Archive for International Free Agents

According to Nick Cafardo, the Nexen Heroes of the Korea Baseball Organization will make star shortstop Jung-Ho Kang available to MLB teams via the posting process this offseason. The posting agreement with KBO is different than the posting agreement with Nippon Pro Baseball in Japan. The posting system for Korean players is the same as the old posting system for Japanese players, meaning MLB teams will make blind bids for the right to negotiate with the player for 30 days.

Kang, 27, had a monster season this year, hitting .360/.463/.756 with 33 doubles, 38 homers, 62 walks, and 98 strikeouts in only 107 games. He’s had other very good years for the Heroes but nothing like this. Here are his stats since becoming a regular:

Year Age AgeDif Tm G PA R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2008 21 -7.2 Woori 116 408 36 98 18 1 8 47 3 1 31 65 .271 .334 .392 .726
2009 22 -6.3 Woori 133 538 73 136 33 2 23 81 3 2 45 81 .286 .349 .508 .857
2010 23 -5.0 Nexen 133 522 60 135 30 2 12 58 2 2 61 87 .301 .391 .457 .848
2011 24 -4.5 Nexen 123 504 53 125 22 2 9 63 4 6 43 62 .282 .353 .401 .754
2012 25 -3.4 Nexen 124 519 77 137 32 0 25 82 21 5 71 78 .314 .413 .560 .973
2013 26 -2.5 Nexen 126 532 67 131 21 1 22 96 15 8 68 109 .291 .387 .489 .876
2014 27 Nexen 107 458 98 137 33 2 38 107 3 3 62 98 .360 .463 .756 1.219
9 Seasons 892 3517 465 904 190 10 137 535 51 28 381 593 .298 .382 .503 .885
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/19/2014.

After a monster season like that, Kang’s value is unlikely to get any higher. I doubt he’ll improve on that performance at any point in the future. Kang is two years away from international free agency, so it makes sense for Nexen to post him now, when his value is at its absolutely highest. Otherwise they’ll loose him for nothing after the 2016 season or get stuck with a smaller posting fee next winter.

Cafardo says there is “some pushback from scouts who have seen (Kang) play on whether he translates to major league baseball,” mostly because of a very high leg kick that may leave him vulnerable against better than KBO pitching. Here’s more on Kang from one of my recent mailbags:

Kang is said to be a true shortstop with strong defense, and his best offensive tool is his big power from the right side. Supposedly he’s a dead fastball hitter who struggles against good breaking pitches, which would be a major concern if true. Remember, Kang is playing in Korea, where the level of competition is even lower than Japan.

I remember reading something a few years ago that pointed it almost all the successful position players to come over from Asia were outfielders because the game on the infield is simply too fast and too big of an adjustment. Akinori Iwamura is the most notable recent Asian import to make it work on the infield in MLB, and he was nothing more than a league average player for two and a half years. Others like Kaz Matsui and Tsuyoshi Nishioka flopped despite being high-profile pickups and stars in Japan. That doesn’t mean Kang will be a bust, but it’s something to keep in mind.

The only Korean-born position players in MLB history are Hee-Seop Choi and Shin-Soo Choo, both of whom signed as amateurs and came up through the minors like every other player. Kang will be the first position player to come over from KBO via the posting system and second star player overall, joining Dodgers southpaw Hyun-Jin Ryu. Los Angeles bid $25.7M for Ryu and signed him to a six-year deal worth $36M.

The Yankees need both a short and long-term shortstop after Derek Jeter‘s retirement, and with J.J. Hardy recently signing an extension with the Orioles, Stephen Drew is the only true shortstop set to hit free agency this offseason. Hanley Ramirez, Jed Lowrie, and Asdrubal Cabrera are all second or third basemen masquerading as shortstops. I’m not sure how many people are eager to see Drew back in pinstripes, even on a cheap one-year contract.

There have not yet been any reports saying the Yankees or any other team has interest in Kang, though it’s probably a little too early for that. I’m sure it’ll pick up after the World Series. I don’t know enough about Kang to say whether the Yankees should look into signing him. All I know is they need a shortstop and he’ll be available this offseason. This isn’t a Masahiro Tanaka situation though, where every report indicates he will be an impact player right away. Not even close, really.

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According to Jon Morosi, 26-year-old Cuban second baseman Jose Fernandez has defected and will soon look to sign a big league contract. He must first establish residency in another country, be unblocked by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, and be declared a free agent by MLB before that can happen. That’s usually a lengthy process and it figures to carry over in early-2015, if not next summer.

Fernandez, who is not related to the Marlins pitcher of the same name, hit .315/.415/.426 in 65 plate appearances in the Cuban league this season before defecting last week, according to Ben Badler. He hit .326/.482/.456 in 314 plate appearances last year. Fernandez is a left-handed hitter who Badler says has “excellent bat control and plate discipline with occasional power.”

In another piece, Badler (subs. req’d) ranked Fernandez as the third best prospect left in Cuba and called him a below-average fielder at second. He’s played some third base but is best suited for second because of his weak arm. Point is, Fernandez’s value will come mostly from his offense, specifically his on-base skills.

Out of curiosity, I ran a Play Index search for second basemen who qualified for the batting title with a .350+ OBP, ten or fewer homers, and negative defensive WAR in a single season, which is what it sounds like Fernandez will become. It spit out names like Luis Castillo, Skip Schumaker, Jeff Keppinger, and late-career Craig Biggio. It’s definitely a unique profile.

The Yankees do need a long-term second baseman, but they have Martin Prado at the MLB and Rob Refsnyder knocking on the door at Triple-A. Prado could play elsewhere because he’s so versatile but Fernandez (and Refsnyder, really) can’t. Yasmany Tomas fits the Yankees better because he’s a power hitter and is still only 23. I don’t think a one-tool guy like Fernandez makes much sense for New York. Not with Refsnyder so close and deserving of a look.

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Via Kyodo: The Hiroshima Carp are still undecided whether they will post ace right-hander Kenta Maeda this offseason. “We have the right. We would like to let him go, but based on his production this year it will be difficult,” said owner Hajime Matsuda, referring to Maeda’s disappointing year. Maeda recently told reporters in  Japan that he would prefer to play for the Yankees or Red Sox next year.

Maeda, 26, had a 2.56 ERA and a 154/40 K/BB in 179 innings this past season, and all reports indicate he is not on par with guys like Masahiro Tanaka and Yu Darvish. He’s more of a mid-to-back of the rotation arm. This could be posturing on Matsuda’s part — remember, the Rakuten Golden Eagles said they were unsure they would post Tanaka last winter — though I’m not sure what they’ll gain. The maximum release fee is $20M and it seems they’ll get that easily despite Maeda’s substandard year. Either way, I don’t expect the Yankees to get involved if the bidding reaches $100M to $120M as speculated.

Via Nick Cafardo: Hiroshima Carp right-hander Kenta Maeda told the media in Japan he would prefer to play for either the Yankees or the Red Sox next season. He is expected to be posted this offseason and early speculation has him in line for a five or six-year contract in the $100-120M neighborhood. The 26-year-old had a 2.56 ERA with a 154 strikeouts in 179 innings this season. Here are his career stats.

Ben Badler (subs. req’d) recently gave a scouting report on Maeda, saying he “doesn’t have overpowering stuff of a frontline starter like we’ve seen from fellow Japanese righthanders Masahiro Tanaka or Yu Darvish, (but his) ability to command his fastball and mix his pitches allows him to keep hitters off-balance.” Badler said Maeda sits anywhere from 87-94 with his fastball and his go-to pitch in a low-80s slider. He also throws a mid-80s changeup, an upper-80s cutter, and a slow low-70s curveball. Here’s video. The Yankees need pitching and I’ll sure they’ll kick the tires on Maeda, but I think they’d go after a known commodity like Jon Lester or James Shields if the price is $20M+ per year.

Via George King: The Yankees do not appear to have serious interest in free agent Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas, who is expected to receive a nine-figure contract. “He is a good player, but for $100M? I don’t know. He is better than [Rusney Castillo], but that doesn’t mean he is worth $100M,” said one evaluator to King.

Tomas, who turns 24 next month, worked out for scouts two weeks ago and King says the Yankees attended the showcase. He’s been traveling around for private workouts these last two weeks though it’s unclear if the Yankees invited him to Tampa for one. I’ve been saying this the whole time: if Tomas truly looks to be a middle of the order right-handed hitter with power, the Yankees should be all over him. Guys with that skillset at age (almost) 24 don’t come around all that often.

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According to his agent, Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas has been declared a free agent by MLB. He already established residency in Haiti and has been unblocked by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, so this was the final step in the process. Tomas is free to sign with any team and he reportedly already has a $75M offer in hand.

Tomas, 23, held a showcase for scouts a week ago and is currently visiting teams for private workouts. It’s unclear if the Yankees have invited him for a private workout — they did have Aledmys Diaz and Rusney Castillo come to Tampa for firsthand looks earlier this year, for what it’s worth — and their level of interest is unknown at this point. Tomas is said to be a middle of the order right-handed hitter with power, and, if true, I think the Yankees should be all over him.

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Via George King: Soon-to-be free agent Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas already has a $75M contract offer from an unknown team, though it is not the Yankees. King and Ben Badler said Tomas looked good during his showcase over the weekend and that hundreds of scouts showed up. The Phillies and Rangers have scheduled private workouts and Jesse Sanchez says more are expected to happen in the coming days and weeks.

Tomas, 23, has established residency in Haiti and been unblocked by the Office of Foreign Asset Control, but he still hasn’t been declared a free agent by MLB. That is expected to happen soon but he is unable to sign at this very moment. The Yankees’ level of interest in Tomas, a right-handed power hitting outfielder with some swing-and-miss concerns, is unknown at this point. They did invite recent Cuban free agents Aledmys Diaz and Rusney Castillo for private workouts, so I assume they will do the same with Tomas. If he is truly a middle of the order hitter with power, I think the Yankees should be all over him.

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Via George King: The Yankees will be among the teams in attendance when soon-to-be free agent Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas works out for scouts in the Dominican Republic. The early front-runners to sign him are the Giants, Padres, Rangers, and Tigers, according to Peter GammonsJim Salisbury says the Phillies also have “legitimate interest.”

Tomas, 23, is billed as a right-handed power hitter with some swing-and-miss-ability and a strong right field-caliber throwing arm. Here’s some video. He has established residency in Haiti and has been unblocked by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, but he’s still waiting for MLB to declare him a free agent. That should happen soon. Given his age and their need for a big right-handed bat, I hope the Yankees make a real strong push to sign him. The fit is obvious.

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One thing is very clear with less than two weeks remaining in the regular season: the Yankees need to improve their offense this offseason. They tried to do it last winter by signing Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, and Brian McCann to big free agent contracts (while simultaneously letting one of the best hitters in world leave) but it didn’t work. They’re on pace to score only 627 runs this year, 23 fewer than last year.

The Yankees are locked into players at catcher, first base, left field, center field, maybe third base, and either right field or DH already, so their options to fix the offense are limited. Martin Prado is going to play somewhere — I’d prefer second base until the inevitable Alex Rodriguez injury, but that’s just me — leaving shortstop and either right field or DH as the most obvious places to add an impact bat. There are slated to be plenty of free agent shortstops but not as many impact outfielders outside of Melky Cabrera and Nelson Cruz.

The free agent market is likely to add another potential impact outfield bat in the coming weeks, when MLB officially declares Cuban defector Yasmany Tomas a free agent. (It’s Yasmany, not Yasmani, apparently.) Jesse Sanchez and Ben Balder report that Tomas has already established residency in Haiti and has been unblocked by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, an important step needed to become a free agent. Badler says MLB should declare him a free to sign relatively soon.

Tomas, 23, defected back in June and he is scheduled to hold a showcase for scouts in the Dominican Republic this Saturday, according to Badler and Tomas. There’s no word on whether the Yankees (or any other team, for that matter) will be in attendance, but they’ve gone to see every other notable Cuban free agent at their workouts, so I expect them to be there just to do due diligence, at the very least. Here’s what we know about Tomas, first from Sanchez:

Tomas is known for his power and he has a reputation for launching long home runs, but he’s also prone to big swing and misses. He’s agile for his size, and he has a strong arm, but there is room for improvement on defense. As a result, he’s characterized as “high-risk, high-reward” type of player in some international scouting circles. He is said to be in much better physical shape and has worked on his approach at the plate since leaving the island.

And now from Badler:

At 6-foot-1, 230 pounds, Tomas is a righthanded hitter with plus-plus raw power, although with some swing-and-miss tendencies, and a strong arm that should fit in right field. A standout on Cuba’s 2013 World Baseball Classic team, Tomas hit .290/.346/.450 with six home runs, 21 walks and 46 strikeouts in 257 plate appearances this past season in Cuba’s Serie Nacional.

One scout told Nick Cafardo that Tomas will likely command upwards of $100M while Jay Alou, Tomas’ agent, told Jorge Ebro (translated article) he is shooting for a record deal this winter. The contracts for big name Cuban free agents are only getting bigger and bigger, going from Yoenis Cespedes ($36M) to Yasiel Puig ($42M) to Jose Abreu ($68M) to Rusney Castillo ($72M, the current record for an international position player), so I can totally buy the $100M number, especially since Tomas is several years younger than Abreu and Castillo. It doesn’t sound far-fetched.

The Yankees have an obvious need for a big right-handed power bat and they have room on the roster for right field-type heading into next season. They’ve begun showing more interest in Cuban players this year, reportedly spending much more time scouting Aledmys Diaz and Castillo than they did Cespedes and Puig, even inviting them down to Tampa for private workouts. They didn’t sign either guy but it wasn’t because they didn’t take the time to evaluate them. Like I said, I expect them to do the same with Tomas out of due diligence if nothing else.

The jury is still out on Castillo and Diaz (and Jorge Soler and Alex Guerrero), but Cespedes, Puig, and especially Abreu have all exceeded expectations so far. Alexei Ramirez, Leonys Martin, Jose Iglesias, and Adeiny Hechavarria have all been pretty much exactly what they were expected to be. Dayan Viciedo is the only notable disappointment among the current crop of Cuban big leaguers. We’re talking position players only here, not pitchers. This small sample of players suggests Cuban players have a pretty high success rate when it comes to being at least serviceable big leaguers.

Tomas at the 2013 WBC. (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty)

(Chung Sung-Jun/Getty)

Does that mean Tomas will work out? Of course not. His propensity to swing-and-miss is a concern, especially since the pitching in Cuba is pretty weak, but 70 power (which is what Badler said Tomas has back in June) is an unteachable skill. Unteachable like Cespedes’ and Abreu’s power or Puig’s freakish athleticism. It’s also a very rare and valuable skill in this era where the entire league seems to have forgotten how to hit. If you want to dream, maybe the big righty pop and swing-and-miss-ability means he’s Alfonso Soriano without the steals. That would be pretty great, actually. Soriano was awesome in his 20s.

I think one of the reasons the Yankees passed on Castillo was because he is an imperfect fit for the roster. (Whether that’s right or wrong is another matter.) He was billed as a leadoff hitter type with strong defense, and, well, the Yankees already have two of those guys in Brett Gardner and Ellsbury. A third isn’t necessary. Tomas profiles more as a middle of the order hitter and that’s something the Yankees desperately need. Add in the fact that he is only 23 (four years younger than Castillo), has a strong right field-caliber arm, and plays a position of need, and you’ve got a player who makes a lot more sense for New York going forward.

As always, information about these Cuban players is very limited. Everything I know about the guy is in this post. The number of teams that pursue Tomas when he becomes a free agent — Cespedes, Abreu, and Castillo (and Masahiro Tanaka, he was in a similar situation) all had multiple top dollar suitors while the Dodgers reportedly blew everyone out of the water for Puig — will tell us more about how teams view him than anything Baseball America publishes. Teams don’t go hard after nobodies. The Yankees went all-in on Tanaka because he was an ace in his mid-20s. If Tomas is a middle of the order hitter in his early-20s, then they need to go all-in on him as well.

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Via MLBTR: The Yankees were among the teams to scout Cuban left-hander Misael Siverio during a showcase event back in June. He is scheduled to throw for teams again on Friday, according to Jon Heyman. Siverio has already been declared a free agent by MLB and cleared by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, so he is free to sign at any time.

Siverio, 25, is a small guy listed at 5-foot-9. Heyman says he has a low-90s fastball with a “tight offspeed variation” that includes a curveball, a changeup, and a splitter. The recent history of Cuban defectors heavily favors position players, but both Orlando Hernandez and Jose Contreras (after he left the Yankees) had success in the big leagues not too long ago. The Yankees signed Cuban lefty Omar Luis to a $2.5M deal a few years ago and there’s no word on what kind of bonus Siverio is expected to command.

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