Archive for International Free Agents
Via George King: Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka “is a priority” for the Yankees this winter, and they “are going to be serious players” in the posting process. “He is better than [Yu Darvish] because he is a strike thrower,’’ said one overly-enthusiastic scout. “Overall, Darvish’s stuff might be a little bit better, but this guy knows how to pitch. He is like [Hiroki Kuroda], he has a lot of guts. He throws four pitches but when it gets to [stone]-cutting time, it’s fastball and splitter.’’
Tanaka, 25 next month, had a 1.24 ERA with 7.7 K/9 and 1.3 BB/9 in 181 innings for the Rakuten Golden Eagles this year. He is indeed expected to be posted this winter. The Yankees have been scouting him quite a bit in recent weeks, most notably sending assistant GM Billy Eppler and special assignment scout Don Wakamatsu to see him. King spoke to several executives who expect the bidding to approach $60M, which would be a record. Only the contract, not the posting fee, would count against the luxury tax. The Yankees have shied away from Japanese players (via the posting process) since the Kei Igawa disaster, so bidding big on Tanaka would be a big chance of pace.
Via NY Post: The Yankees are among several clubs scouting Cuban slugger Jose Abreu during his workouts in the Dominican Republic. He held two showcase events at the team’s complex in the Dominican Republic late last month, according to Ben Badler. Abreu was recently declared a free agent is now able to negotiate and sign with any team.
Badler recently described the 26-year-old Abreu as “an intelligent hitter without a lot of effort in in his swing and the power to hit 30-plus homers in a season … (though) some scouts consider his bat speed only fair.” He has an unorthodox double toe-tap and, like many Cuban hitters, is prone to breaking balls off the plate. Abreu is a big dude — listed at 6-foot-2 and 258 lbs. — with crazy numbers in Cuba, including a .382/.525/.735 line this year and .394/.542/.837 last year. The report says Abreu is expected to sign a deal in the Yoenis Cespedes ($36M) to Yasiel Puig ($42M) range.
Via Jesse Sanchez: Cuban slugger Jose Abreu has officially been declared a free agent and cleared to both negotiate and sign with any team. He defected to somewhere in the Caribbean just last month, so the process didn’t take all that long. MLB has been looking to slow down the signing process for Cuban players.
Ben Badler described the 26-year-old Abreu as “an intelligent hitter without a lot of effort in in his swing and the power to hit 30-plus homers in a season … (though) some scouts consider his bat speed only fair.” He has a unorthodox double toe-tap and, like many Cuban hitters, is prone to breaking balls off the plate. Abreu is a big boy — he’s listed at 6-foot-2 and 258lbs. — with outrageous numbers in Cuba, including a .382/.525/.735 line this year and .394/.542/.837 last year. There’s plenty of video on YouTube.
The Giants, Red Sox, Rangers, Mets, White Sox, Pirates, and Marlins have all been rumored to have some interest in Abreu. Mike Napoli and Kendrys Morales will be the best free agent first base/DH types this winter, so Abreu is hitting the market at a good time. The Yankees need right-handed power and quality bats in general, but they already have a bunch of first base/DH types under contract. Can’t just ignore positional needs. Abreu doesn’t make much sense for New York.
Via David Lennon: Significant changes to the posting system used to bring players from Japan over to MLB are in the works and could be implemented as soon as this winter. The two sides have been talking about making changes for a while now. “We’ve been in discussions with NPB for some time now and we continue to work through the different scenarios and resolutions.,” said Kim Ng, former Yankees executive and current senior VP of Baseball Ops with MLB.
Under the current system, teams submit blind bids for the rights to negotiate a contract with the player. Lennon says the proposed system could have as many three teams chosen as the high bidder, with the player then allowed to pick the team he wants to negotiate with. The new system would give the player some input into the process and deter teams from making token bids if they aren’t all that serious about acquiring the player. The Yankees have not seriously pursued a player through the posting system since Kei Igawa, but they have been scouting Masahiro Tanaka recently.
Mike has kept us informed on the Masahiro Tanaka front over the past few weeks. At this point, it certainly seems as though the team is doing its due diligence and is at least showing some degree of interest, though who knows if it’ll materialize into anything in the offseason. The Yankees have sent their assistant GM, Billy Eppler, along with special assignment scout (and former Mariners manager/Blue Jays bench coach/MLB player), Don Wakamatsu, to go and check him out. I’m sure New York has a bevy of other scouts who have followed Tanaka’s career as well. Whether the team should pursue Tanaka is a difficult question, but one worth asking. Let’s take a look.
Does Tanaka satisfy a need?
Obviously, the Yankees have a lot of question marks surrounding the 2014 rotation. Who knows whether CC Sabathia can become a solid pitcher again, nevermind a top of the rotation arm. Who knows if Andy Pettitte or Hiroki Kuroda plan on returning. Hell, who knows what Ivan Nova really is at this point. David Phelps and Michael Pineda provide zero certainty as well. Phil Hughes will almost certainly be gone. Can the team promote from within sufficiently? Well, they can try, but color me unconvinced.
Point is, the Yankees need pitching heading into next season in a big way. Now the skeptic could rightfully ask, does it make sense to replace so many question marks with another question mark? To that I would reply: probably, since scouts seem to agree that Tanaka is MLB ready and capable of producing positively. Additionally, every potential pitcher replacement has some degree of inherent risk, so perhaps what we really should be asking is whether Tanaka is more of a question mark than some of the alternatives (i.e. Roy Halladay or Tim Lincecum), and I don’t think that he necessarily is. As an aside, even after the presumably exorbitant posting fee and subsequent contract are offered, I’d still have to wonder if he would be a cheaper alternative than a “proven guy” like Matt Garza (who may not even be available anyway), which of course would be desirable if the $189M payroll is still the objective.
Does free agency offer anyone better?
With the exception of Matt Garza, the 2014 free agent crop of starting pitchers is pretty wanting. Maybe Ubaldo Jimenez is available and maybe you can make the argument that he’s more desirable at this point (he’s pitched great for the Indians since the All-Star break and his strikeout rates are heading back in the right direction). I’m not sure I’m sold on Ubaldo though (admittedly, I’ve never been his biggest fan). You can bet Jon Lester will have his club option picked up. Ditto for James Shields. Halladay will be 37 years old with some major health concerns. I guess there’s Tim Lincecum if you believe that ship can be righted (though as I insinuated above, I think both he and Halladay have major red flags). I suppose Dan Haren (33) is an option too, though I have my doubts about his health and skill set (talk about home run prone!). We talk about assuming risk. Well, prepare to assume a fair amount with all these guys.
Will Tanaka’s skill set hold up in the Majors?
That’s the key question, isn’t it? I’ll defer you to Mike’s scouting report from the other day for the details, but to put it succinctly, if Tanaka can become a number two type of arm at the MLB level immediately — which is apparently the consensus among scouts at this point – he’d be a major boost to any team, including New York. Is he Yu Darvish? No. Will he ever be? Probably not. Should that matter? I don’t think so. Most pitchers don’t wind up being one of the league’s best. Above average pitchers still have a lot of value though, and we’ve seen what happens to the bullpen (and record, ultimately) when one guy pitches great but is followed by a bunch of poor starts.
Are the Yankees leery of signing pitchers from Japan?
Unfortunately for Yankee fans, we’re all aware of this perception. Once upon a time, the Red Sox signed a supposed hot-shot pitcher named Daisuke Matsuzaka, while the Yankees paid a ton of cash for notable “other guy,” Kei Igawa. Obviously, neither contract worked out, though it’s clear that the Yanks hired the bigger bust. Then Darvish came along with impressive stuff. Everyone knew about the hype. The Rangers blew all the other organizations away with their bid while the Yankees posted a very conservative offer that was basically expected to fall short from the start. Apparently, this was partially due to the team’s experience with Igawa. So, here we are. The Rangers have a certifiable ace on their hands. The Yankees have a reputation of being scared of players from Japan (whether it’s justifiable or not). To wit, the Yanks also posted a conservative bid for Hyun-Jin Ryu ( though he was coming from South Korea).
I would hope the team could look at these players independently, and then assess whether they can be successful at the big league level. Avoiding talent because Igawa didn’t work out would not only be myopic, but just plain dumb. This needs to be a case-by-case decision. If Tanaka is MLB capable, he should be considered accordingly, period. If this is a question of Yankees scouting misreading talent (relative to their competition), that’s an entirely different problem and one that should be addressed immediately. That all said, I think there may be some degree of truth to the theory that the organization is worried about being burnt by an aggressive bid for one of these guys after the Igawa fiasco.
How much will Tanaka cost?
Total cop out answer: it depends, really. It’s a closed auction, so things have a tendency to get out of control pretty quickly. The Rangers won the Darvish bid at $51.7M. The Sox bid approximately $51.1M for the rights to talk with Dice-K. Last season, Ryu’s posting bid was roughly $25.7M. Tanaka is presumably not as good as Darvish, so maybe he winds up costing less. On the other hand, maybe teams are desperate for pitching and see him as someone at least comparable to Ryu, or maybe they even consider him more of a “sure thing” than Ryu. If I had to guess, I’d say the winning bid is about $40M.
From there, you then get to talk about player contracts. Darvish received a six-year, $56M contract which includes a player opt-out clause after the fifth year. It was a lot of money, but I think at this point, the Rangers are probably considering the contract a success in terms of production provided relative to the cost (at least so far). The Sox offered a six-year, $52M deal to Dice-K, which was a disaster. Ryu was also given a six-year deal that could be worth as much as $36M by the Dodgers. I suspect Tanaka will wind up closer to Darvish’s end of the spectrum than Ryu’s though. That means probably six years at approximately $7-8M per. In any event, when you consider what Garza will probably get, I think that a guy like Tanaka might make a ton of sense.
Via Ben Balder (subs. req’d): The Yankees were one of five teams with scouts on hand to watch right-hander Masahiro Tanaka make his most recent start for the Rakuten Golden Eagles over the weekend. The Braves, Diamondbacks, Mariners, and Red Sox were also in attendance. We recently heard the Yankees have had assistant GM Billy Eppler and special assignment scout Don Wakamatsu watch the righty.
Tanaka, 24, threw 128 pitches while striking out eleven and allowing two runs in the complete game win. “After lacking the typical crispness on his pitches in his previous outing, Tanaka returned to the mound on Friday with a swing-and-miss fastball and excellent splitter against the Fighters,” wrote Badler, who said Tanaka was sitting 90-94 with his fastball and 84-89 with the splitter. He also threw some sliders, though it is clearly his third pitch. Here are highlights from the game (Andruw Jones sighting!).
The Golden Eagles are expected to post Tanaka this winter and although the Yankees haven’t been all that aggressive on big money international players in recent years, they are clearly doing their homework. They’re going to need pitching this winter one way or the other and Tanaka could be a fit. He is the best pitcher in Japan but is not another Yu Darvish, and in fact there are concerns his fastball is too flat despite good velocity. Tanaka has a 1.24 ERA this year with an excellent walk rate (1.3 BB/9 and 3.9 BB%)) but just an okay strikeout rate (7.7 K/9 and 22.1 K%).
September 2nd: Assistant GM Billy Eppler and special assignment scout Don Wakamatsu both scouted Tanaka last week, report Mark Hale and George King. The Yankees have seen most of the right-hander’s starts this year. Seems like the team is really doing its homework after literally not knowing what pitches Kei Igawa threw after signing him.
August 21st: Via Ben Badler: The Yankees and Rangers have sent their top evaluators to scout Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka recently. Other clubs have watched him as well. We first heard New York had interest in Tanaka, who is expected to be posted after the season, back in May. Balder says MLB and NPB are discussing changes to the posting system — including placing a hard cap on the posting fee — but nothing is final.
Tanaka, 24, has a 1.20 ERA with 7.4 K/9 and 1.3 BB/9 in 158 innings for the Rakuten Golden Eagles this year. He’s listed at 6-foot-2 and 205 lbs., and is said to sit in the low-90s with a fastball that touches 96. Badler says scouts have some concern because he doesn’t get good plane on the pitch and it’s more hittable than the velocity suggests. Tanaka also throws a low-80s slider and a mid-80s splitter, like many Asian pitchers. He has been one of the league’s best pitchers for years now. Here’s video.
Tanaka is not as good as Yu Darvish, but Badler says “scouts project (him) as a potential No. 2 starter who can immediately step into a Major League rotation.” The Yankees have been very shy when it comes to bidding on big money international free agents after getting burned by Kei Igawa, but they could always change their approach at a moment’s notice. They will need some starters going forward, that’s for sure. The posting fee doesn’t count against the luxury tax either, just the actual player contract.
Via Ben Badler: At some point late last year, MLB implemented a rule change that will slow down the signing process for Cuban players, possibly by as much as six months. Rather than a general unblocking license from the Office of Foreign Assets Control, which is not a written document and did not require the player to submit anything, they now need a specific license to sign. The new license requires a written application and an individual response.
“We are doing our best to quickly process license applications and it is our goal to respond in a timely manner,” said Jeff Braunger, the program manager at OFAC. MLB changed the requirement because of concerns about how some players were able to gain residency in a foreign country after defecting. Yasiel Puig gained residency in Mexico the same month he defected while current Yankees farmhand Omar Luis gained residency in Haiti despite living and working out in the Dominican Republic. It’s the right move on MLB’s part given the legal issues but it will drag out the signing process and delay the start of these players’ careers. Not that the Yankees pursue big money Cuban players or anything.
Via Ben Badler: Cuban first baseman Jose Abreu has successfully defected and will try to sign with an MLB team. He’s in the Caribbean somewhere and it typically takes a few months for players to establish residency, be declared a free agent by MLB, and get cleared by the Office of Foreign Assets Control.
Abreu, 26, is said to be “an intelligent hitter without a lot of effort in in his swing and the power to hit 30-plus homers in a season … (though) some scouts consider his bat speed only fair.” He has a unorthodox double toe-tap and, like many Cuban hitters, is prone to breaking balls off the plate. Abreu is a big boy — he’s listed at 6-foot-2 and 258lbs. — with outrageous numbers in Cuba, including a .382/.525/.735 line this year and .394/.542/.837 last year. There’s plenty of video on YouTube.
Mike Napoli and Kendrys Morales are the best first basemen scheduled to hit the free agent market this winter, so Abreu’s defection came at a good time for him. Speculation is he could get a deal worth upwards of $70M, which strikes me as insane for a bad body, right/right first baseman with no defensive value or big league track record. The Yankees have already met their quota for big money first baseman, so I doubt they’ll get into the mix on Abreu.
Via Ben Badler: The Yankees have signed Dominican outfielder Leonardo Molina for $1.4M. He just turned 16 today, which is why they couldn’t sign him when the international signing period opened on July 2nd. The Yankees were said to be the “most likely landing spot” for Molina back in May. He isn’t related to the Puerto Rican catching trio.
Molina, who is listed at 6-foot-2 and 165 lbs., was ranked as the fifth best international prospect by Baseball America a few weeks ago. In the subscriber-only scouting report, they say he is “an explosive, quick-twitch player” and “the most athletic prospect in Latin America.” Molina projects as a true center fielder with above-average speed and arm strength, though they say his right-handed swing “has some funkiness to it with a flat finish, but he seems to find a way to get the barrel to the ball.” Here’s video.
Between Molina and Yonauris Rodriguez (signed for $550k last month), the Yankees are $72,100 over their $1,877,900 international spending pool. The 3.2% excess results in a 75% tax on the overage ($54,075). If they go more than 5% over the pool, their spending next year will be limited. The Yankees could always trade for more spending money, however.