4 with a 4.67 ERA.  The Wiz are in 9th place in the ten-team KBO with a dreadful 30-47-1 record (as in Japan’s NPB, there are 12 inning draws in the KBO) as I write this.  With that in mind, Nippert’s 6-4 record looks pretty good.

Nippert is 37 this season, and we’ll have to see how he pitches in the second half and whether he wants to return to the Wiz for another season in 2019.  Two years ago Nippert stated his desire to finish his KBO career with the Bears, but that didn’t happen.  Nippert married a Korean woman a few years ago whom he met in Korea, so he may well decide to continue to pitch in the KBO as long as he can.

Nippert’s first marriage may have ended in part because of the time away he spent pitching in South Korea.  For American players playing in Asia, their families often do not join them until mid or late June each season after the children have finished their school years in the U.S.  Presumably, they then leave in late August to go start up school again.  That can be hard on marriages, particularly since ballplayers have a reputation for running around when the wife is away.

With a Korean wife now and no new children yet of school age, that isn’t as much of a problem for Nippert now.

Knuckleheads

April 28, 2018

One thing every baseball blogger needs is something to get exercised about.  Knucklehead ballplayers are a great source for vituperative writing.

For that reason, I kind of miss the end of the professional careers of Milton Bradley and Sidney Ponson.  They provided countless opportunities for my digital venting.

Now, if a player is kind of a jerk, but really, really good, everyone in the baseball world kind of puts up with him, at least so long as he remains at the top his game.  Think Barry Bonds.  But the moment the player begins to slip, then everyone is quick to jump in and get their digs.

With that in mind, I’ve kept my eyes open for a knucklehead worthy of Bradley and Ponson.  Some players are just so bad, they’re disgusting and quickly out of the game like Aaron Hernandez.  Other promising contenders like Matt Bush end up (apparently) learning something and turning their lives around .

What you need is a guy who is just bad enough that he hangs around so you can be righteously indignant every time a team that should know better signs him anyway.

A guy I’ve got my eye on is former marginal MLB pitcher Josh Lueke (pronounced like loogie with a k).  You may or may not remember Lueke for an incident that happened back in 2010 when he was a throw-in prospect who went to the Mariners in the deal that sent Cliff Lee to the Rangers.

The Mariners at the time were taking a leading role in MLB in speaking out against violence against women.  However, the Mariners traded for Lueke, who had spent most of the previous summer in the Bakersfield, California jail after being accused of sexually assaulting a young woman he brought home from a bar, which even a cursory internet search would have revealed (which I well know: I was one of the first to report Lueke’s legal problem which I had discovered through a cursory internet search when the trade was announced).  The allegations were pretty disgusting, but there was a lot of alcohol involved, and ultimately Lueke got off relatively easy in all respects except for his reputation.

The M’s understandably caught a lot of flack for the move, and they eventually traded him off to Tampa Bay, although not until after he had gotten lit up for a 6.06 ERA in 25 major league relief appearances for them in 2011.  Lueke has a major league arm, but after unsuccessful major league stints with the Rays in each of 2012 through 2014, he ended up in the Mexican League in 2015, presumably because at age 30, he was no longer worth the baggage that came with him.

Lueke not surprisingly had a big year in the Mexican League — he’s got a major league arm — and was signed by the Yakult Swallows in 2016 for an estimated $330,000.  He had a good year, posting a 3.06 ERA and 60 Ks in 64.2 relief innings pitched, and the Swallows brought him back in 2017 for an estimated $687,000, a hefty raise and MLB money anyway you slice it.

Lueke was even better in 2017, recording a 2.97 ERA, 22 holds and seven saves, while striking out 70 in only 60.2 innings pitched.  Lueke had made a success of himself in a league that would pay him major league money and where few likely knew much if anything about his past.

Alas, the knucklehead in him struck again.  The Swallows are a small-market NPB team, and apparently their offer for the 2018 season wasn’t to Lueke’s liking, because he skipped a team practice on October 2, 2017, the day before the Swallows’ last game in a season in which they finished dead last 29.5 games out of the play-offs (team practices in these circumstances are not usual in NPB — it’s a Japanese thing — fighting spirit and all that).  The Swallows suspended him for the last game, didn’t bring him back in 2018 and no other NPB team did either.

As an American (and a knucklehead), you can’t necessarily expect Lueke to understand how important it is in Japanese baseball for players to show respect and for the team to save face.  Still, that’s usually one the first things players from the Americas are told by the foreigners already there, and Lueke had been in the league two seasons.

Anyway, in 2018, Lueke is back in the Mexican League as the league’s best closer.  Now aged 33, MLB teams apparently decided he was too old for his baggage to offer him a minor league no matter how well he had pitched in NPB the year before.

So, Lueke has apparently worn out his welcome in both MLB and NPB, and he’s presumably making somewhere between $8,000 (the official league cap) and $15,000 (more likely if the rumors are to be believed) a month to pitch in Mexico, but in any event far, far less than the $800K or $900K the Swallows almost certainly would have been willing to pay him if he hadn’t stepped on his dick.

If, in fact, no NPB team can or will bring Lueke back to Japan, then his opportunities for better future pay-days are extremely limited.  KBO and CPBL teams only sign starting pitchers, and Lueke hasn’t started a game in his professional career.  A relief pitcher of Lueke’s abilities who wears out his welcome in both MLB and NPB is certainly a worthy candidate for Knucklehead of the moment.

Bunt Doubles

April 3, 2018

The subject of bunting against today’s exaggerated defensive shifts has been on my mind for some timeHere’s an article listing all of the bunt doubles one writer was able to find through the 2012 season.

The preceding linked article contains another link to a fangraphs article about the two bunt doubles in the 2012 season.  Interestingly, neither was against a shift.  Instead, fielders failed to keep the ball in front of them on plays that couldn’t properly be called errors, and the hitter got credit for a double.

The most famous bunt double against the shift that I am aware of is Robinson Cano’s 2013 effort.  In my mind, it is an absolute masterpiece: a scoreless game, two outs, a hard, punched, yet well placed bunt, and Robinson Cano finds himself in scoring position — the play at second wasn’t even major league close.

This youtube video from September 2016 shows a couple more presumably recent bunt doubles, but except for Cano’s, they are not against the shift.  One is another can’t be called an error, but the fielder made a mistake; and the other is an exceptionally well-placed hard bunt that went far enough into right field between the 1Bman and 2Bman that it went for a double.

I think we don’t see more bunt doubles because most players who face the most exaggerated shifts are still left-handed power hitters who can’t bunt to save their lives.  But, dammit, at least a few of them should learn.

Joey Gallo, in particular, should learn to bunt and do it often enough to f@#$ with the heads of opposing defensive strategists.  Last week I read a fangraphs article from late last season about how Gallo is perhaps the most extreme pull-hitter in all of the major leagues.

Last year, Gallo hit a brutal .209, but was still a valuable hitter because of his home runs and walks.  You know what? Gallo could still hit home runs and draw walks, while bunting for base hits often enough to bring up his batting average and cut down on what are likely the most extreme defensive shifts ever seen anywhere.

Really, what has Gallo got to lose?  Gallo runs surprisingly well for a man his size, and I just don’t see how a disciplined, confident major league player would throw himself out of his normal game by occasionally bunting when there are fewer than two strikes and the defensive shift is particularly extreme.  If the defense wants to play all four infielders right of second base and play the left-fielder in left center, Gallo could become the first major league player to bunt for a triple merely by bunting the ball hard into shallow left field ten feet from the foul line.

Mickey Mantle used to bunt for base hits sometimes when he was in a slump.  If the Mick could do it, so could modern sluggers.

Texas Rangers Claim Tommy Joseph off Waivers and CTE

March 20, 2018

The Rangers claimed former SF Giants prospect Tommy Joseph off waivers today from the Phillies.  I had wondered whether another team would claim him or wait until he passed through waivers when he would have likely elected free agency as a veteran major league player.

Joseph was originally the Giants’ second round pick (55th overall) in 2009.  He was extremely promising as a catcher on both sides of the ball, but was eventually quite literally knocked out of the position by concussions.

I’m predicting that we start to hear about more former major league baseball catchers developing CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) in the not too distant future.  Ryan Freel is still the only former MLBer diagnosed after death with CTE that I am aware of, but with many more catchers’ careers ending now because of concussions (pitchers throw harder and batters swing harder than ever before), it’s just a matter of time.  More on this thought later.

Back to Joseph — Tommy hit well enough that he was able to convert to 1B and reach the majors solely on his abilities as a hitter.  He was good in his 2016 rookie season, posting an .813 OPS in 347 major league plate appearances.

In 2017, Tommy Joseph had his sophomore jinx season.  He still hit with power (22 HRs), but his .721 OPS in 533 plate appearances with an ugly .289 on-base percentage isn’t going to cut it anywhere as a 1Bman.

Joseph is an old 26 in 2018 (he turns 27 on July 16th and he looks older than 26 in his baseball reference photo), but any kind of 26 is good for a righted-hitter with power who already has almost 900 career plate appearances.  He seemed to me like he was an obvious candidate for an American League team that could use a better right-handed hitter with power on the bench, and I feel gratified that at least one AL team agreed with me.

The Rangers are clearly that team.  Joseph shouldn’t play first base in any more games than are needed to rest Joey Gallo, who is a younger, better version of Tommy Joseph.  However, Gallo is a lefty swinger and so is 35-year old DH Shin-soo Choo, so there’s an obvious fit for Joseph.  Choo isn’t likely to play 149 games as he did last year, and he may well continue to spend time in the corner outfield positions as needed.  Joseph is also insurance if either Gallo or Choo gets hurt.

The one thing standing Joseph’s way is that he hasn’t had much of a platoon split in his MLB career.  He has a career .781 OPS against lefties and a .748 OPS against righties.  He better improve his hitting against lefties in 2018 if he wants to re-establish himself as a full-time major leaguer going forward, because right now his role is as right-handed power bat off the bench.

Back to CTE in a roundabout way — earlier today I happened to look up catchers who hold the records for most games caught in a season.  Randy Hundley is still the only MLB player to have caught more than 155 games in a season when he played a whooping 160 games behind the dish in 1968.

Playing 150 games a season as a catcher has been accomplished only 27 times in MLB history.  The first such iron man was George Gibson for the World Champion 1909 Pittsburgh Pirates.  He caught at least 140 games in each of 1908 and 1910, and then the injuries set in as he had also reached the age of 30.

There are only two eras in major league history when catching a 150 games in a season wasn’t rare — the expansion era generation from 1962-1983 (17 such seasons) and the last two years of World War II 1944-1945 (four times).  In the expansion era more games were played in a season and catching talent was thinly spread.  In the late War years, there was a real lack of major league caliber catchers, even at the lower wartime level of play, such that some of the good ones who were available had to work double duty.

I would guess that in the days of the old Pacific Coast League when seasons were routinely 180 to 200 a season, it wasn’t rare for a catcher to catch 150 games in a season.  However, two of the greatest catchers in PCL history, Billy Raimondi and Truck Hannah, appear to have accomplished the feat a total of only three times between them during their combined 37 PCL seasons.  Of course, the fact that they weren’t overworked may be part of why they had such long professional careers.

78 times has a catcher caught at least 145 games in a major league season.  Here is a list of the only eight catchers (by my count) who wore the tools of ignorance that many times in three or more different seasons: (5 times) Jim Sundberg, Jason Kendall; (4) Randy Hundley, Gary Carter; and (3) Yogi Berra, Bob Boone, Jody Davis and Tony Pena.  Needless to say, most of these seasons happened early in these catchers’ careers.

My point, I guess, is that there are a lot of retired catchers who caught a whole of games in their major league (and professional) careers who are reaching the age when we should start to hear more about CTE in former major league catchers.