Archive for International Free Agents
Via Jorge Ebro (translated article): The Yankees were one of several teams to scout Cuban right-hander Ordisamer Despaigne during a recent workout in Barcelona. He will participate in some more formal showcase events in Mexico in the coming weeks. Despaigne defected at an airport in Paris and has not yet been cleared to sign by the Office of Foreign Assets Control.
The internet has almost nothing on Despaigne. He’s 27 years old and he had a 3.27 ERA with 93 strikeouts and 53 walks in 143 innings last year before defecting. He has also never pitched in the World Baseball Classic, though his father Francisco did play ten years in Cuba, so at least there’s some baseball blood in the family. Ben Badler calls him “very fringy” and there isn’t even a grainy video on YouTube. So yeah, here’s the scouting report we have on Despaigne: he’s right-handed. Sign ‘em up.
Via George King: The Yankees are among the teams scouting South Korean right-hander Seung-Hwan Oh. He will not be a free agent this winter but is expected to be made available through the posting process. The Yankees are said to have interest in Japanese righty Masahiro Tanaka and Korean righty Suk-Min Yoon as well.
Oh, 31, has spent the last nine years with the Samsung Lions and, aside from injury-riddled 2009 and 2010 seasons, has more or less been the best closer in the Korea Baseball Organization during that time. He had a 1.74 ERA with 54 strikeouts and only ten walks in 51 2/3 innings this summer. His career stats are right here. As for a scouting report, King says Oh’s fastball is “between 94 and 96 mph and he has a splitter that disappears,” which is pretty much all the internet has to offer. There’s some video on YouTube.
Only two Asian relievers (Akinori Otsuka and Shinji Mori) have successfully gone through the posting process and both required six-figure bids. That was a long time ago though (2003 and 2005, respectively), so I’m guessing it’ll cost a couple million to talk to an established dominant closer these days. The track record of relievers coming over from Asia is actually really good and the Yankees need bullpen help, plus it would be neat to see them go outside the box for help with a guy like Oh. Assuming he’s good, of course.
The Yankees are reportedly “going to be serious players” for Japanese-born right-hander Masahiro Tanaka this offseason, but he might not be the only Asian pitcher on their radar. Jee-Ho Yoo reports New York has interest in South Korean righty Suk-Min Yoon, who will be a true free agent this winter. Scott Boras told George King he plans to discuss the right-hander/his client with Brian Cashman this coming week.
Yoon, 27, is currently going through the status check process required to be eligible to sign with a Major League club. His team, the Kia Tigers of the Korea Baseball Organization, declined his requests to be made available to big league teams via the posting process after both the 2011 and 2012 seasons. The Twins are among the other clubs that are said to have interest in the righty.
In 87.2 innings spread across 30 appearances this year, Yoon had a 4.00 ERA with 76 strikeouts (7.8 K/9 and 20.4 K%) and 28 walks (2.87 BB/9 and 7.5 BB%). He has had on and off shoulder problems over the years, including an issue that limited him to relief work this season. Yoon was named the league MVP in 2011 (2.45 ERA in 172.1 innings) and he has a ton of international experience, both in the Olympics and World Baseball Classic.
“He’s a 91-92 guy. He’s a good pitcher … not an overpowering arm,” said Boras to King. Baseball America and Jeff Passan says he backs up the low-90s fastball with a hard slider and “what one scout deemed an above-average changeup.” Yoon is listed at 6-foot-0 and 187 lbs., and he’s been the second best pitcher in South Korea behind current Dodgers lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu the last half-decade or so. There’s plenty of video on YouTube.
Everything I know about Yoon is in this post, so I don’t know if he’s worth a Wei-Yin Chen contract (three years, $11.1M) or a Ryu contract (six years, $36M). The history of shoulder problems scares me and given how much higher the level of competition is in MLB compared to KBO, I wonder if he’s a long-term reliever over here. There’s nothing wrong with that, relievers are people too, but you know Boras is going to be pushing him as a starter and asking for big bucks.
Via Jesse Sanchez: The White Sox have agreed to sign Cuban slugger Jose Abreu to a six-year contract worth $68M. The deal is still pending a physical and is (by far) the largest contract ever give to an international free agent, topping the $42M deal the Dodgers gave Yasiel Puig last summer. The White Sox have a pretty good history with Cuban-born players, most notably Jose Contreras, Alexei Ramirez, and Dayan Viciedo.
The Yankees were reportedly among the teams scouting the 26-year-old Abreu, who held some showcase events at their complex in the Dominican Republic last month. I never thought the Bombers were serious about signing him, especially at a price like that. With their payroll coming down and so many other holes on the roster to fill, signing another first base/DH type to a huge contract doesn’t make much sense. If they make a big international splash this winter, I suspect it’ll be for Masahiro Tanaka.
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%).