San Francisco Giants Trade for 1B/OF Tyler Austin

Posted April 9, 2019 by Burly
Categories: Minnesota Twins, San Francisco Giants

The Giants’ game of outfield music chairs continues.  Tyler Austin is in; Connor Joe is out.

The Giants traded low minors prospect Malique Ziegler to the Twins for the out of options Austin, which isn’t much to give up.  Since Austin had been designated for assignment by the Twins, the fact that they got anything for Austin is a win.

Austin is right-handed power bat with 24 major league home runs in 409 plate appearances.  Alas, he has also struck out 151 times.

It’s unclear if Austin can really play the corner outfield positions at the major level.  He’s only played 36 innings in the outfield at the highest level, although he spent considerable time in right field at the start of his professional career.  He doesn’t appear to have much range, but he appears to have a fairly strong throwing arm.

The Giants don’t appear to have any need for a right-handed hitting 1Bman, what with the Gints always looking for opportunities to start Buster Posey at 1B to take pressure off his legs.  If Austin sticks, however, and Brandon Belt plays well in the first half, it makes it more likely that Belt will traded at the trade deadline for prospects.  While it’s obviously still early, with the Giants off to a 3-7 start, it sure looks likely the team will be sellers at the trade deadline.

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Chicago Cubs Extend Role Player David Bote

Posted April 4, 2019 by Burly
Categories: Atlanta Braves, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox

MLB’s future is here, and it is contract extensions and more contract extensions.  The Cubs extended jack-of-all-trades, super-sub David Bote to a five year deal that covers 2020 through 2024 and guarantees Bote a hair over $15M.

All for a much smaller amount, I see this contract extension as being as consequential and the recent extensions signed by Eloy Jiminez and Ronald Acuna Jr. I can’t remember a young bench player like Bote ever receiving a multi-year contract extension before.

It’s definitely a risk for the Cubs.  Bote has all of a hundred days of major league service entering his age 26 season.  He wasn’t a high draft pick and he spent years in the minor leagues honing his skills.  Players like this generally don’t have long and successful major league careers.

What the Cubs like about Bote is his versatility.  In the minors he played every position except catcher and center field, even pitching in about half a dozen presumably emergency situations.  Fangraphs.com rated his defense highly in his limited 2018 major league play.

The Cubs probably also like the fact that after a slow professional start, Bote hit better the last three seasons as he reached the upper levels of the minors.

The question is whether Bote will hit well enough as a major leaguer for the Cubs to be able to take advantage of his versatility.  Apparently, the Cubbies see Bote as having a realistic chance to be the next Ben Zobrist, which if he were would make this contract a bargain.  We shall see…

Best Hitting Pitchers in MLB Baseball 2019

Posted April 3, 2019 by Burly
Categories: Uncategorized

Shohei Ohtani has ended any debate about the best hitting pitcher in major league baseball.  He’s created a whole new paradigm for two-way players that hasn’t existed since the 1920’s and the only question is whether he is the start of a new trend or a one-off.  He won’t be pitching in 2019 after Tommy John surgery but is expected to return as a designated hitter in May.

Highly touted prospect Brendan McKay is still on pace to be to a great hitting major league pitcher, but his prospects as a two-way player aren’t as good as they were a year ago.  The main problem for McKay is that his talents as a pitcher are developing much faster in pro ball than his talents as a hitter.

1.  Shohei Ohtani.  Ohtani finished the 2018 season with .925 OPS in 367 plate appearances as a hitter and went 4-2 in 10 starts before hurting his elbow.  The entire baseball world is waiting for his right arm to be healthy enough to pitch again. ’nuff said.

2.  Michael Lorenzen (.247 career batting average and .767 career OPS).  Lorenzen is still short of the 100 career at-bat cut-off I’ve used in previous iterations of this post, but he had a tremendous season with the bat in 2018 and was used in a role that was specifically tailored to his ability to hit.  He managed 34 plate appearances last season, in which he batted .290 with a 1.043 OPS thanks to four home runs, despite making only three starts all season.  He was used at least nine times as a pinch hitter, and was frequently left in games to hit for himself when he pitched in relief.

I expect Lorenzen’s career averages to drop as he gets more major league plate appearances, but it’s clear at this point that he’s one of MLB’s very best hitting pitchers.

3.  Zack Greinke (.219 BA, .569 OPS).   One thing I’ve noticed about good hitting pitchers, writing about them as I have for some years now, is that there doesn’t seem to be a particularly strong correlation between a pitcher’s ability to hit and his having spent his minor league time or the vast majority of his MLB career with a National League team, even though this would presumably mean that the pitcher got a lot more opportunities to hit.  After spending his minor league career and his first seven major league seasons with the Royals, Greinke established himself as a fine hitter by his second National League season, and he has been remarkably consistent as a sweet-swinging pitcher since then.

If I had to guess, I would say that the ability to hit the fastball (and lay off breaking pitches) is probably the most important factor in a pitcher’s ability to hit.  Pitchers hate to walk the opposing pitcher, so any time the pitcher-as-hitter is ahead in the count, fastballs for strikes are likely to follow.

The fact that the Diamondbacks are apparently not willing to give Greinke even half a dozen opportunities to pinch hit each season is a missed opportunity.

4.  Madison Bumgarner (.184, .542).  I dropped MadBum a couple of spots this year, because he hit poorly in 2018 and his career batting line isn’t particularly impressive, although park factors are probably in play in comparing MadBum to Greinke.  We’ll see if Bumgarner bounces back to being the best hitting full-time pitcher in 2019.

5.  Yovani Gallardo (.201, .563).  Gallardo’s career as a major league pitcher is probably over, as he remains unsigned as of this writing, but he sure could hit.

6. Adam Wainwright (.202 BA, .537 OPS).  Another player whose major league pitching career is winding down, but with well over 500 career at-bats, Wainwright has well proven his abilities as a hitting pitcher.

7.  German Marquez (.230, .504).  Marquez benefits from a small sample size and playing his home games in Coors Field, but any pitcher who hits better than .220 with an OPS over .500 is great hitting pitcher in today’s game.

8.  Noah Syndergaard (.176 BA, .526 OPS).  “Hulk say Thor smash ball with hammer bat!” At least once in a while.

9.  Daniel Hudson (.222, .557).  Since coming back from an arm injury as a major league relief pitcher, Hudson hasn’t had many opportunities to hit in recent years, but his career numbers get him on the list.

10.   Mike Leake (.198, .507).  Mike Leake hasn’t had a plate appearance yet this year, as he is now an American League pitcher.  He hit a ton his first three seasons with the Reds, but hasn’t done much with the bat since.

11.  Tyler Chatwood (.210, .475) and Tyson Ross (.200, .481).  As I point out every year, the best hitting major league pitchers get pretty bad pretty fast.

Honorable Mentions.  fangraphs.com says that aces Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer were with Zack Greinke the best hitting pitchers in 2018.

Young Hitting Pitchers to WatchBrent Suter (.174, .530).  Unfortunately, Suter is already 29 years old and likely to miss all of 2019 after having Tommy John surgery.

Atlanta Braves Extend Ronald Acuna for Eight Years at $100 Million

Posted April 2, 2019 by Burly
Categories: Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies, Washington Nationals

In the latest of the year’s big contract extensions, the Braves extended 21 year old phenom Ronald Acuna for a minimum of eight years at a guarantee of $100M.  The contract could be (and probably will be) worth $124M over ten seasons.  The contract is almost certainly a record for a player with less than a full year’s major league service time.

The contract is high risk and high reward for the Braves and all about safety for Acuna.  I don’t think it will be the last such extension we’ll see in the near future for the current crop of very young budding stars.

Acuna has guaranteed himself what constitute enormous riches for a poor kid from Venezuela who didn’t get a seven figure bonus to sign his first pro contract.  Nonetheless, it’s entirely possible Acuna is surrendering $150M in future income to get this security.  Still, I don’t see how you could consider this a bad deal for Acuna.  How much money do you really need to live extremely well?  $124M over ten years should cover it, even after the big tax hit (probably close to 50%) that comes with all the money being earned as salary.

Obviously, the Braves have to hope and pray that Acuna stays healthy and develops into his potential.  Regardless, this is a risk all but the wealthiest 12 teams will be actively seeking to take going forward, at least with respect to the few players of Acuna’s age and demonstrated talent level.

The Nationals’ Juan Soto is represented by Scott Boras and he received a $1.5M signing bonus when he signed with the Nats as a 16 year old amateur, so it’s safe to say that Soto won’t be signing an extension like this before he becomes arbitration eligible, at the earliest.  Boras stridently advises any player with Soto’s talent to become a free agent and get the ginormous contract that comes with it.  Just ask Bryce Harper.

San Francisco Giants Trade for CF Kevin Pillar

Posted April 2, 2019 by Burly
Categories: San Francisco Giants, Toronto Blue Jays

As I predicted, the Giants did finally pull the trigger on bringing in an established major league outfielder, although it took them five games into the regular season to do so.  The Giants obtained Kevin Pillar from the Blue Jays for a modest package consisting of 2B Alen Hanson, RHP Derek Law and RHP Juan De Paula.

Giants’ pitchers will be glad to see the team add Pillar, as his value rests mostly in his center field defense.  He will certainly get plenty of opportunities to make more highlight reel plays in McCovey Park’s Death Valley.

Pillar has some right-handed pop, which plays well at McCovey Park, with 111 extra base hits over the last two seasons, but his career .297 on-base percentage is terrible.  Playing in the NL West instead of the AL East, Pillar’s offense might be a bit better in 2019, but at age 30, it will probably be a wash.  Pillar is offensively an established commodity, and he’s good enough for the defense he provides, although he is at an age where his center field defense can reasonably be expected to be in decline.  Pillar has one more year of control before becoming a free agent after the 2020 season.

The package the Giants gave up for Pillar is more quantity than quality.  Alen Hanson had been designated for assignment and was out of options, so he’s a piece that costs the Giants effectively nothing.  Derek Law might yet have seasons as an effective major league middle reliever, but he sure isn’t the prospect now that he was two years ago.  21 year old Juan De Paula is the only real prospect in the group, but he’s a long way from the majors and, listed at 6’3″ and 165 lbs, he doesn’t have a body type that holds up well under a professional pitching work load.

In short, the Blue Jays were looking to dump Pillar’s $5.8 million salary and were willing to take some warm bodies to do so.  This is a solid move for the Giants, since it does address their outfield shortfall and it doesn’t cost them much in terms of prospects.

Meanwhile, the Giants designated Michael Reed for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster for Pillar.  Reed will likely be claimed off waivers by another team, in spite of the fact that his 0-for-8 start to the 2019 season certainly isn’t impressive.

Jacob DeGrom’s Deferred Money

Posted March 28, 2019 by Burly
Categories: New York Mets, Washington Nationals

The terms of Jacob DeGrom‘s new five-year $137.5 million are being reported, revealing that a whopping $52.5M is being deferred without interest for 15 years to the period between 2035 and 2038.  As a result the current value of the deal could be as little as $109M.

The deal defers between $12M and $15M each year between 2020 and 2023, and the $30M team option for 2024 includes $15M deferred to 2039.

I am generally in favor of deferred money contracts for athletes, because it pushes back money they don’t need now to years when their careers and annual earnings are likely to be much lower.  There can be significant federal and state income tax savings by deferring money, although DeGrom’s contract doesn’t really do that, except for the fact that he may be living in state without state income tax come 2035.

If it was up to me, I would start the payments in 2028, the year DeGrom turns 40 and continue the payments until the year he turns 60 and can cash out his IRAs or the year he can get the largest possible pension benefit, assumably somewhere between age 60 and 70.  That way, the $52.M is spread out so more of it is in lower federal tax brackets and he can rely on a steady income stream throughout his life.

What gets a lot of professional athletes in trouble is that during their top earning years, they spend money like the seven figure annual earnings will go on forever.  Then, when their pro careers wind down and they very rapidly see their annual incomes plummet, it takes them several years to adjust their life styles and spending to their new incomes.  In the meantime, they burn through much of the money they did save during their peak earning years.  It’s a lot easier to adjust to a new lifestyle when you’re still making $2M+ a year than it is when you are making less than $200,000.

As I wrote back when Max Scherzer signed his big contract with the Nationals featuring significant deferred money, the irony is that the players who sign these kind of contracts are almost always the ones who least need to do so.  The big stars who are already thinking about how they are going to support themselves in their 40’s and 50’s can probably be trusted to save and prudently invest the money they are making now so their retirements will be comfortable and thus don’t really need to defer money.

Oh, That’s Bad

Posted March 27, 2019 by Burly
Categories: Chicago White Sox

The Chicago White Sox announced today that Eloy Jimenez will be starting the 2019 regular season on the major league roster.  You think that had anything to do with the eight-year, $43M contract he just signed?

The White Sox will claim that Jimenez got the call because Jon Jay got hurt and will be starting the season the disabled list.  Well, that’s just full BS.  If Jimenez doesn’t sign the long-term extension, he starts the season at AAA, unless every other outfielder on the roster dies in a plane crash before Opening Day.

There is no longer any service-time advantage to starting Jimenez at AAA, so Jimenez won’t be starting the season at AAA.  Wouldn’t it be nice if teams simply called a spade a dirty shovel and were honest about why they send guys who are obviously ready like Jimenez down to AAA for a few more weeks so they can get an extra season of control before free agency?  Who do the teams now think they’re fooling?

Obviously, they think they’re fooling some fans, or at least giving certain fans a fig leaf, because teams still do it when everyone who is paying any attention and is not a dupe (or a conspiracy theorist, the modern equivalent) knows what is really going on.  Wouldn’t the world be a marginally better place if teams just said that major league baseball stars are very highly paid and the teams are therefore taking advantage of the terms of the collective bargaining agreement to get one more season at lower, but still multi-million dollar rates isn’t simply capitalism and common sense in action.

MLB thinks it needs to keep a certain mystique going that players and team owners are just sportsman who play and own teams for the love of the game, instead of the multi-billion dollar industry it actually is.  I, for one, am old enough to handle the truth.