Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

Shohei Otani San Francisco Giants

December 7, 2017

I hope that the Giants in their recent meeting with Shohei Otani pointed out that the SF Giants were the first MLB team to sign a Japanese pitcher, when they inked Masanori Murikami before the 1964 season.  Otani is potentially a historic player, both in terms of his multi-talents and the relative bargain that the winning MLB team will sign him for.  A little significant history might be just the thing to convince him that San Francisco is the right landing spot, among his many options.

It would indeed be exciting if the Giants could both sign Otani and trade for Giancarlo Stanton in the same off-season.  No one player can turn the 2017 Giants into 2018 contenders.  But Otani, Stanton and a healthy Madison Bumgarner?  At least it would give Bay Area money-bags a good reason to buy 2018 season tickets and a little hope for the rest of us.

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Kansas City Royals Non-Tender Terrence Gore

December 2, 2017

The Royals non-tendered Terrance Gore today, apparently ending his career as a Royal, because he is out of minor league options and still isn’t much of a hitter in the minor leagues. In parts of four regular seasons, Gore played in 49 major league games, had 14 plate appearances and 14 runs scored, and stole 21 bases in 25 attempts.

His career highlights so far were in the 2014 and 2015 post-seasons, when he played in eight games with no plate appearances, but nevertheless scored two runs and stole four bases in five attempts.

Gore is still young enough that he may make it back to the majors when someone needs a late-inning defensive replacement/pinch base runner.  It’s also still within the realm of possibility that he could learn to hit in the high minors, although that kind of seems unlikely.

Gore is exactly what a team should look for in a late-inning defensive replacement/pinch-runner.  He’s a real baseball player, who can do everything well except hit for average or for power.

Once upon a time, A’s owner Charlie Finley tried a track-and-field sprinter, Herb Washington, as the A’s designated pinch runner, but it didn’t really work out, since Washington really didn’t know enough about baseball to be a great base runner or stealer.  Finley and the A’s had a lot more success with players like Gore, who were elite minor league base-stealers but couldn’t hit enough to play regularly in the majors.

Byung-Ho Park to Return to South Korea’s KBO

November 27, 2017

Byung-ho Park has reported agreed to a one-year 1.5 billion won ($1.37 million) with his old team, the Nexen Heroes.  In doing so, he may have agreed to forfeit the remaining $6.5 million on the four-year deal he signed with the Twins two years ago.

I thought that Park had a real chance to make it in MLB, and even last spring I thought he still had a chance, because he hit with a ton of power in 2016, if nothing else.  However, his age 30 season spent entirely at AAA Rochester didn’t go well, and now he looks old for a reasonable possibility of future MLB success.

It appears that Park lost the ability to control the strike zone in the U.S.  Park struck out a lot in the KBO, and he struck out a lot here, but in South Korea he walked a lot too.  In the U.S., he didn’t walk much at all.

It’s an interesting decision by Park to forfeit all of the remaining $6.5 million in his Twins’ contract without agreeing to a buy-out in some lesser amount.  Since current Twins management wasn’t enamored with Park when they came in last off-season, I would have thought they’d be willing to give Park two or three million bucks to go back to Korea.

In fact, the latest update as a I write this post is that Park’s agent is still working to get something out of the Twins as part of the deal.  That’s what agents are for, even if the player is tempted to make a rash decision.

Certainly, Park’s endorsement opportunities are better in South Korea, and as a proven KBO hitter, he’s still young enough to resurrect his superstar standing there.  He also reportedly would prefer to play in South Korea’s “major” league than an MLB “minor league.”  Nexen, meanwhile, has to be thrilled to get Park back on a one-year deal that costs them less than the $1.5 million they recently committed to pitcher Esmil Rogers for 2018.

How Eric Thames does in 2018 will probably have a lot to do with how MLB teams see KBO hitters going forward.  If Thames regresses significantly from his 2017 performance, following Park’s failure, MLB teams are going to be leery indeed about the prospects of future KBO hitters making the jump to the world’s biggest stage.  It will take some very, very out-sized offensive numbers in the hit-happy KBO to convince MLB teams that a player can make the transition to MLB.

Thoughts on Winter League Baseball

November 17, 2017

I’ve been following the Caribbean Winter Leagues more this off-season than I ever have in the past.

The one big surprise for me is that more Independent-A League pitchers play in the Winter Leagues than I expected.  The other groups I expected — not quite major leaguers from the countries (Mexico, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Venezuela) where the leagues are located; aspiring minor leaguers and North American minor leaguers trying to get better; Latino players who have recently left the MLB-system but still have something left; Mexican League (Summer) players (the most favored summer location to play for post-MLB system Latino players); and injured players trying to make a come-back.

The Caribbean Winter Leagues pay better than the minor league salaries without at least one game of major league service and a lot better than the Independent-A Leagues.  The best veteran players in the Winter Leagues can make $10K to $15K per month (for a two or 2.5 month season) compared to the maximum of $3,000/month paid by the Atlantic League.

The Indy-A players can play for well less than this max and still make more than their summer wages.  Even the Mexican League only pays $8K per month max to foreign players.  Also, the more you play (as long as you’re healthy), the better your baseball skills should get.

The Indy-A pitchers are pitching pretty good, or at least there are a significant number that have pitched well in this year’s Winter Leagues.  Reinier Roibal, Bryan Evans, Logan Darnell, Tyler Alexander, Ryan Kussmaul and Zack Dodson to name more than a few.

The Mexican Pacific League appears to have some kind of working relationship with the American Association, because the last three listed players all played in the AA this past summer.  The Venezuelan and Dominican Winter Leagues draw primarily from the better playing Atlantic League.  However, the Can-Am League. which has a designed Cuban League team and other Cubans playing on regular Canadian and American teams, has generated Cuban players who are playing in the Winter Leagues this season.

That brings us to the Cuba Serie Nacional.  Cuba’s Winter League plays a 90-game split-season.  The league has 16 teams in a country of only 11 million, but produces players like Aroldis Chapman and Jose Abreu.  In other words, the talent distribution in Cuba is perhaps similar to the old Negro Leagues which fielded players of wildly different abilities.

In the first half of the Serie Nacional season, veteran star Frederich Cepeda (he likely has a German somewhere in his not too distant ancestry) batted a ridiculous .480 in the season’s first half. By way of comparison, World Series semi-hero Yuli Gurriel batted .500 with an OPS proportionately better than Cepeda’s this season, in Gurriel’s last season in the Serie Nacional before defecting.

Few people outside of Cuba and greater Tokyo have heard of Cepeda; he couldn’t cut it in Japan’s NPB at ages 34 and 35; but he has been a truly great player in Cuba both before and after.  The now 37 year old is batting a more modest .340 with an OPB just barely over 1.000 in the Cuban League’s ongoing second half.

The top pitcher in the Serie Nacional this year is Yoanni Yera, a small left-hander (5’7″, 187 lbs) who is electric in Cuba, but was erratic/ineffective in 39.1 Can-Am League innings over last two seasons.  Some players are creatures of the county and league that developed them.  Cepeda and Yera probably haven’t defected for this reason.

It sure does seem like the Cuban player that haven’t defected are the ones who haven’t convinced anyone (even themselves) that they can play outside of Cuba.  Even Alfredo Despaigne, who has become a super star in Japan’s NPB, seems like a player who is playing where his value is absolutely maximized.  Another triumph for capitalism?

As a final note, Jung-ho Kang is currently the worst hitting qualifier in the Dominican Winter League.  He’s slashing a brutal .137/.224/.205.  He’s got one year left on his MLB contract, so he won’t be leaving MLB just yet, but it may well be time for him to return to South Korea’s KBO for everyone’s sake.

Best Pitching Prospects in Japan’s NPB 2017/2018

October 24, 2017

Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball produces an increasing share of top MLB pitchers.  Here are some prospects (in terms of MLB) I’m keeping my eyes on:

Shohei Otani (age 23 in 2018; MLB ETA 2018-2020).  By now, just about everyone following MLB has heard of Otani, particularly because rumor has it he wants to join MLB in 2018 in spite of the fact that he would make at least $100 million more by waiting two more years until he turns age 25 and is no longer subject to signing bonus/contract limits.  Otani is generally regarded as the next Yu Darvish / Masahiro Tanaka, except that Otani is also a legitimate elite MLB prospect as a hitter.

Otani injured his hamstring running the bases early in the 2017, which limited his pitching efforts to a mere 25.1 innings pitched this season.  MLB teams couldn’t care less, because Otani can command a 102 mph fastball and has a number of other MLB plus pitches.

Otani wants to continue hitting as well as pitching in MLB, and who can blame him.  He slashed .332/.403/.540 in the 65 games he played after coming back from the hamstring injury.  He slashed .322/.416/.588 in 104 games last year.

Did I mention he’s only 23 years old and commands a 102 mph fastball?  The question is which MLB team will win the Otani sweepstakes if he elects to sign this off-season.

Miles Mikolas (29; 2018).  Mikolas is a former MLBer who elected to take guaranteed money to pitch for NPB’s Yomiuri Giants three seasons ago.  It has worked out extremely well for him and his wife, who has also become a celebrity in Japan.  This year Mikolas’ 2.25 ERA was the second best in Japan’s Central League, and he led the six-team circuit with 187 strikeouts in a league-leading 188 innings pitched.

Mikolas now has a combined 2.18 ERA across his three NPB seasons and has steadily improved most of his peripheral numbers.  In particular, he walked only 23 and allowed only 10 home runs in his 188 IP this year.

Mikolas looks to be the next Colby Lewis.  However, an MLB team will likely have to beat the two-year $10 million offer the Yomiuri Giants will likely offer to keep him.  Given what MLB starters are now getting that seems likely.

Yusei Kikuchi (27; 2020-2021)  Kikuchi moves up sharply from last year’s list, because one of last year’s negatives has become a positive.  Prior to 2017, Kikuchi had never pitched more than 143 innings in an NPB season.

This year, at age 26 he led NPB’s Pacific League with 187.2 IP.  He also led the league with a 1.97 ERA and finished a close second with 217 Ks, while allowing only 122 hits.

I rank Kikuchi higher than the next pitcher on this list, because Kikuchi was used so sparingly before the age of 26 and also because at a listed 6’0″ and 220 lbs, he’s got an MLB-sized body.  Kikuchi is also a left-hander, which only adds to his potential appeal.

Takahiro Norimoto (27; 2020-2021).  Norimoto has been every bit as good an NPB pitcher as Kikuchi, but he’s a small right-hander who has been worked hard in his five NPB seasons.  He led NPB with 222 Ks (in a second-best-in-league 185.2 IP).  Norimoto has now struck out 200+ batters four years in a row.

His 2.57 ERA was second best in the Pacific League, and his ERA has improved every year he’s been in his league.  The knock on Norimoto is his size (5’11”, 180 lbs), and the fact that he’s almost certainly thrown more pitches than anyone else in his league over the last five seasons.  If he stays healthy, he should be the next Kenta Maeda when his MLB turn comes.

Tomoyuki Sugano (28; 2022).  Sugano convinced me a year ago that he’s the real deal, and this year he was even better.  He led all of NPB with a 1.59 ERA and struck out a second best in the Central League 171 batters in 187.1 innings pitched.  He’s been too good for too long not to give him his props and rate him as an elite MLB-level talent.

That said, the Yomiuri Giants will not post him before he becomes a unrestricted free agent, he started his NPB career at a relatively old 23, and, if he’s still healthy after the 2021 season, the Yomiuri Giants will likely give him a record setting four year deal of at least $25 million and probably more.  In short, Sugano will only come to MLB if he decides he wants to test himself against the best.

Shintaro Fujinami (24; 2021-2023).  In last year’s post on this subject, I wrote, “The Hanshin Tigers seem determined to burn out their young ace before he ever reaches MLB.”  The Tigers may have done so.

Fujinami had an absolutely brutal 2017 season, making only 11 major league starts and allowing 53 walks and HBPs against only 41Ks in 59 innings pitched.  It’s little short of amazing that he managed a run average below five per nine innings pitched, given the number of base runners he allowed, and probably attests to Fujinami’s abilities as a pitcher.

Has Fujinami’s arm been ruined, or is it a mechanical problem with his motion? It’s hard to say.  On July 29, 2017, he reportedly hit 98 mph on the radar gun in an NPB minor league start, matching a major league pitch Yusei Kikuchi reportedly threw around the same date.  In 61 innings for Hanshin’s minor league club, Fujinami struck out 77 but also walked 31 and posted an ERA of 2.66, but a run average of 3.39.

I would guess that overwork has something to do with it, as his 2016 performance was down from his breakthrough 2015 campaign.  We’ll have a better idea a year from now.

Yuki Matsui (22; 2022).  A small (5’8.5″, 163 lbs) left-handed closer for the Rakuten Golden Eagles, Matsui has electric stuff (366 Ks in 303.1 career NPB innings pitched) and what appears to be close to four full seasons of NPB experience through his age 21 season.

As I wrote a year ago, it’s anybody’s guess whether a pitcher this small and this young can hold up to the often high-stress workload of a closer long-term.  He had a 1.20 ERA this season and was almost unhittable, but his strikeout rate was down from 2016.

Takeru Imamura (27; 2020). A reliever who moved into the closer role in 2017, he’s got an MLB-sized body (6’0″, 216 lbs) and has impressed the last two seasons with sub-2.50 ERAs and high strikeout rates.

Kodei Senga (25; 2023-2024).  A very talented young starter who now has a career NPB ERA of 2.52 and 467 Ks in 418 innings pitched.  He’s not real big (6’1″, 189 lbs) and has many more years to put in in Japan before he’ll have an opportunity to pitch in MLB.

Yasuaki Yamasaki (25; 2023).  A small right-hander (5’11”, 187 lbs) who has saved 96 games in his three NPB seasons, has a career 2.35 ERA and 211 Ks in 179.2 IP.

Shota Imanaga (24; 2024).  A small lefty starter who has been good enough his first two NPB seasons to put a bookmark in.

NPB pitchers available this off-season include:  Yoshihisa Hirano (34), Hideaki Wakui , Kazuhisa Makita , Hirotoshi Masui (34), Scott Mathieson (34) and Josh Lueke (33).

The St. Louis Cardinals reportedly have interest in Hirano. Wakui has expressed interest in pitching in the U.S., although I suspect he’ll get better offers from NPB teams.

Makita and Masui are both NPB “domestic” free agents, meaning their teams would have to post them.  Masui has good stuff, but is awfully small (he’s listed as weighing 154 lbs.)  Makita is a ground ball pitcher (46 HRs allowed in 921.1 IP) who might draw MLB interest, if MLB teams think he can prevent MLB hitters from hitting home runs.

Scott Mathieson has had a great NPB career and could potentially return to MLB.  However, I suspect he’s probably just making noises to get a better offer from the Yomiuri Giants.  It looks like Josh Lueke has burned his bridges with the Yakult Swallows, and I don’t know how interested MLB teams would be given his history.

What Do Players in the Mexican League Make?

July 30, 2017

I’ve been trying to figure out exactly what the respective salary scales are throughout the world’s professional baseball leagues.  The Mexican (summer) League numbers were hard to find on line in English.  Thanks to Google Translate, I think I’ve been able to figure out what the current salary caps in this league now are.

The best information I’ve been able to find is that domestic veteran players (Mexican Nationals) max out at 150,000 pesos per month, or $8,450 per month at current exchange rates.  Foreign players cannot be paid more than either $6,000 or $6,500 per month for their first season of Mexican League baseball, but can eventually earn as much as $8,000 per month.  However, some of the Spanish language posts I read in translation asserted a belief that the best foreign and domestic players on the wealthiest Mexican League teams are making more through rule-breaking, performance bonuses, free housing and other stipends.  Also, there are reportedly no state or federal taxes on salaries in Mexico.

The fact that Mexican League salaries are at least 50% higher than I had previously thought they were explains a few things I had been wondering about.  Many foreign players, particularly Latin American players, play in the Mexican League for years after their careers in the MLB system end, something you don’t typically see in the Independent-A Atlantic League where salaries cap at $3,000 per month.  The talent flow is almost exclusively from the Atlantic League to the Mexican League, which makes sense if the salaries are significantly higher.

It also explains something that I had noticed this year.  Taiwanese CPBL teams seem to have a strong preference for signing Atlantic League players over Mexican League players, even though the best foreign pitchers in the latter league are succeeding against a higher level of competition.  This is particularly the case once the CPBL season has started.

Atlantic League players can presumably be signed for much lower initial contracts than better paid Mexican League foreign stars, particularly in light of the fact that success in the CPBL would eventually lead to annual or monthly contracts considerably larger than either the Atlantic League or the Mexican League, plus a chance to move up to even bigger salaries in South Korea’s KBO or Japan’s NPB.

Also, Mexican League teams typically charge much larger transfer fees for their players’ rights than do Atlantic League teams.  Part of the reason Atlantic League and other Independent-A teams are able to pay such modest salaries is that they allow their successful players to move up to better baseball pay-days for only nominal transfer fees the moment a better opportunity comes along.

I would guestimate that the current transfer fee for an Atlantic League player is around $5,000, and a small percentage of that (20-25%) may go the player.  Mexican League teams are far more reluctant to sell their players cheaply in season if they believe those players will help them make the post-season or can be sold for a substantial transfer fee.

San Francisco Giants Bringing Back Pablo Sandoval

July 20, 2017

The Giants are bringing Pablo back!  It’s a move born of desperation on both sides, but as a Giants’ fan, of course I love it.

I’m doubtful Pablo has a lot left.  His inability to push himself away from the dinner table has taken its tole on his body.  But, on a minor league deal it’s a no-lose proposition.

Still, the Giants know Pablo, and Pablo knows the Giants.  Maybe the Giants will expend $75,000 for a year on a full-time personal trainer who can whip Pablo back into shape.  From what I’ve read, Pablo will work hard in the gym and eat healthy so long as he has someone working with him consistently (constantly).

Then, who knows?  The raw baseball skills have always been there.

I like this move for reasons beyond the obvious.  The Giants in the Sabean ERA have consistently rewarded the players who they developed and played well for them.  I strongly believe this faithfulness has more often than not brought out the best in their players and helped them break the San Francisco curse, not once but three times in five seasons.  Obviously, scouting and trading for the right players has helped too.

Fans in Sacramento will enjoy seeing Pablo suit up for the River Cats.  I also believe that having your minor league clubs within reasonable driving distance for fans to be able to at least see the major league squad a few times a season is good for the organization and the box office at all levels.

It doesn’t hurt to have the minor league squads pay for themselves.  The River Cats have the third best per game attendance despite having the 14th best record (out of 16) in this year’s Pacific Coast League.

As a final note, teams should be more willing either to pay for personal trainers or require the player as part of his contract to hire a personal trainer, at least in situations like Pablo’s.  Traditionally, teams have left it up to the players to get themselves in elite condition, since the player ultimately has more to gain or lose by the seriousness with which he takes his own conditioning.

Sometimes, though, you have a player like Pablo, with exceptional talent, but less than exceptional maturity and discipline, who needs a helping hand.  Personal trainers cost pennies to the dollars invested in elite players, so why not find a way to get them involved, at least so long as the player will work hard if he someone pushing him during his professional down time.

In Pablo’s case, it might have made, and might yet make, a real difference.