Archive for the ‘Toronto Blue Jays’ category

The Only Game in Town

April 18, 2020

Professional baseball is back — in Taiwan.

We are now six games into the 2020 CPBL season with the games being played in empty stadiums but broadcast on TV.  It is surely better than nothing for a baseball hungry world.

The best game pitched so far was former New York Yankee and half-season KBO ace Esmil Rogers‘ effort earlier today.  He allowed one run, earned, on six hits and a walk in seven innings pitched with 11 strikeouts.

I had questions about how Rogers would pitch in the extremely hitter friendly CPBL.  Despite the past KBO success, he’s now 34 and got hit pretty hard in the Mexican League in 2019, which was also an extreme hitters’ league.  CPBL teams love foreign pitchers with a history of success in the KBO and/or NPB, and so far so good for Rogers.

Former Seattle Mariner and SoftBank Hawk Ariel Miranda and former Toronto Blue Jay and KBO ace Ryan Feierabend both looked good on opening day, but neither reached the seventh inning nor got a decision.  Former San Francisco Giants farmhand, brief Houston Astro and former KBO ace Henry Sosa looked good in his first CPBL start of the young CPBL season, allowing one run in 7 IP on four hits and a walk while striking out five.

[Kudos to baseballreference.com — they are publishing CPBL stats for the first time this season — maybe my two emails over the last three or four years had some effect… but probably not, at least not by themselves.]

CPBL teams decided to spend more money on the four foreign pitchers each of the league’s four franchises can sign (three on the major league squad and one in the minors, with the ability to promote and demote foreign players without having to release someone for the first time this season) this past off-season.  CPBL teams decided to do this in part to get more attention from the baseball world, but more because the Lamigo (now Rakuten) Monkeys have completely dominated the league the last few seasons because they have a disproportionate share of the best Taiwanese hitters.  The other three teams realized the only way they can compete is by spending more money to get better foreign pitchers.

Even though the CPBL is going to lose money this season because fans probably won’t be attending any games this year, as the only pro game in the world as I write this post, teams’ decisions to spend more money to put on a better product may well pay dividends when a coronavirus vaccine becomes widely available.

The best game pitched by a Taiwanese starter so far is the three earned run, six inning outing with seven Ks thrown by the Brothers’ Huang Enci (黃恩賜) — the translations provided by Google Translate for Chinese names are not necessarily the conventional ones.  He’s 24 this year and appears to be a work in progress.

33 year old former Cleveland Indian C.C. Lee has six Ks in 3.1 innings pitched in two relief appearances, but he’s also blown a save, which happens a lot in the CPBL.  21 year old rookie (he pitched 18.2 innings CPBL major league innings across 16 relief appearances last season) Wu Jun-wei (吳俊偉) has struck out seven in three scoreless relief innings

Former Detroit Tiger Ryan Carpenter and former Padre/Mariner/Cub Donn Roach got hit pretty hard in their first ever CPBL starts.  I had my doubts about the Roach signing after a rough 2019 AAA International League season, but one start doesn’t prove much.

The big story at the plate so far is last season’s home run champ Chu Yu-Hsien (朱育賢), who hit five home runs in his first two games this season and is currently batting .692 (9 for 13) with a 2.538 OPS.  Aside from his league leading 30 dingers last season, he batted .347 with a .605 slugging percentage, which were only good enough for fifth and fourth best respectively, in the hit-happy 4-team circuit.  Here’s video of two of his 2020 home runs.

It’s worth noting that the Monkeys have scored 9, 15 and 11 runs in their three 2020 games so far.  Not surprisingly, they are 3-0 in spite of having allowed 8 and 10 runs in two of the games.  You know what they say — the best defense is a good offense.

Mike Bolsinger Sues Astros for Sign-Stealing

February 11, 2020

Mike Bolsinger is suing the Astros for lost earnings as a result of getting hammered and knocked out of the majors by a bad outing against the ‘Stros, with the garbage can banging away in the dugout.  His lawyers certainly found the right plaintiff, a pitcher who got knocked out and immediately sent down with recorded audio proof of the cheating.  MLB Trade Rumors’ Jeff Todd has a good piece which mentions some of the hurdles Bolsinger will face in order to get to discovery, at which point the Astros will probably settle for some several million dollars paid to Bolsinger and his lawyers in order to prevent all of the Astros’ dirty secrets from getting a fuller public airing.

I think it’s likely that the Astros will try to get the case kicked into arbitration, although Bolsinger may have an argument that cheating of this type isn’t covered by the Collective Bargaining Agreement and thus not arbitrable.  However, disputes as to arbitrability are usually left to the arbitrators themselves to decide — courts love kicking cases off to arbitration in these circumstances, because labor arbitrators have more experience in resolving collectively bargained contracts and issues than state court judges.  Kicking cases into binding arbitration, where both sides are well represented by competent legal counsel also conserves state court judicial resources.

An argument I would expect the Astros’ lawyers to raise is whether a California State Court in Los Angeles has personal jurisdiction to hear this dispute.  As I understand it, most of the sign-stealing cheating took place in Houston, although wikipedia’s description of the methods used suggest they could also have been used on the road so long as the Astros could get a live video-feed of the game.  In any event, the day that Bolsinger got hammered happened in Houston.

Thus, it may be necessary for Bolsinger’s lawyers either to find a California-based pitcher to add as a plaintiff and/or to prove that the Astros were stealing signs in Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco or Oakland.  The lawyers picked L.A. because it has a more liberal judiciary.  Orange County is more conservative, but Alameda County, where the A’s play, would probably have been a better choice, because it would probably be easier to prove the Astros cheated at the Oakland Coliseum than at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

A 2017 U.S. Supreme Court case, Bristol-Myers Squibb, holds that to establish specific personal jurisdiction, the conduct complained of in the lawsuit must arise out of or relate to the defendant’s activities in the forum state such that the forum state’s court may only adjudicate issues deriving from or connected with the present controversy that establishes jurisdiction.  This is why I think Bolsingers’ lawyers need to present evidence that the Astros cheated in California and thus that a pitcher in California was negatively affected by the cheating to establish personal jurisdiction.

As I said, if the lawsuit gets past the pleading stage to discovery, I expect the case to settle.  If it did go to trial, Bolsinger would have a hard time proving damages.  While the outing at issue got him knocked out of the majors, he had a 5.49 ERA going into that game.  He’s also likely to find it nearly impossible to prove he would have made more after he was sent down by the Blue Jays, because he made more money in Japan the last two seasons than he would likely have made in the U.S. even if he’d been able to last a little longer in MLB.

I’m doubtful that any major league team will sign Bolsinger in the future.  They might if he was younger and better, but given where he is in his career, I expect him to be effectively black listed by MLB teams for committing the cardinal sin of suing them.

Best Foreign Pitching Prospects for Taiwan’s CPBL 2020

January 21, 2020

Last off-season I had fun writing a post on the best foreign pitching prospects for Taiwan’s CPBL.  Henry Sosa was the one of many players I name-checked in the article, and I predicted he’d sign with a Mexican League team.

The point is there are so many pitchers available with the right talent level and potentially in the CPBL’s price range that it’s kind of a fool’s errand to try to predict who exactly CPBL teams will sign, unless you are reading reports out of Taiwan in Chinese coming from sources that actually work for one of the CPBL’s four teams.

Nonetheless, it’s still fun to identify some pitchers most MLB fans have never heard of but who still have enough left they could be stars in the CPBL earning at least $150,000 to start if they can last a full season. There were a flurry of foreign pitcher signings in the CPBL last week, but there still appear to be as many as four remaining roster spots available for foreign pitchers as I write this.

Former foreign KBO pitchers are always very popular with CPBL teams.  Christian Friedrich (32 years old in 2020), Joe Wieland (30), Deck McGuire (31), Felix Doubront (32), Pat Dean (31), Ryan Feierabend (34), David Hale (32), Tyler Cloyd (33) and Scott Copeland (32) are all over age-30 former KBOers who are still looking for a contract somewhere.

Christian Friedrich is my favorite as a potential CPBLer.  He hasn’t pitched in the MLB-system since 2017 due to an arm injury.  In 2019, he split the season between the Atlantic League and the KBO and pitcher very well in both places.  He’s not returning to the KBO to start the 2020 season (all the KBO roster spots for foreign pitchers are now filled), and at age 32, he might find it hard to get a call from an MLB organization.

Also, by my calculation Friedrich only earned about $160K last season, which is an amount a CPBL team could easily afford.  Almost all of these pitchers would be a good bet for a CPBL team, so long as any of them are willing to pitch in Taiwan for what the Rakuten Monkeys or the 7/11 Uni-Lions are willing to pay.  The ChinaTrust Brothers and the Fubon Guardians spent big on foreign pitchers this off-season, but their roster spots are now filled.

I like Feierabend too, because as a knuckleballer, he could still potentially pitch for years in the CPBL even though he’s already 34.

Pitchers who pitched well in the Caribbean Winter Leagues are a good bet for CPBL teams.  Teddy Stankiewicz (26) , who pitched well at AAA for the Red Sox last year and in both Mexico and the Dominic Republic this winter, would be a great prospect, but I expect an MLB organization will eventually get around to signing him.  David Kubiak (30) pitched so well in the Dominican Republic this winter, he deserves another shot in the CPBL.

Eric Stout (27), Jason Garcia (27), Justin Nicolino (28), Jake Paulson (28), Giovanni Soto (29), Mitch Lambson (29), Forrest Snow (31), Joe Van Meter (31), Hector Santiago (32) and Mitch Atkins (34) round out a list of pitchers who were good this winter and are still looking for summer 2020 jobs.

CPBL teams like AAA pitchers who have aged out and didn’t quite pitch well enough the previous season to receive a contract for next season.  The current possibilities include Dan Camarena (27), Dillon Overton (28), Tyler J. Alexander (28), Ryan Merritt (28), Parker Bridwell (28), Daniel Corcino (29), Drew Hutchison (29), Dietrich Enns (29), Erasmo Ramirez (30), Kyle Lobstein (30), Seth Maness (31), J.J. Hoover (32), and Logan Ondrusek (35).

I still like Tyler Alexander and Kyle Lobstein, whom I listed last off-season, as potential CPBL pitchers, but any of these pitchers would be good bets.  J.J. Hoover pitched in the Australian Baseball League this winter, which is great back door to the CPBL, because it’s easier and cheaper for CPBL teams to scout players Down Under than in the Americas.  Thomas Dorminy (28) and Rick Teasley (29) are two former CPBL pitchers pitching in Australia this winter, who, I bet, would jump at the chance to pitch in Taiwan again at CPBL salaries, even at the low end.

CPBL teams like Mexican League pitchers too.  Matt Gage (27), Andre Rienzo (31) and Dustin Crenshaw (31) are current Mexican League pitchers who might be available this off-season.

Needless to say, many of the pitchers I’ve listed will get minor league offers between now and the end of Spring Training, or they will elect to pitch in the Atlantic League or the Mexican League in the hopes of working their way back to the MLB system.  Even so, there are lots of options out their for CPBL teams, if they are willing to turn over every stone and kick a few tires.

Delmon Young Sighting

December 31, 2019

And the beat goes on for Delmon Young.  He’s playing in Australia’s Winter (their Summer) League this season.  Needless to say, he’s leading the league with seven home runs, although his .995 OPS is only seventh best just shy of 25 games into the season.

Young played in Mexico the summer of 2018 and he played in Venezuela that winter.  However, he didn’t return to Mexico for the summer 2019 season.  That was probably a mistake, as 2019 was an exceptionally good year for power hitters, and Young could have perhaps impressed somebody in Asia with a hot first half.  Given his major league pedigree a full year in Mexico could pay him as much as $80,000 or $90,000 with no income taxes, which if nothing else gets him a year closer to his MLB pension, which is likely to be substantial given his major league service team, even if he starts collecting it as young as 45.

Young is now 34 years old, and his chances of getting picked up by a KBO or NPB team are slim.  He may be playing in Australia solely as a way to see the world while getting paid a little to do it.  Salaries can’t be big to play baseball in Oz, however.

I surely don’t blame him for not returning to Venezuela, though — that can’t be worth $5,000 or $6,000 a month unless you really need the money.  However,  there are a lot of beautiful women there with low financial expectations for a sugar daddy.  Daily meals at nice restaurants, plus a few 25 kg sacks of corn meal and one or two whole chickens for the family are probably all it takes to get your pick of girlfriends in today’s Venezuela.

Current Blue Jays’ AAA player and former KBOer Andy Burns is also hitting well in Australia this winter/summer.  He’s still only 29 years old, and he played well at Buffalo in 2019 (.833 OPS) at mostly 2B/3B.  He’s likely hoping a KBO team will keep him in mind if he’s playing well in AAA in July and a foreign player isn’t hitting.  He certainly looks like a better KBO option than Taylor Motter, who’s a year older than Burns, but got signed by the Kiwoom Heroes because he was willing to accept a modest but not paltry $350,000.

Burns would have been a better option at $450K or $500K, although it’s possible he would have demanded more since he could be only one injury away from another major league opportunity.

Blue Jays Shell Out for Hyun-Jin Ryu

December 24, 2019

The Blue Jays have elected to give Hyun-Jin Ryu $80 million over four years, which is probably $15M to $20M too much given Ryu’s age (33 in March), weight (255 lbs) and past injury history.

One of the ironies of today’s MLB is that in spite of all the revenue sharing and extra draft picks for small market teams (Toronto isn’t a small market, but the Canadian dollar means the Jays’ revenues don’t match Toronto’s population size), small market teams, particularly those perennially trying to compete with the powerhouse teams, have to spend more to sign an A-list free agent.  It pretty much goes without saying that the Jay Birds had to give Ryu an $80M guarantee to get him.

Ryu’s contract also tends to suggest that Madison Bumgarner really did choose the Diamondbacks instead of maximizing his free agent contract, since it sure looks he could have got a nine-figure deal in this market if he’d held out for it.  Players always say they signed with the team they wanted to play for most, even when it’s obvious they elected to sign with however offered the biggest guarantee.  Here’s some evidence that MadBum had some other priorities.

In a much smaller signing, the Padres signed former NPBer Pierce Johnson for two years at a $5M guarantee, with a team option for an affordable third season.  Johnson is only the latest in a steadily increasing number of former MLBers who have gone to Japan for a year or three and then returned to big money from MLB.  It’s clearly a trend that is increasing.

For Johnson, the deal was a no-brainer.  His wife just had a baby, so he wanted to return the U.S.  Also, his former team, the Hanshin Tigers, likely made him a two-year offer for around $3M, so the Padres’ offer was probably the most money.

The trend of signing players like Johnson is largely a product of the fact that numerous teams have had success bringing in NPB returnees, and the other teams are now copying them.  Also, I think that in a gradual way, NPB is improving relative to MLB.

Although NPB teams are still limited to four foreign players in the major league rosters, every NPB team is now carrying 7 or 8 foreign players per season in order to develop young foreigners and to ensure they are getting the maximum performance from each foreign roster spot.

Also, NPB teams have attendance numbers that suggest that they have the money to sign a better class of not-quite MLB major league performers.  NPB is a mature league, with more than 80 years now in the books, and attendance figures don’t go up or down much from year to year.  However, in recent years, there has been small, steady increases every season.

Here are NPB’s 2019 attendance figures.  Even NPB’s weakest team, the Chiba Lotte Marines, drew 1.67 million fans in 71 home dates.  That’s more than eight MLB teams in more 2019 games.  The Marines’ average attendance of 23,463 per game was better than 12 MLB teams.

The upshot is that NPB have the money to sign foreign players who only need to improve their games a little bit in Japan to make successful returns to the MLB majors.  The big difference now on the MLB side of things is that late bloomers who establish themselves as big stars in NPB don’t necessarily have to stay there anymore.

On the other hand, I’m not convinced that we are about to see a big increase in the number of KBO stars who go on to MLB success.  NPB is clearly much closer to the MLB level of play than is the KBO, and I don’t think it’s likely that the KBO level of play will increase significantly any time soon.

The KBO has decided to let its teams sign two more foreign players each to play at the KBO minor league level, so that will improve performance from the three major league roster spots each team has for foreign players.  However, attendance was down sharply in the KBO in 2019, and it’s revenues can’t possibly be near to NPB’s.  The lack of funds is showing in a big way this off-season, with foreign player salaries down, making it more difficult for KBO teams to compete with NPB for the best foreign players.

The KBO is still a great opportunity for foreign 4-A players, but the league is going to have a hard time signing players like Dustin Nippert, Eric Thames and Josh Lindblom going forward unless it can get its attendance up and keep it there, avoiding a crash every time the Korean National Team does poorly in the World Baseball Classic.

 

MLB Teams Sign More Asian Players

December 19, 2019

We’ve had a flurry of signings of Asian players the last couple of days.  I’ve been waiting to see if Shogo Akiyama gets signed, but it hasn’t happened yet.

First, the Tampa Rays signed Yoshitomo Tsutsugo for two years at $12M.  The Rays are also sending $2.4M to his old team, the Yokohama Bay Stars.

The Rays obviously like Yoshi’s high on-base percentages, but his power is likely to get swallowed up at Tropicana Field, he doesn’t run well and he’s not reported to have a great deal of defensive value.  Still, you have to like his career NPB .382 on-base percentage and the fact that he’s still only 28 years old.

The Cardinals inked former KBO ace Kwang-hyun Kim for a two-year $8M guarantee with a possible $3M in performance bonuses.  That’s plenty more than the Padres were willing to offer Kim give off-seasons ago when he was a lot younger.  However, he’s pitched extremely well since missing all of 2017 to Tommy John surgery, so maybe now is his time to shine in MLB.

I’m doubtful the KBO has gotten significantly better compared to MLB in the last five years, but there’s certainly more demand for KBO players after the MLB success of Eric Thames and Merrill Kelly.

Finally, the Blue Jays reached agreement long-time NPB star Shun Yamaguchi pending a physical.  It is believed the amount will be about $6M guaranteed for two seasons.  I would expect a lot of performance incentives at that price.

If the contract amount is right, Yamaguchi’s deal could well turn out to be the best signing for the team of the three.  At $3M per, that’s the price of an effective middle reliever, and I think Yamaguchi will be at least that in his two season with the Jaybirds.

I have this vision of Yamaguchi being a worthy successor to Koji Uehara.  I don’t have much to base that on other than their ages when they came to MLB and their success level in NPB.  Call it a feeling or a hunch.  In any event, it’s a very affordable deal for the Blue Jays with the potential for significant upside.

I’m wondering if the Rays or the Jays will also sign centerfielder Akiyama.  So long as Akiyama actually gets along with Tsutsugo or Yamaguchi, I don’t think it would be a bad idea to bring in a second Japanese player.  It might make the transition to MLB easier for both players if they at least have someone they can talk to in their native language. I think both the Rays and the Jays have been rumored to have interest in Akiyama, so we’ll see.

In a final note, 35 year old NPB slugger Wladimir Balentien, after nine seasons in which he blasted 288 home runs for the Yakult Swallows, has jumped to the SoftBank Hawks on a two-year 1 billion yen ($9.14M) deal.  It’s a lot by NPB standards for a player his age, but a number of factors worked in Big Wlad’s favor.

First, he’s got so many years of NPB service, that he no longer counts as a “foreign” player for major league roster purposes, so the Hawks will get to put an extra foreign player on the field.  Second, the Hawks have won the last three Nippon Series and fully expect to win their fourth straight in 2020.

However, talks with the Cuban government have reportedly broken down over the return of stars Alfredo Despaigne and Yurisbel Graciel.  I don’t know what happened here, particularly in light of the fact that the rich Hawks could and would pay top yen for the pair given their proven NPB performance.  The best source I know says that Despaigne earned 400M yen ($3.6M) and Graciel earned 150M ($1.4M) in 2019.

One thing I feel pretty sure of, however, is that the Cuban government is probably acting like any good old fashioned capitalist when negotiating contract terms with SoftBank.  Anyway, the Hawks have now very clearly replaced Despaigne with Balentien, which may or may not loosen up negotiations for Graciel’s and Livan Moinelo‘s 2020 playing rights.

Even if Balentien slugs in accordance with his recent seasons, the losses of both Graciel and Moinelo would seriously damage the Hawks’ chances for a 4-peat.

More Asian Comings and Goings

December 2, 2019

In terms of players moving between MLB and the Asian majors, the biggest news since my last post on the subject is that slugging 1Bman Justin Bour will be playing for the Hanshin Tigers of Japan’s NPB in 2020.  No word yet on what Hanshin will be paying him, but it’s likely for a guarantee of over $1 million, given Bour’s major league pedigree.

I don’t think it’s necessarily a great signing by Hanshin.  Bour is entering his age 32 seasons, and players of his talent level and size (he’s listed at 6’4″ and 270 lbs).  His 2018 season was a big step down from 2015-2017, and in 2019 he played his way out of a major league contract for 2020.

Bour also has a big career platoon split, which helped make him a useful major league platoon player, but which doesn’t bode well for Japan, where he will expected to play every day for the money he’s getting.  If Bour can hit NPB right-handers well enough to stick, it may just be a matter of time before we see him getting a day off to “rest” every time Hanshin faces a tough lefty starter.

The Hiroshima Carp have signed South African born Tayler Scott to a deal that pays him a $175K signing bonus and a $525K salary, which may or may not be guaranteed.  Scott has major league stuff, but not major league command — sometimes these kind of pitchers do very well in NPB, where the margin for error is greater than the MLB majors.

Drew VerHagen and Aderlin Rodriguez are two more MLB system products who will be playing in NPB next year.  VerHagen has enjoyed some MLB major league success and should be a good bet to perform well for the Nippon Ham Fighters in 2020.  Aderlin Rodriguez is something of a bargain-basement player for a bargain-basement team, the Orix Buffaloes.

Rumors have it that Pierce Johnson and Joely Rodriguez will be returning to MLB for 2020, at least if they get the contract offers they are hoping for.  IMHO they are both likely to receive major league contract offers.

The SK Wyverns of the KBO will be posting South Korean ace Kwang-hyun Kim.  You may remember that Kim was posted a few years’ back, but failed to reach agreement with the winning bidder, the San Diego Padres, and returned to South Korea.  Kim then promptly tore his elbow tendon and missed a season.

Since then, Kim has firmly re-established himself as one of the KBO’s two best domestic starters, and he wants to give MLB another shot, although he’s already 31 years old.  Reports have it that MLB teams are interested, but we’ll see what kinds of offers he gets or doesn’t get.

New MLB system players who will be plying there trade in the KBO in 2020 are Aaron Altherr, Mike Wright, Adrian Sampson, Dixon Machado and Nick Kingham.  The NC Dinos signed both Altherr and Wright and is giving them the best deals so far for first year foreign KBOers this off-season — both Altherr and Wright will reportedly receive $200K signing bonuses and $800K guaranteed salaries, which is the most they can make under the league’s salary cap.  Nick Kingham will also reportedly receive a $900K guarantee, although $200K of that is for a team option for 2021, most likely also for $900K, so if things go right for Kingham and the SK Wyverns, he’ll earn $1.6M over two seasons.

Meanwhile, the low-budget Kiwoom Heroes re-signed pitcher Eric Jokisch for a second KBO season at a modest $700K max, which includes have-to-earn-’em performance incentives.  No one ever said life was fair.